By Associate Editor Joe May
(BNc)- The pain in Jan Towell’s email was obvious. A brother was scamming Christians worldwide and she had no other choice but to inform the world.
Kenya native Fred Ogara is the son of a respected gospel preacher in that nation. The elder man is now deceased and his son, now around age 27, is not exactly following in his father’s footsteps.
Towell, who with her husband, Bob, run the World English Institute and Bible Correspondence School spoke with WGN via email about Ogara’s actions, which allegedly include bilking thousands of dollars from American Christians under the guise of getting Bibles into various countries.
Ogara is well-versed in Scripture as well as commonly-used jargon in the Lord’s church, having attended the Great Commission School in Nairobi, Kenya and the British Bible School in Corby, England. His cons are almost as well traveled as he is.
Towell quoted Dennis Okoth, principal of the GCS, as tearfully saying, “Fred has brought shame upon his father’s name, on our school, on the British school and now you folks.”
Ogara’s scams are almost totally propagated by the use of the Internet. Using various aliases, Ogara wrote to Towell and others asking for help. Known aliases include “Luke Ochieng,” who is an actual person that Ogara represented as being a member of the church and a high-ranking officer in the Kenyan Military Police; and “Mustafa,” who is purported to be a Turkish minister in Istanbul with an address of Taksim Square.
Ogara has allegedly attempted to get money to send Bibles into Kenya, Turkey, Libya, Finland and other places across the globe. When Towell began revealing the scams, which were detailed in a May 15, 2006 article by Tammie Ross in the Christian Chronicle, she told BNc that inquires came in from several US states, England, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany. Every case had either been scammed by Ogara or had knowledge of his activities.
Names of congregations that have never existed have also been used as part of Ogara’s schemes, Towell stated. Once, she said Ogara told her that he had started a congregation in Nakuru, an area he claimed had never had a church. Later, she found the Lord’s church had maintained an active presence in the area for 20-30 years.
Before they learned of his activities, the Towells had personal dealings with Ogara. Jan recounts that in 2005, Ogara’s youngest son, about seven months old at the time, was badly burned and in need of treatment in America for his injuries. In April of that year, following treatment in Kenya, the baby, his father and his mother Masi, were flown to Galveston, Texas, for treatment at the Shriners Burn Center.
The Towells drove five hours to see the Ogara family and assist them until they could get settled in the Ronald McDonald House. While both families were staying at a Best Western hotel, Ogara borrowed Jan Towell’s laptop, supposedly to send message to his convert “Luke” in Kenya, who was supposed to be keeping the couple’s older son.
“Luke” sent back long emails telling how much Ogara meant to the Lord’s work in Kenya and detailing how much Cole Ogara missed his father. A few days later, as planned, Ogara flew back to Kenya.
A few months later, things began to unravel and the Towells, by now suspicious of Ogara, who was supposedly teaching WEI lessons in Kenya (for which he was receiving a handsome stipend), began to trace his emails to “Luke.” As it turned out, “Luke’s” emails had not come from Kenya, but from Jan Towell’s laptop as he typed not six feet away from her in the motel.
During all this time, the church at Galveston was helping the family. The Towells flew to Kenya twice to assist the family and were there to witness the baby take his first steps.
At some point before this time, Ogara claimed to have been involved in a car wreck and suffered injuries requiring hospitalization. Americans replaced his car and paid what they thought was a hospital bill. Later, Ron Pottberg of World Bible School and Ken Bolden of World Radio, traveled to Kenya to meet him. Finding him not at home, they were surprised to find three cars in his driveway.
Following his return to Kenya from Texas, Ogara as “Luke” wrote that he was being sent as a military officer to Libya and could take a box of 300 Bibles to Christians in that nation. The books could be purchased at $5 each, he claimed. Believing him, the Towells wired $1500 to Ogara.
“Let it be said that such a military contingent was sent to an all-Africa meeting in Libya. This was carried by the national Kenyan newspaper. Fred is a master of taking checkable fact and weaving it into dramatic but plausible stories that appeal to Christians’ Great Commission mindset and tug at our heartstrings,” Towell wrote to BNc. Later, “reliable missionaries in Kenya checked with the International Bible Society, responsible for all Bible supplies in the country and learned that no such large purchase of Bibles was made during that period.”
Despite this, “Luke” sent photos purported to be from Libya of a group of men he was supposedly about to address regarding the church. Research proved it was actually a photo of a soccer match. Still other photos had been lifted from a 10-year-old Yemeni tourism website, Towell reported.
Despite pleas from brethren to repent, Ogara has not ceased, Towell stated. In fact, when initially approached, Ogara “merely compounded his lies, even writing as a woman who had supposedly escaped from Libya and was in Finland of all places — vouching for all Fred had done for them in Libya … The email was traced, not to Finland, but directly from Kenya,” she said.
The latest political upheaval in Kenya has again brought Ogara’s scams to the forefront, Towell said, noting that she was furiously trying to inform Americans of the facts surrounding the latest request for Bibles in that nation.
Saints who would help those in foreign nations would be advised, she said, to go through reliable, well-known missionaries in those nations.