Electric shock for African Christianity
*This article first appeard in the Nairobi Star on July 14th, 2007.
By JESSE MASAI
An interesting story came off the wires in Kampala the other day.
Kojo Nana Obiri-Yeboah, a Ghanaian preacher, had been nabbed for the most unseemly crime a man of the cloth could have been known for.
The good old Beeb told us that “he tried to import an electric shock machine to make people believe he could pass on the Holy Spirit.”
Ever faithful Reuters quoted an online magic shop selling the device as saying: “With a simple touch, make a fluorescent bulb glow on and off at your command, make confetti move, charge a spoon and watch as it shocks a volunteer!”
Reports indicate Ugandan security services are looking into the matter, with a long-term view of regulating religion in the Pearl of Africa.
Similar talk is rife in neighboring Kenya where concerns over charismatic Christianity more than bothers some religious and political leaders.
It gets even funnier in the reportedly 85% Christian East African nation – Mary Akatsa, a self-proclaimed prophetess from Nairobi’s environs, reportedly once claimed she had talked to God and now had Christ enclosed in some cupboard at her abode in Kawangware, a rather shanty side of the capitol.
A BBC report three months ago indicated that there has been a massive influx of Nigerian, Pentecostal preachers into neighboring Cameroon.
“Some of these churches attract so many people because they promise some many things,” a one-time adherent was quoted as saying.
“One is healing. Another is providing riches to so many people – especially in Cameroon, where very many people live in poverty and are affected by disease – when they hear such messages, they decide to go there.
“But when they reach those places and don’t find a solution to those problems, they leave.”
A scholar of religion was quoted as saying: “There are also limited leadership opportunities in Nigeria now, so many Nigerians see neighbouring countries as a possible place to start churches – and thereby make an income as well.”
Everywhere in Africa you turn today, you are bound to encounter the most interesting understandings and celebrations of the Christian faith, much of which borders on the heretical.
Everywhere you turn you will find an African praising and worshipping hard, punctuating the next sentence with “praise the Lord” and a fairly long testimony.
Their dances to celebrate God’s goodness can only be rivaled by its opposite in African dancehalls, – the romancing gyrating of hips that has every well-moneyed Westerner gracing African tourist resorts like nowhere else.
Undress such “active” Christians and you will more than likely find a charm or amulet someplace, guarding against some calamity or warding off some demons.
The same fellow will seek wisdom in African metaphysics – an euphemism for witchcraft – in the very likely event that he or she gets into some trouble.
What are God’s people in Africa to do when they suffer, as they quite honestly do?
How best to find one’s way through this maze in a century that has largely been christened as “the African century?”
How best to experience genuine spiritual renewal, revival and growth to authenticate the thesis that Christianity is truly moving into the Global South, the supposed fulcrum of the faith this century?
How best to dispel the thinking that African Christianity is miles wide but only inches deep?
They say theology develops in context – sourced out of Church traditions, personal reflections and, importantly, the canonical Scriptures.
It would seem inappropriate that, these many years after the indigenization of the Church in Africa, we still have to seek to develop reflections and theologies around some of these issues.
Yet nothing, perhaps apart from teaching and discipleship, could be more urgent and pressing.
And there is yet another reason we should take this challenge seriously – the crucial place of women in missions in a globalized context.
Walk into any of the congregations in question and you will find that women constitute, on average, more than half of the entire population.
The battle is even more intense outside Christianity where various competing faiths and value systems seek to win the fairer sex over; – their vulnerability or lack of it is now more than an academic item for intellectual leisure.
In the final analysis, the one question we must respond to in light of the Kampala incident is: Whither African Christianity?
Jesus, in the Gospels, confronts us with a command to do just that by going into the whole world and preach his Good News, and his is not merely another request, suggestion or recommendation: It is a command.
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