BY BLESSING MANDABVA
The prominence of prophets from the African traditional religion [ATR] as well as contemporary religions and their relationships with natural sacrosanct habitats in Zimbabwe has triggered debate on how they conduct their activities.
Of particular interest, ATR practices found in some apostolic churches have not been spared from questioning.
Fundamental questions are often asked such as, why are the prophets associated with sacred sites? As Christians, are they supposed to share sacred sites with other religious groups?
Why is it that there are misfortunes falling to church members and prophets who visit such sites?
The apostolic churches and other contemporary churches always find themselves adopting practices from ATR and bringing them to Christianity. Beliefs in ancestors, use of shrines, use of sacred rivers, use of mountains, clay pots, divination and dreams has been the backbone of such churches.
This has been seen in the rituals which have been performed around Zimbabwe whereby apostolic churches have been gathering for baptism and prayers at sacred rivers and mountains. In some cases such rituals could not end well as cases of madness, mysterious disappearance, drowning and death have been reported in Zimbabwe.
These Christians often went into sacred sites animated by a common quest for supernatural help without approval from the traditional leaders.
There are several rituals done by the traditional leaders to ascertain safe passage to those who would want to engage into a spiritual journey to which failure to observe such rituals will end in tragedy.
The president of the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) George Kandiero noted that as Zimbabweans we have lost sight. They have gone an extra mile more than those who brought Christianity by ignoring their identity.
“We are all going to Mutare, but taking different routes to reach there. But all the same these apostolic sects know that the African tradition spirituality is very strong, that is why you see so many of them are in Kandiero’s phone book to seek advice. Some even go further to seek powers,” said Kandiero.
He said apostolic sects have numbers with most people in churches coming Nicodemously to seek proper help. He, however, said that even at memorial services most churches give families time to do their traditions.
Commenting on those who had some misfortunes at sacred sites Kandiero said; “I encourage those who cannot swim not to test the waters. I also encourage those who would want to use sacred sites to seek audience with the traditional leaders so that approval is given to avoid misfortunes. In some areas the leaders do have spiritualists who can check whether the people are fit to embark on the journey.”
He, however, said it was not everyone who could enter into sacred sites for powers; one had to be chosen.
Several misfortunes have been reported of apostolic and Zion church members who would have visited such sacrosanct habitats for spiritual canonization. It was reported that eight self-proclaimed prophets from Vadzidzi VaJeso apostolic sects drowned while competing to retrieve a “holy stick” in the sacred Mazowe River.
In July, three Agness Access Apostolic Church (AAAC) members who were performing rituals for cleansing led by Prophet Amos Chituru on the banks of Musogwezi River drowned and their bodies were found three days later.
In another incident, in March, a three-day prayer expedition by eight members of the Apostolic sect in a sacred Jeta Mountain under Chief Masembura area in Bindura South ended up with a self-styled prophet Madzibaba Rakeni Gumbira and his wife of the JohaneMasowe echishanu going insane.
According to Chief Masembura, all these events unfolding were a warning to the people against desecrating sacred places.
The secretary-general of the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches and Zionists in Africa (UDACIZA) Rev Innocent Chitanda said; “We do not discourage people to worship at any place of their choice, but there is need to acknowledge that some places are sacred and must be avoided to preserve human life.”
Rev Chitanda could not deny nor agree to the notion of ATR being reincarnated in the apostolic sect, but he indicated that such aspects happened as a result of trying to seek God hence in most instances things end in bad way.
He said God did things in His own time and way; hence they cannot judge or blame apostolic sects affected by mishaps. He, however, advised leaders of those sects to be responsible by trying to prevent such adventures
A self-styled prophet from Johane Masowe echishanu Garikai Chirume believes that there are good as well as bad ancestors.
He said good ancestors are believed to be the protectors of the people, while bad ancestors torment them.
“The church doctrine does not discard traditional beliefs and actively uses the spiritual power of ancestors,” said Chirume.
“The Holy Spirit and the ancestors are all important hence for a person’s spiritual problem to end, we trace from their ancestors.
“That is why you see us visiting sacred place for spiritual fortification.”
In ATR, people are always eager to know what the future holds and to discover what the spirit world holds concerning their lives through divination.
In this regard, they end up consulting diviners or spirit mediums.
Prophet Jeremiah Musa Manwere of Ebenezer International Ministries said; “As a ministry, we believe in biblical teachings and anything outside the Bible context we avoid. I believe that those prophets associated with ATR, mediums, the marine spirits, and diviners are just one spirit operating in different ways”.
“We draw our teachings from the Word of God as we relate such spirits to divers of fallen spirits (2 Corinthians 11 vs 13-15 and Revelation 12:9).
Prophet Jeremiah said ATR mediums do have powers which surpass those of the apostolic sects.
“ATR mediums own territories whilst apostolic do not, that’s why there is a need for them to observe protocols at sacred places for pilgrimages and their rituals of which failure to observe that will end up tragedies,” said Prophet Jeremiah.
“It’s a different scenario with Christianity where we believe that all authority is given to Jesus Christ whether in Heaven or on earth (Matthew 28 vs 18),” he said.
Prophet Jeremiah said mishaps to apostolic sects at sacred sites were unbiblical and Christ muted, because anything that is uncommunicated to Jesus Christ lacks the divine essence and the nature of the power to save.
A Johane Masowe echishanu Nyenyedzi prophet, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were traditional sacred shrines such as the Chivavarira Hill and the Ngarikure Pool regarded as the most sacred shrines in Chirumhanzu in the Midlands province.
According to him the church has opted to use such sacred places because they are unpolluted and an unfathomable spiritual linking can be achieved compared to Christian sanctuaries build and obtained in unclean.
However, some believe that most prophets in apostolic churches get their power from the marine spirits; thus, the removal of shoes and the folding of trousers to the knee level is symbolic to crossing the river or a stream of water
The practices of these churches point towards religious syncretism where two religions are practiced at the same time.
The coexistence of ATR and Christianity within apostolic churches is difficult to explain. However ATR is alive within Apostolic and Zionist Churches.
The question which comes is that are they doing it right due to some disappearance and deaths of members within the apostolic sects after visiting sacred shrines, rivers, mountains and dams.