And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
Christian and I have many many conversations about what it will take to reach people who are so entrenched in their culture, the mix of western religions that have passed through for so many years and believe that it is okay to mix them all together? He has taught Bible study and I have taught the children for over two years now, teaching that it all comes down to the relationship you have with Jesus and only Jesus. And still we get questions about worshipping spirits, lying and actions not lining up with words. We have watched growth in the two women who claim to be Christian and try very hard to learn the Bible, learn how to live the Christian life, yet because of their culture they struggle in so many areas. We spend a lot of time with them, know their hearts and that they love Jesus in earnest. But then they will ask a question that is so contrary to what we try to live and teach, it just shows us that not only is it a struggle for us but how much more the struggle is for those who truly want to follow Christ but don’t know how to separate the gospel from the culture and rituals that are all they’ve ever known. They believe they are born Muslim and can become Christians but not turn away from all that was taught before. And most really don’t know what Islam really is any more than they understand what Christianity is.
Ancestral worship is believing in the spirits of the dead. It is founded on the belief that the dead live on and are able to influence the lives of later generations. These ancestors can assert their powers by blessing or cursing, and their worship is inspired by both respect and fear. Many believe, and questions have been asked in Bible study about it, that ancestors can be reincarnated in their descendants. This practice used to be only in secret, shrines were hidden and the practice wasn’t known to neighbors. But over the years it has become widespread. People openly visit shrines to seek healing power from the spirits. Traditional healers today openly advertise their services to the public. What are called “traditional healers” were what used to be called witch doctors. There are shrines being put up in more and more places.
There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. Deut. 18:10-12
It has been said that at least two out of ten Ugandans believe in witchcraft, sacrifice and ancestral guidance. But a survey that was done by the US organization Pew Research Center also showed Uganda is one of the most religious countries in the world. Many people will tell you Uganda is a Christian nation – the survey said nearly nine out of ten people say religion (Christianity or Islam) plays a key role in their lives. Their survey says Uganda ranks 15th in Africa and 20th worldwide in the “most religious” tables. But it also says Uganda takes 2nd spot in East Africa and 11th in Africa in the worship of evil spirits, sacrifices and believing in traditional religious healers. There have been higher numbers of child (and even adult) sacrifices each year, especially around election times.
So, when you look at all of these factors, and that they view Christianity, Islam and traditional religion as all options that can be mixed together, you can understand what we face everyday when trying to witness about Jesus as Savior. If you wear the garments for Islam you are a Muslim, if you go to church and have a Bible you are Christian but you were born a Muslim so you mix a little from here and a little from there. If you aren’t getting the results you want from either of those, you can still go to the traditional religious leader for quicker results (or so they believe).
Even though we teach and talk about how you cannot use “but that’s how we Africans are” to validate cheating, lying, stealing and disrespect, we still have questions over and over about people who come to church but then go out and lie and steal. We get questions even from the few that we believe are saved about worshipping angels and reincarnation. It astonishes us all the more when we see such growth at one time and then questions like worshipping angels comes up. The longer we live here the more we learn but it is so slow it feels like we really don’t know anything. I am reading “African Christian Ethics” and the author states that failure to understand African traditional beliefs is the source of many failures to understand African ethical problems and to suggest appropriate solutions in the light of Holy Scripture. It explains a lot about how culture and traditions in Africa defines morals and ethics and how hard that is to change without really knowing what is believed, what has been taught and passed down from generation to generations. We are challenged in learning the traditions specific to our community in that we only have a couple people that can translate and many times they don’t actually translate but tell us what they think we want to hear. It is hard to find out life stories and what people really think or truth about their lives when every word is put through the filter of “Watch what we say or the Mzungus and the money might disappear”. We ask ourselves and each other so many times “What will it take to reach them?”. That there is a separation from what God’s word says and what other religions say? That you can’t live contrary to what God’s Word says even if you have to stand alone. I spent two weeks teaching the children about salvation – that it isn’t just saying words, coming to Church on Sundays and believing that makes you saved. That it isn’t just about what you say or do but that you accept Jesus into your hearts and only the Holy Spirit can help you to live for Christ. You can’t do good things and be a good girl or boy and get into heaven without confessing Jesus as your savior. As soon as I was done, my interpreter, who I believe is saved and tries her best to learn God’s Word so that she can live for Him only – tells them that (to sum it all up) if they do good works, be the best they can be, never do bad things like lying, stealing, cheating – then God will let them through the gates of Heaven. I was astonished that after all I said, that is how she took it. Is it just in the translation, was she trying to put it in a way she thought they would understand – is that where the problem lies? Or is it that the truth is just so hard for them to understand in the culture in which they live. In America, contrary to what the media and politicians want people to believe, our nation was founded on God and our values were a result of that. When you come to a culture that doesn’t have that you see the huge difference. I don’t know. Some days I feel like a total failure and don’t know what else to do. But when I pray and meditate on His Word He reminds me that it isn’t up to me to give up, to decide I am failing if I know that I am doing what He has for me to do. I have to ultimately leave it to Him, teach them that in Christ other powers are nothing, be ready when one wakes up to the truth, when He has stirred their heart to His truth and do the best we can to make disciples and help them grow in Christ.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he:before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no savior. Isaiah 43:10-11