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The Impact of Witchcraft and Magic Culture On the Growth of Christianity in Malawi

Info: 15362 words (61 pages) Dissertation
Published: 23rd Dec 2021

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Tagged: Cultural StudiesInternational StudiesReligion


Introduction  ………………………………………… 1

Background for the Study…………………………………. 4

Significance of the Study…………………………………. 5

The Scope of Witchcraft and Magic Culture in Malawi ………………….. 5

Possible Reasons for the Failure of the Current Method of Witnessing to Malawians …. 11

Reasons many people believe and practice witchcraft in Malawi ………….. 13

Objections Christians Make Asked to Stop Believing and Practicing

Witchcraft or Magic … 19

Reasons why Culture is Very Important when Doing Missions …………… 25

Effective Approach in Reaching Malawians Impacted by Witchcraft and Magic Culture .. 25

Earlier Christian Efforts to Solve Witchcraft and Magic Cultural Challenges in Africa … 28

Eight Ways the SDA Church Can Use in Order to Maximize Church Growth ……… 30

Conclusion   ………………………………………… 38

References   ………………………………………… 40


Christianity in Malawi will never grow fast if the churches continue to ignore the impact of witchcraft and magic culture on its growth. It is a waste of time to discuss whether or not witchcraft or magic exists. Witchcraft is a cultural reality and many who believe and use it are both Christians and non-Christians. Malawi is predominantly a Christian nation but one of the challenges it faces is the impact that witchcraft and magic culture has on its growth in the country. It is quite disturbing to see that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been in Malawi since 1900 and its current statistics show that the church has insignificant growth when compared to the population of the country. The 2012 Wikipedia statistics indicate “11 million people being Christians with over half of the population being Protestant and another 20% as Roman Catholics.” As a Malawian Seventh-day Adventist pastor, I find these numbers shocking. According to the information posted on Malawi Union on General Conference Year Book updated on 9th September 2016,  Malawi Union Conference has current membership of only “494, 977 to a country’s population of 17,225, 000.”[1]

One of the signs for a healthy church is having a well-balanced church growth.  The church growth for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi makes it inevitable not to ask several questions as to why the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi does not have more members than other religions that came after it. For example, 2012 Wikipedia reports Pentecostalism as a religion that emerged in 20th Century but today it has over 279 million adherents around the globe. It is quite remarkable to see that the movement is growing very fast in all the regions of the entire earth, especially the “global south” where Malawi is found.[2] Zylstra considers the Seventh-day Adventist Church as one of the ‘fastest-growing churches in the world.”[3] There is rapid growth of church membership in Africa. Most of the countries in this region are still developing but the encouraging factor is that they are very receptive to God’s message and it requires less funding and organization to conduct successful witnessing campaigns. Ellen White encourages every church member to fulfill our call for mission by quickly proclaiming the Word of God “in all countries, to every people and nation and tongue.”[4] Through the efforts of different people and ministries the church conducts, the church has experienced growth in Africa. However, witchcraft and magic culture hinders the growth of the church.

In Africa, churches interact with large numbers of people that hold witchcraft beliefs. Consequently, many people joining Adventism come from families and communities that hold witchcraft beliefs but these people continue to retain their belief in witchcraft and magic. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi is struggling with witchcraft and magic related cases that come to the church. Most of the times churches and their congregants have been reactive to these issues instead of being proactive. The primary goal for this study is to bring a change to that attitude and instill the faith in people that a church is the place where people should find hope when threated by evil powers.

Lack of a well-developed biblical approach towards reaching those Malawians who practice and believe in witchcraft and magic has crippled the growth of the church. Understanding some of the reasons why people practice magic and witchcraft will unearth issues not known by many church leaders and offer solutions to the problems. The ultimate goal for this study is not only to look at the impact of witchcraft and magic culture in Malawi to the growth of Christianity, but also to suggest practical solutions that if implemented by the church in Malawi and other parts of Africa, churches can start experiencing exponential growth that is difficult to achieved now. The growth that is to be experienced is not only in numbers but also in faith and spiritual maturity. It is possible to achieve robust church growth if the church has the right theology for the mission.

Another area of concern is that we still have people in the country who have negative memories with the way missionaries handled cultural issues when they first came to Malawi. There is need to find a way of bridging the gap that the negative memories the locals have had for a long time. Many people have a feeling that Christianity came to condemn their culture. To enhance this reconciliation, the approach to this study will not condemn the entire culture but acknowledge witchcraft as being real while not condoning the practice. Interpretation of Scripture will be sensitive to Malawi cultural context with which I am well familiar. Additionally, my 13 years’ experience (2000-2013) as an ordained Seventh-day Adventist pastor will shape my style in finding the better approach for the church to reach Malawians.   The desired outcome for the study is so to motivate the Seventh-day Adventist church to reach many Malawians affected directly or indirectly with witchcraft and magic culture.

The major questions that this study must find answers to are: “Why do Malawians believe and practice witchcraft and magic? Is there anything that the missionaries did that contributed to their resistance in abandoning witchcraft and magic culture? If the answer is Yes, what can be the best approach that the church can take in their effort to reach Malawians? The paper is written with an assumption that there is need to discover a new approach in ministering to Malawians that are impacted by witchcraft and magic culture that hinders its church growth.

Background to the Study

My previous interactions with members and some pastors in Pentecostalism Movements revealed to me one of their big secrets for rapid growth in membership.  Pentecostalism has an approach that help them penetrate easily into Malawian culture. Kalu observed that from the earliest contact with the gospel, Africans have tended to appropriate its charismatic dimensions attracted to the power they see in charismatic church that they do not see happening in the Seventh-day Adventist churches.[5]  In fact, many people in Africa live in fear of evil powers and any gospel message that offers such power attracts many people. Numerous people are afraid of evil forces that torment them in the form of demons, magic and witchcraft. This agrees with what Ellis said that many Africans have unexpressed feelings of “spiritual insecurity that is driven by the fear of witchcraft.”[6] In most cases, their approach in addressing cultural fears emphasizes prayer and faith that brings hope to its adherents.

A big concern for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi is that there is a massive exodus of church members from mainstream religions to Pentecostalism. This movement of people from its beliefs to Pentecostalism also affects the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Numerous members defecting from major religions in the country to Pentecostalism do so because of a persistent fear of becoming victims of witchcraft and magic.  Many of the people that I know moved from their churches to Pentecostalism because during every service, they have a segment commonly known as “Miracle Hour.”[7] The hour is very significant to people that attend church services with expectations to find answers to their misfortunes. The common challenge that many people face connects to witchcraft and magic. In Pentecostal churches during their “Miracle Hour,” ministers pray and lay their hands on those that seek deliverance or healing.  Most of those that seek deliverance and healing identify witchcraft or magic as the source for their situation.

Significance of the Study

The study will add knowledge to the study of missions. The findings of this study will provide an opportunity for further studies in developing materials for pastors in training.  Many pastors in the country finish their studies without having a special course preparing them to minister to people practicing or living in fear of witchcraft and magic.  Furthermore, the study will reshape the approach that the Seventh-Adventist church must take when faced with issues concerning witchcraft and magic culture. Finally, the new approach will help church members realize that they are called to accept and instill hope in a kind of people who come to church for help when they are attacked by the devil through witchcraft and magic.

The Scope of Witchcraft and Magic Culture in Malawi

In the minds of many Malawians, witchcraft and magic beliefs are real. I have been a pastor for many years now, but it is still difficult to convince me that witchcraft is just an illusion because of what I have gone through in my life. Curses like mawa suliona (you will not see tomorrow) have proven to be true by seeing the person being threatened dying the same night.  I remember a family that failed to have a child just because their parents told them that they would be barren because of their choice to marry someone from a different culture. Others thought it was just a mere threat but it surely happened that they were barren for 7 years. Later, the family decided to go and apologize to the parents and at the end of the month the wife conceived and within a year, they carried their own child. An outsider may look at this as just a coincidence, but to the locals, this was a clear sign that it is possible using witchcraft or magic to stop somebody from having a child.

Witchcraft belief is very common in Malawi.  A day rarely passes without hearing of news incidents concerning witchcraft and magic. My parents and many people in in the country believe that witches have supernatural powers that, if cast on someone; can alter circumstances surrounding life. Therefore, if you cannot win this battle against witchcraft and magic, the only way to protect yourself is to get a powerful medication or charm from a witchdoctor. The charm, medicine or amulets that one gets from these magicians and witchdoctors, have power to neutralize evil powers that come against your life or property. This is a well-established worldview shaping how people create a bigger picture of their outlook towards witchcraft and magical powers. Many Christians have come to me as their pastor confessing their insecurity due to the strong powers of demons and witchcraft that threaten them all the time. It is this kind of fear that Love says that it makes people go and find help from magicians. People believe that those magicians and witchdoctors have power that destroys or blocks calamities that can fall on people.[8]

Non-Christians are not the only ones who seek protection or healing from witchdoctors; even professed Christians do the same. While serving as a pastor, I encountered witchcraft issues amongst church members. Rumors and allegations reached my office as a pastor of elders that consult witchdoctors or use charm or magic to secure positions in the church. At another church, an elder mistakenly pulled out a charm from his pocket while reaching for money. After being quizzed by deacons, he confessed that the charm was his but not for his reelection but another disease that he had. The church did not elect him to any position the following year. In reaction, he joined another Sunday keeping church because he lost all the respect that he had in church.

Additionally, talented musicians have complained of being bewitched. At another church, of which my sister was a member, she told me that a talented claimed to have miraculously lost his voice because of being bewitched. The accusation was that the other musician saw his popularity slipping away while the one one’s talent was becoming more popular. Later during the year, the pastor confirmed that the event happened, but he told me that he did not intervene because it was difficult to prove and above all the church has no clear position on witchcraft accusations.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi does not have a well define position concerning witchcraft and magic. Consequently, when the church faces witchcraft accusations, it becomes difficult for the church to address such matters.  Witchcraft accusations are very difficult to difficult to prove. Cases of this nature requires evidence that the church might not produce in order to either prove or disapprove.   As a result, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi has failed to develop a biblical response towards witchcraft. There is a strong need to have true biblical foundation for mission.  Livingston presupposes three descriptions of a true biblical foundation of mission. First, true biblical foundation for mission must be historically informed. It requires the church to understand how the early church understood the relationship between the Bible and missionary task. Second, the church must be conversant enough with the work of Christ in reconciling all people back to God. The gospel call for the church is to have a mission that is not only local, but also universal. Finally, a true biblical theology of mission must emphasize that mission is the core of the church’s being and nature.[9]

Many people live in fear of losing their lives prematurely due to witchcraft and other challenges. In churches where witchcraft accusations happen often, some members leave the church out of fear that their lives are in danger. These people worship God and at the same time they use witchcraft or magic to secure their lives. Stories and experiences like these confirm what many theologians consider “dual allegiance.” According to Kunhiyop’s philosophical theological analysis, “Africans at conceptual level believe in a supreme God, but at the practical level, they are very dualistic.”[10]  This explains why it is not surprising to see many church members in Malawi showing dedication to God’s church work while at the same time getting involved with witchcraft and magic practices.[11]

Truthfully, dual allegiance is a real problem in Malawi that requires a good approach in witnessing to the people. Most of the people in the country have grown up believing witchcraft as real other than mere fantasy or superstitions as others think. Many people need the biblical response that can change their deep-rooted worldview that attaches much fear to witchcraft than Christ power to deliver them.  Matthew 28:20 mandates us with a sole mission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

People in Malawi are religious in general. Nobody should be tempted to conclude that these people are irreligious because of taking part in witchcraft practices.  Christianity has been in the country for over 100 years, but many people still practice dual allegiance. What can be the problem then? I write this paper with an assumption that there is need to improve the method that is in use when reaching Malawians that live in a culture where witchcraft and magic are part of it. The challenge with the models used to reach them is that they disregarded Malawian cultural roots. Consequently, a huge gap of understanding between the missionaries and the locals developed. The model this paper is developing will have cultural sensitivity that recognizes witchcraft fears being real as opposed by the common Western view that looks at witchcraft and magic mere superstition, backward thinking. Models used by missionaries to reach people in Malawi and entire Africa failed because their assumptions were more philosophical in nature instead of practical in operation.

It is vital to point out that culturally Malawians connect their daily experiences to witchcraft and other powers related to magic. However, many Christian churches have different approaches towards addressing issues concerning magic and witchcraft. Other churches completely dismiss the existence of witchcraft and others believe witchcraft is real, but the major difference is how they address issues concerning witchcraft and magic. The Western mentality brought by the most of the missionaries including some Adventist pioneers influenced the approach the Seventh-day Adventist take when addressing witchcraft and magic issues. However, these missionaries did the good work that others appreciate because they laid the foundation of the work and built infrastructures that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is benefiting now from its use. What is required is to reexamine their approach and see the weakness that must be improved with the purpose to expand church growth that is slowed down by the impact of witchcraft and magic culture.

The attitude displayed by other missionaries that saw everything that African were doing as being primitive and theirs civilized, made our ancestors defensive of their culture.  The major challenge was that some of the missionaries did not know how to present themselves differently than those that came as colonial masters. As a result, other people saw Christianity as another way of influencing them to support their colonial friends through the use God’s Word as a tool to win many people to support their colonial masters. Their teaching led to the formulation of theology towards the understanding of witchcraft and magic culture that has flaws that need fixing.

According to Mereau, witchcraft refers to a person using magical means to bring harm or provide benefits. Such people are common in every culture around the world and Africa is one of the continents where they are rampart.[12] It is not strange for a Westerner to look at witchcraft as superstitious.  However, to an insider like me, born within a culture that believes and practices witchcraft and magic, it is a real thing. Looking at witchcraft as superstition has hardened other people’s minds to accept the Word of God in Malawi and Seventh-day Adventist Church face the challenge of addressing questions that some of those people that fall away from church or refuse joining the church ask.

The belief that missionaries came to Malawi to condemn their culture and replace it with Western culture is common in Malawi.  This deep-rooted animosity causes many Malawians to feel reluctant to express to an outsider how they relate to witchcraft and magic because often times they end up being misunderstood and being judged in a wrong way. It will continue being hard for Christians to reach many Malawians if no effort is made to address these concerns. In order to heal the wounds created by the method used before, there is need to find a new approach that can enhance the relationship that is there between Malawians and those who witness to them.

Ott and Strauss discovered that ‘the motivation for missionary work must flow out of understandings of the purpose, nature, and task of mission.”[13] The motivation that people develop influences the spirit and commitment that help missionaries do their work effectively. The Seventh – day Adventist Church in Malawi has pastors who are dedicated, but one thing that they lack is the right motivation for ministry towards witchcraft and magic culture and proper theology for mission. Kirk says, “There can be no theology without mission-or no theology which is not missionary.”[14] Kirk suggests that theology is the major tool for training leaders for Christian communities, not only traditional ordained ministry, but all kinds of ministry done on behalf of the community by Christians working in secular as well as voluntary agencies.[15] In order to come out with a better method that can improve church growth in Malawi, it is important to understand possible reasons for the failure of the current method of witnessing.

Possible Reasons for the Failure of the Current Method of Witnessing to Malawians

Missionary work in Africa has been changing since its inception, but there is still need to improve because the current method has some notable weaknesses. There may be different factors but the following are the possible reasons that may be contributing to the failure of the current method of witnessing to Malawi culture that has deep-rooted problem of witchcraft and magic.  First, early missionaries’ method was more philosophical than practical for the Malawi setting. For example, the argument by Parrinder that having an “pen-minded religion, education, medicine and better social racial conditions can help to drive out witchcraft beliefs”[16] is impractical. Witchcraft beliefs are so deeply rooted that no matter how much you polish your education or medicine; it will not address the deep-rooted fear that is in the people. It is not strange in Malawi to see people who are well educated, doctors, lawyers, pastors and others seeking help from witchdoctors for their promotion or success in businesses. It is quite evident that the solution to the Malawi problem on witchcraft and magic culture is beyond what Parrinder suggests.

Second, the method did not aim at converting the entire man. Neil supports what one of the noted African theologian, John Mbiti, found out that Christianity and Islam failed to penetrate deeper into African culture because they failed to convert the entire man. Therefore, Mbiti suggests that for the church to succeed in its mission there is need to put into “consideration of all Africans historical-cultural roots, social dimension, self-consciousness and their expectations’ of which they did not.”[17] As a result, many people in Africa accepted Christianity as another option to look at life instead of being the new way for them to see the world.

In order for Christianity to penetrate into Malawi culture, it must change the people’s worldview. However, changing a worldview is not an event but a process. It requires enough time and patience on the side of the missionary not to push people in changing their worldview already shaped by their culture. In shaping worldview, Dockery quotes sociologist and social watchdog Daniel Yankelovich who defined culture as an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives. As such, for one to divorce their culture, it means breaking from the deep-rooted practices that have shaped their lives. Dockery believes that a break of this nature has an impact on the deep meaning that resonates in humans when faced by questions about life and their presence.[18] If we are to make the church grow very fast, we must develop a method that takes into consideration all these factors that are hindering church growth. In order to solve the problem, it is vital to understand first why many people believe and practice witchcraft in Malawi.

Reasons many people believe and practice witchcraft in Malawi

Earlier studies have suggested reasons why many Africans practice witchcraft. However, there is no specific study done in Malawi with the purpose of getting balanced information explaining why many Malawians despite their education, religious beliefs and social status still believe and practice witchcraft. Commenting on culture transformation, Lingenfelter says,

Culture seeks to maintain social control through its rules, norms, and sanctions for behavior, and thus it limits certain kinds of deviant behavior. Yet the rules of culture reflect a natural knowledge of God (Romans 2:14-15) that serves to expose sin rather than bring people to righteousness.” [19]

If you ask many people in Malawi why they believe or practice witchcraft and magic, common answers given point to their culture. There are several reasons that people give but major ones are the following: First, many people believe witchcraft and magic are part of their culture. Assessing the pre-Christian cultural patterns, Priest explains that anthropologists have discovered that people who live in the same community have commonalities in their cultural assumptions that determine the causation of calamities or success in life. Priest says that this has an effect of determining what kind of response they give when faced by witchcraft.[20]

Witchcraft and magic culture is very deep in Malawi. Acquiring higher education or being a Christian does not separate Malawians from their cultural roots. Growing up in a village that believed and feared witchcraft and magic, I still recall what my grandpa, the one who was a witchdoctor, used to tell me and other siblings. Grandpa used to tell us that choosing not to participate in communal witch hunting exercises and witch cleansing was tantamount to insubordination of established cultural authority. Witch cleansing required the whole family or village to take a concoction that had power of removing witchcraft installed in you by either relatives or other bad people. There were other people who for various reasons decided to run away, but once found, they were given punishment.

In other cultures, that are very strict with their rituals, their practice has been that Christians who refuse to attend or partake in village cleansing ceremonies face stern punishment. Their failure to attend rituals offers confirmation to the community for their wickedness in terrorizing people with witchcraft and magic. The treatment that people accused of witchcraft and magic are given has significantly improved with the coming in of different religions, education systems and human rights groups. These groups educate people about the dignity of life and respecting of human life. Killing people considered as witches or wizards is a violation of human rights and God’s law as recorded in Scripture.  However, instances of harassment towards those believed to practice witchcraft and magic still exist in some Malawian communities. Instead of merciless killings and banishment, witches experience discrimination and ridicule from society and family members. As a result, many live a life full of misery and rejection. In turn, many get demotivated even to join church or attend church meetings. People accused of witchcraft are afraid of becoming a laughing stock to others while attending church meetings. As a result, many avoid attending social and religious gatherings.

In areas where witchcraft accusations are frequent, there is massive decline of church growth. Many of the accused witches harden their hearts to the calling of Christ. Sometimes it gets complicated that those who accuse others of practicing witchcraft or magic belong to those churches have made efforts to win them for Christ. Many have accused Christians of playing double standards and being hypocrites who are quick to condemn others, yet they also commit various sins that the members of the community are aware of.

Second, other people become witches and magicians because they buy rights or inherit them from their family. Frankle and Stein support the fact that in Africa people buy or inherit powers to become witches or magicians.[21] For example, in the year 2003, a church member came to me complaining about the action that her husband did taking two cows to the market with the purpose of selling and buying a charm that kills anybody that steal their sugarcane. The family had a big farm that was close to their house.  She asked me to pray for God’s intervention that the plan for her husband fail. Her fear was that if the plans of the husband were successful, it would haunt their conscious and their relationship with God using a charm to guard their sugarcane farm instead of only trusting in God. We prayed together for it and God intervened swiftly. At the market, the unexpected happened that both cows failed to sell because the Veterinary Assistant who tested the cows before being sold, found out that they were diseased making them unsuitable for human consumption.

Third, others participate in witchcraft and magic practices as part of fulfillment for the job or position assigned by the community or the culture. In my pastoral work, I have had elders and many church members who in their community are chiefs, ward councilors, family clan leaders, or Members of Parliament etc. A major challenge these people have is that as leaders they are required to attend and take a leading role in issues that affect many people. One of the meetings they are to be present is community cleansing ritual service. At a cleansing ceremony, community leaders invite a witch doctor to clean the village using the concoction that every member in the community or village is required to drink. There is a strong belief that those who drink concoction while having witchcraft powers die or lose their minds and start confessing of their dirty actions. While a teenager, my local Seventh-day Adventist Church dis-fellowshipped more than half of its membership because of their participation in witchcraft cleansing ritual that took place in a village that surrounded the church. Many of them told the pastor that they only went there to fulfill their leadership role expectation but did not believe in the whole ceremony. Many preachers and church leaders have done a lot of injustice by not acknowledging their arguments that have led them to consider all these people being witches or magicians who have nothing to do with God. This approach has done more harm than good because a closer understanding of their circumstances reveals that many of them do not even think of becoming witches or magicians because they know it is wicked before God. The community leaders have a struggle that requires a better approach to show them how best they can get away with their predicament. Because of not getting help from church pastors and leaders, these people develop hatred towards the church or Christians because they feel condemned, rejected, misunderstood and sometimes misjudged. Consequently, this becomes a bigger excuse for them not accepting God’s invitation to join the church. My grandfather, a herbalist, was rejected by the church several times to join the Seventh-day Adventist church. Church leaders of that time told him that he would be admitted into church after he stops giving traditional medication of which he mixed different herbs for healing. Today, I look at it as the big mistake that the Seventh-day Adventist church did because they expected him to experience total change of behavior before coming to church. This was what mission of Christ is all about. Scripture supports the fact that God calls us from darkness into His marvelous light, which is a process requiring patience. Scripture says, “For you were once in darkness, but now you are in the Lord. Walk as children in the light.” Eph. 5:8. Conversion is a process not an event. There in no way we should expect people to fully be converted before coming to the church.

Fourth, we have people who participate in witchcraft and magic as part of their presence to the community. These people may be faithful Christians who are very useful in church and when they attend such ceremonies, they only do it in order to avoid creating unnecessary tension that comes if you oppose what the majority agree upon in order to save their community. Fifth, there are those who take part in witchcraft and magic because they believe it and many practice witchcraft or magic. If there is a witchcraft cleansing ritual, they attend because they have no option to run away. Those caught while trying to escape usually get stiffer punishment by either family or the community leaders.

Sixth, a high illiteracy level in Malawi contributes to poor judgment amongst many people who practice or believe in witchcraft and magic. People with less education are more prone to practice or believe it than those with higher education. Stephen Neil believes that churches have failed in giving organized Christian lessons that instill faith in people. He thinks that the church has had enough character building sermons but lacks serious teaching to appeal to the intelligence of many people. Failure to appeal to the mental capacity of people is the major cause for many people who find the Bible being a difficult book to comprehend.[22] It is easy as ministers to conclude that people are just stubborn to practice or believe in witchcraft. However, those that have interacted with these people agree that many lack capacities to understand major themes of the Bible that seem easy to educated people or many theologians.

Seventh, the church lacks clarity on what it considers witchdoctors and herbalists. Some missionaries that came to Malawi condemned all forms of natural medication and generalized it to be part of magic or witchcraft. My mother and my grandfather did not use any charm or invoke evil spirits when giving out medications. He used herbs, tree leaves and peeled skin of different types of trees that he sometimes boiled let the patient drink. Sometimes, he mixed those herbs and make charcoal powder of it. Using a razor, he made small cuts on the skin and applied the medication on those cutting marks that sometimes bled for a while before clotting of the blood.

Today, various studies show that most of the drugs that pharmacies make for various diseases come from the same herbs, leaves and tree skins. Therefore, it is possible for someone to be a good Christian while taking simple medication that herbalist give without witchcraft and magic intervention. Today the church and scientists agree that natural remedies are far much better than the drugs, we take from the hospital that usually have bad side effects in the end. The only medication that falls into the category of witchcraft or magic is the one that involves supernatural powers and cast a spell on people or identifies people causing diseases on people.

Having a well-defined demarcation of what comprises wrong way of seeking healing and what is accepted way of using traditional healing is the best foundation in addressing an issue that many Malawians face. Lack of such a description makes many Seventh-day Adventist church members profess being Christians who have nothing with traditional healing, yet they secretly take medication from herbalist when they are sick.

Finally, we have those people who believe that magic or witchcraft is beneficial. People in this group do not partake in malevolent witchcraft or magic. They practice beneficial magic that only protects them and their family members from potential attacks by malevolent witches. This group usually has people of reputable character who may be church members or non-believers with good motive to protect their family and property. They use medicine, charms, amulets and other stuff that they get from their parents or witchdoctors who give them assurance nobody practicing witchcraft or using magic can harm them or their property. The practice of seeking help from witchdoctors is similar to what Priest discovered in Aguaruna, Northern Peru.  The people approach shamans, who are equivalent to witchdoctors in my culture, especially when an illness fails to respond to medical cures.  Additionally, these Shamans are required to identify the witch and remove the object that the witches put in somebody’s body that causes sickness. Priest says that often times the person they identify is usually the one that the relatives or who the community suspected. Therefore, Shamans’ pointing acts like a “professional confirmation.”[23]

Objections Christians make asked to stop believing and practicing witchcraft or magic

Many Malawians who practice witchcraft and magic when Christians preach to them about the problems of practicing dual allegiance give many reasons.  First, they accuse white people of hypocrisy. My uncle said this to me when I refused to take fertility medication during the first four years of our marriage when we had no children. In his own words, he said, “Do not listen to what white people say because they too go to the hospital when they are sick instead of only praying to God for healing.” My family members were not aware of our family planning and to them having no child was a sign that somebody bewitched us because of jealousy that I was a pastor. Therefore, they were doing their best as the community to help us and refusing medication was like being disrespectful to the entire family. We had to be strong in order to make our case known and let them know that we were not taking that medication because it was not an issue with infertility but of family planning.               Furthermore, our belief in God would not even allow us to take it if it was the case of infertility. We explained to them that our marriage was intact despite the absence of the child because we had made a commitment that we will stay together regardless of not having children, if God wills.  In a Malawian setting, seeking medication from the herbalist is what many consider as an alternative treatment that is readily available.  Many people believe that white people told them to go to the hospital in order to make money out of the medication they make. Many argue that the same medication hospitals give, is the same medicine that they just process and make pills or drugs that they use in treating people when they visit the hospital.  Therefore, telling them not to use herbs or medication they get from witchdoctors and herbalists is a form of hypocrisy that the west practices towards them.

Another objection people give is that witchcraft or witchdoctors help to diagnose the source of the problem as hospitals do in their laboratory to see the cause of the problem. In the Western culture, when a house collapses, civil engineers ask the question: “Why did the house collapse?” They may discover that the mixture of the cement when making the foundation was not right. If other people died when the house collapsed, the bereaved family members may be asking a different question: “Why did the house collapse when my kids were in the house and not when they were away to school?” Similarly, this is how people in Malawi and most African cultures ask when faced with calamity. Instead of asking, “Why did the house fall?” They ask, “Why did the house fall at that particular time when my father was in the house?” In order to get answers for their problems, they choose to find help from witchdoctors or diviners instead of taking their challenges to God through prayer. People love to see things in action, rather than waiting for too long. It is difficult often times to see the answer from the Lord to many people as compared to what witchcraft or magic can do. At this point, the family decides to meet the witchdoctor who, after manipulating them with his charms, may communicate with supernatural powers that can even show the one who caused the unfortunate event and why he orchestrated such a terrible accident to happen and kill the father.

Many Christians offer another excuse when they opt to use magic instead of only trusting in prayer and having faith in God. Several of them say, “God blessed the roots and if well used they can heal our diseases.” Other people quote Scriptures when defending use of herbs. The Bible has stories of people that were healed using herbs. One of the famous texts that I heard my grandfather who was an herbalist use was Isaiah 38:21, which says, “…Let them take a lump of figs, and lay [it] for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.”

One of my grandpa, who was refused membership by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, never considered his actions as wrong when he gave medication that protected people from their enemies and healed them from various diseases. His way of healing people was different from my other grana.  He was a Christian and felt convinced that he was doing God’s will in alleviating the pain that people were going through. Sometimes I wonder and ask questions like the following: “Do you consider him wrong?” He was using herbs that, from experience, seem to have a positive effect.  “How is that different from a drug company experimenting with the same herbs to determine how best to convert them into medications?”  “Does the difference in specialization make a difference? Questions like these must help theologians and missionaries to reflect on and find better way to address people who live in a culture that visit herbalists who do not use evil powers to administer their herbs.

Furthermore, he used to say, “A lot of people are suffering because they don’t know how to use the herbs.” He would quote Jeremiah 8:22. Jeremiah asks the question “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?”  My grandpa used this text when he heard of Christians who instead of using herbalists like him, decided to visit hospitals where they eventually died. It was even worse when two people faced the same problem and one chose to visit him and receive healing while the one who went to the hospital died. Because of situations such as this, many Christians feel tempted to use witchdoctors to avoid being ridiculed if hospitals fail to help them be healed.

Similar to this objection is the Malawians’ understanding that hospital medications alone cannot heal all diseases; it sometimes need a combination of witchcraft and magic. If they cannot get the disease away with medication they took from the hospital, they look to culture and realize that there must be something preventing the healing from happening. Therefore, they decide to go and seek help from witchcraft and herbalists who often times use magic to find the right medication that can take away the cultural element, which is witchcraft that stops the medication from working.

Most of the people that I have interacted with in my pastoral ministry believe that witchcraft is another form of science, which if well practiced, does not contradict science but complements it. They do have a feeling that medication alone cannot work but it has to be aided by witch doctors. This is a big comparison to western culture, where people visit one doctor after another until their disease is gone. Therefore, they conclude that combining hospital medication and traditional herbs is still in line with Christian faith.  Anthropologists Frankle and Stein found out that many times people do not ask for things that are impossible like trying to grow your garden by magic alone. The people follow natural science that requires them to do the gardening and care for the crop while making sure that nothing supernatural destroys their garden.[24]

The practice of not only trusting in faith or hospital medication alone but combining it with witchcraft reminds me of some elders who privately came to me after seeing that my wife and I stayed for four years in marriage without having a child. One of them used the words that I still remember to this day.  He said “Pastor, we all know that you are a man of God who trust in prayer, but God has also blessed these herbs, have you thought of also taking some herbs in order to have a child?” As a person who grew up in that culture, I understood what he meant. Not having a child is associated with some form of witchcraft withholding others from conception. In western culture, infertility is an issue that hospitals can handle but in African and Malawi, infertility is considered a result of being bewitched. Therefore, one is expected to combine prayers, hospital medication and use of magic to dispel the power of evil that blocks the process of conception. It sounds difficult to understand if you come from the Western culture, but it resonates with Malawian thought process.

Another objection they give in their support to use witchcraft or magic is that people who do witchcraft and magic are not bad, but are merely people who are trying their best to assist their families as many of us do when one of our family member is sick. Many of them even say that they tried visiting the church pastor who told them that the problem cannot only go by prayer alone and they went to the hospital who told them to seek traditional help. In order to show their love to the person who is sick, they also do their best to visit the witchdoctor.

It is quite fascinating to see that many of these people, once healed, praise God for guiding them through the process despite how they were healed. They see God working with the pastor whose prayer guides them to find right hospital and correct herbalist who uses God’s nature to defuse the power of the devil tormenting them or their relative. Therefore, blaming people who are doing their best to heal themselves is considered another form of witchcraft tantamount to killing somebody. I have heard many pastors saying they are afraid to stop their members from using witchdoctors for fear of being blamed if healing does not occur by only using prayer and hospital medication.

Others have used an objection that seeking witchcraft intervention when faced with severe sickness, unites the community or family in fighting for the treatment for their loved one. Often times when someone is sick, many people come together and bring their suggestions to the person or the family on how they can bring healing to the person. Generally, people put aside their differences when calamity or strange diseases arise. People become suspicious of anybody who does not show up to the house or the hospital where the sick person is. Sometimes, the sick person is taken to a witchdoctor and is admitted for several days. Christians who decide not to visit the sick person admitted at the witchdoctor’s house or shelter, become suspected of having a hand over the sickness.  As a result, they get afraid to visit to a place where the witchdoctor can identify them as being responsible for the sickness. Many decide to join the community in visiting the sick person who is being seen by a witchdoctor. The problem they face is that while visiting the sick, there may be some rituals that each person goes through before being admitted in the territory that the witchdoctor considers his. For the sake of unity, Christians have done those rituals while regretting for making the decision to visit as obliged by the society.

Reasons why Culture is Very Important when Doing Missions

First, the gospel is conveyed through culture. In other words, people’s backgrounds influence them on how they respond to every situation they face in life. His argument is that people are woven in culture and that is the reason why the biblical writers used culture to communicate the message. Furthermore, he says that Jesus was born a Jew, not a kind of universal man. Even though his own people rejected him, “he came to his own people” (John 1:11).

Second, the gospel ended all ideas that some peoples were superior to others, whatever the basis for such ideas (history, customs, moral attainment or skin color). He emphasizes that culture is a give fact of creation, but there are no grounds for it being a cause of division within the church.

Third, ethnic and national identity are very crucial in doing mission. On this area, he makes a good point that all people are immersed in their own cultures to an extent that many times it becomes hard to see its strengths and goodness of other cultures.

Finally, Missionaries must know that at its best, ethnic and cultural distinctiveness reflects the rich diversity of human life and allows people a sense of security in ‘being able to identify with group of people with its own history, custom and traditions.’[25] It is for this reason Jeremias says, “a mature social community will allow as much difference as possible within the confines of a coherent political and legal system, and will investigate as passionately as possible all claims to wrongful treatment on cultural or ethnic grounds.”[26]

Effective Approach in Reaching Malawians Impacted by Witchcraft and Magic culture

It is good to have a good understanding of the people before you start addressing issues that hinder them from making right decisions of only trusting God other than evil tradition. Failing to understand culture is the major trap that many preachers and missionaries have. Consequently, it has negative effects to the mission of God. Olga Oleinik and Knud Jorgensenpoints out that God is the source of “mission” and all the things we do are considered “missions.”[27] They also say, “The word missionary refers to the specific mission activities of the church, whereas the word missional is related to the nature of the church, as being sent by God to the world.[28] Therefore, as God’s envoys, we need to learn from God that immediately when sin entered the world, mad did not reach out to God, but God reached out to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The action by God demonstrates the principle that in doing God’s mission, we need to meet the people where they are. In this case, Malawians who practice witchcraft and magic must be met in their own context with full knowledge about their culture and what they value.

Incarnation of Jesus is also a demonstration of God meeting the people where they are. He could have chosen just to use angels as he did by sending them to deliver different messages or do some tasks, but to save sinners, he had to come and be born, get raised and grow among the people he wanted to save. This was done in order for Him to taste humanity and what it involves so that He can be well identified with the people.  No wonder Paul states “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV).  Malawi pastors need to learn from what Robert Priest found in Aguaruna. Pastors in that culture counteract witchcraft accusations by stressing a metanarrative of Christ’s death and suffering that came because of man’s sinfulness. People are encouraged to see the death of Jesus as a “complete reversal” of human sicknesses and death that will find its fulfillment in heaven. Priest narrates the approach that people in this area use that if used Malawi can be effective.  Their preaching approach is effective because it gives assurance to the people that there is a great God who holds all lives in his hand so that left heaven and nothing gets away from his hands without his knowledge.[29]

Another element that people in Malawi want to see in the missionaries, church leaders or pastors ministering to them is their willingness to understand them from their cultural point of view. In this regard. Kunhiyop writes what Professor Turaki found out that early missionaries to Africa failed significantly because they criticized African culture. Their approach to the ‘culture, custom, religious and social life’ was negative.[30] Many have complained that some missionaries, or preachers who ministered to them, sounded foreign. Some of the things that they suggested in their effort to find solutions to the problems revealed their lack of understanding. Resultantly, many natives came to the church only to hear what the missionary or the preacher said, but when they went back to their homes, they continued living the same lifestyle they had before their conversion. Many people confess that it was difficult for them to become fully Christians as what missionaries advocated because they felt like Christianity from the West came to replace their culture that various missionaries considered wayward and demonic. It was rare to think of completely replacing a culture in such a way. This left many people discouraged to join Christianity.

Missiologists have shown how wrong this approach of replacing a culture with the expression, “uprooting the whole culture and replacing it with Christianity is like chopping off all the roots of the tree expecting that it will continue to flourish. Missionaries or pastors using replacement of culture as the method miss the lesson that this analogy communicates. Culture acts like the roots for the society. Christ was able to enter cultures without being sullied by them, and as a result, he attracted people from those cultures. Another way of implementing this in the church today is to empower the local congregation, conversant with the culture, to be engaged in the mission of witnessing to people within their community. Christ is not calling all converts to come out of their culture but to become agents of change in their own culture.

Jesus demonstrates the principle of sending back converts to their community for witnessing through the miracle he healed two men from Decapolis. They begged Jesus to go with them, but Jesus sent them back to their city to become His witnesses. The healing of the demon-possessed person is a good example of what Christ does. When the healed demon possessed person wanted to follow Him, he was not allowed but, Jesus said “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. So, the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:19-20 NIV). Christ reaches us in the community and puts us back in the same community with the purpose to bring change that He wants to take place in the community or culture.

People operate and reason based on the culture that shapes them. It is therefore, vital to do what missiologists suggest that Christianity must shape the culture. In this process, when the people accept Christ, some other practices that are not in agreement with the will of God fall off and those cultural practices that are not evil in themselves are still maintained. The bigger advantage with this approach is that it does not make the Christians feel foreign or people see them as foreign in their culture. The disadvantage of being foreign in your own culture is that it hardens other peoples’ minds to accept Christianity because they are afraid of losing their identity.

It is very effective where possible to send pastors or missionaries in areas where they are familiar with as Jesus demonstrated in his action to stop the person he healed from following him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolishow much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5: 19-20 NIV. The ministry was effective because the person understood his people well and seeing him changed by Jesus it encouraged many to follow Christ who healed him.

Earlier Christian Efforts to solve witchcraft and Magic Cultural Challenges in Africa

The struggle to find a lasting solution to issues concerning witchcraft and magic culture in Africa has been for a long time. For example, the National Committee for research on African Culture and the Expression of the Christian Message in Tanzania, a neighboring country to Malawi, met in 1980 to consider “Witchcraft, traditional healing methods, and their impact on the Christian.’ “The Faculty of Theology did another effort in Yaounde organized interdisciplinary discussions on theology and witchcraft in 1984.[31] Elias K. Bongmba in the book Imagining Evil edited by Gerrie Ter Haar mentions that despite these efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, the mainline missionary churches in Africa still need to take the challenge and address problems arising from the belief in witchcraft and magic culture.[32]

Missionaries and pastors have not done very much to explain passages that Africans use when they talk about witchcraft.  Bongmba says, “…many ignore them because their modernist ethos, which rejected belief in witchcraft as irrational, convinced them that such beliefs would disappear with the introduction of the gospel.”[33] The approach of only looking at witchcraft as mere confrontation between humanity and evil forces complicated issues.[34] It led missionaries to have hostility towards traditional healings practices in Africa. What they missed was general discussion with the indigenous to get their worldview.

Eight Ways the SDA Church in Malawi Can Use in Order to Maximize Church

First, there is need for Malawian church posed by witchcraft and magic culture to adopt new and critical appreciation of the Bible. Bongmba suggests that the deep studying of the Bible will bring profound implications for new understanding of theology concerning witchcraft and magic issues. In order to achieve this, the Bible must be read in a new way that will treat biblical texts as having “cultural products that must be studied in light of their historical contexts, as well as the various contexts in Malawi and other parts of Africa.”[35] The benefit with this approach is that it suspends hasty condemnation of beliefs such as witchcraft and magic. It also takes away the tendency to demonize people and opens up a cordial discussion with them of discussing on how such a culture can be improved for the better.

It is also important to encourage community reading of the Bible. During these times, members can read for themselves and discuss issues concerning witchcraft and magic. Frequently issues about witchcraft are only preached from a pulpit. This approach of only preaching it from pulpit does not give people an opportunity to the people to freely express how they feel and understand when they read texts concerning witchcraft and magic.  Ellen White says, “Satan well knows that all whom he can lead to neglect prayer and the searching of the Scriptures, will be overcome by his attacks. Therefore, he invents every possible device to engross the mind.”[36] The devil is not happy to see people reading the Word of God with understanding. This is the reason why it has to be augmented by prayer.

Second, every church worship must have an emphasis on prayer. Olukoya in Prayer Rain says, “There is a network of evil spirits surrounding and tormenting men, but the Lord has assembled his superior forces to destroy any satanic network that is working against us.”[37]Ellen White says, “The great controversy between Christ and Satan that has been carried forward for nearly six thousand years is soon to close; and the wicked one redoubles his efforts to defeat the work of Christ in man’s behalf and to fasten souls in his snares.”[38] It is important for church members to know that we are in a warfare between good and evil and the only way to combat the devil is to engage in prayer ministry. There is a way that Lowery suggests for people who want to be engaged in such kind of prayers. He says, “Spiritual warfare is a lifestyle, not just an occasional event of rebuking the enemy or casting out demons.” He therefore admonishes believers to approach prayer spiritually prepared. The believers are to be encouraged that they know that this battle is fierce because the devil plans to devour all he can find. Therefore, there is need for steady continuation of prayer ministry if Christians have to win this battle.[39]

During the Sabbath worship, Pastors should not be afraid to pray for their congregation. The effort can be enhanced by laying hands on the people who come and complain about witchcraft and magic related issues. Sadly, many people who come to church with those complaints are brushed off or told not to believe because it is not real. Instead of ignoring them, let them be dedicated to God through the prayers and encourage them to continue trusting and praying in God who is more powerful than the devil behind witchcraft and magic. Everyone in the church must be involved in this ministry as Motaroki  says,  “…deliverance is not only the duty of the selected few members in the church, but a noble task committed to every believer in Jesus Christ.”[40] The Bible gives us an assurance of why we should face the devil without fear. Addressing his own disciples, Jesus said,

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.[41]

Third, churches must become a voice to the voiceless especially to the old and children who often times become victims of witchcraft accusations. Churches need hospitality committees who can care for people in the community who are abused because they are assumed to be involved in witchcraft. As the church, we should remember that we have a biblical mandate to teach the theology of love. Love is the only way we can manage to combat the difficulties and complexities linked to witchcraft and magic. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[42] We should learn from Paul who encouraged the Galatians to serve one another and bear each other’s burdens.[43] Bongmba considers this approach very important because people who are accused of practicing witchcraft and magic are frequently abandoned.[44]

Fourth, the church should encourage liberation theology that emphasizes a concern for the liberation of the oppressed. According to Paul, each person gets reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. This reconciliation is not only restricted to God only but must also be horizontal to fellow man. Jealousy is the main cause that motivates many people to use charms and bewitch people.  Most of the times people who practice witchcraft do it as a form of either revenge or jealousy. People should be encouraged to settle their differences amicably instead of using forces from the devil to harm other. Once Christ liberates us, we need to do the same with others.  Beker says that the good news of Christ has social responsibility for us that includes ‘liberation, justification and reconciliation.’[45]

Seventh-day Adventist Church ministers must engage in social change through networking and dialoguing with traditional healers, religious leaders and community leaders. In cases where children or someone is being accused of witchcraft, churches must sensitize the communities with information that shows the dignity of humanity. They can also facilitate reconciliation whenever there is conflict. Often times witchcraft accusations are higher when there are unresolved conflicts or power struggle within community members.

Fifth, the church needs in‐depth knowledge of beliefs and practices. If the church wants to be effective, it must fully understand why there are accusations for witchcraft in communities that they live in.  In many cultures, some strange things that happen enhance witchcraft and magic beliefs. For example, stillbirths or albino births are associated with witchcraft in many African cultures including Malawi. Pastors in training and those already on the forefront must be equipped while doing their studies in seminary on how they can minister to such kind of people who sometimes may feel disadvantaged by being born albino or having stillbirths. These people must go through special counseling that can help them to know that those abnormalities are the result of living in a sinful world.

Furthermore, people must be pointed to Christ who loves everybody, regardless of their skin color or situation that they are in. Help them to accept who they are and focus their attention on what they can do for God. Let them know that in heaven we will all be equal after sin is destroyed.  Therefore, pastors who are being transferred to a new area must have enough time to learn about the culture within the area they will be mistering. Many pastors fail to reach the people effectively because of not knowing well about the culture of the people. As a result, many people become offended and either leave the church or get disinterested to join the church.

Sixth, Seventh-day Adventist Churches must support agencies that offer shelter and food to the people banished or thrown out by their families because of witchcraft. One of the groups to check with in Malawi is ADRA. The church can write a proposal through to ADRA and get funds for the construction of shelters in various regions. Churches can supply food, labor and additional funds for every day’s operations of the shelter home they can have. People can start working as volunteers and if there is steady funding, others can be hired for full time. The shelter home can also be a place when people can learn some skills that they can use when they choose to go back to their community or another place of their choice.

Additionally, shelter homes must conduct healthful living lessons that can help people in their facilities know how to prepare healthy meals and proper discipline their bodies. Many people in Malawi are malnourished and live reckless lives because of being ignorant on how they can cook healthy meals and eat things that can build their bodies. As a result, many people die of malnutrition that exacerbates witchcraft accusation since in Africa every death is connected to witchcraft or magic.

Teaching them vocational skills is the best way of empowering them economically. Many people who practice witchcraft and magic do that out of desperation and deep poverty. Regardless of witchcraft being done by the rich and poor, it is a fact that there are more people who believe or practice witchcraft and magic out of poverty and desperation. Many of them cannot afford hospital bills when they are sick and going to a witchdoctor is cheaper. Once the people get vocational skills, they are empowered to do more for themselves and their families. Let the churches have special budgets set aside for such a purpose. Promote the spirit of tolerance amongst each other.  Help to find agencies that can assist victims of witchcraft, and magic practices. Ellen White encourages us to “to lighten the hearts of those around us by words of Christ-like sympathy.”[46]

Furthermore, churches must help in providing access to basic services such as health, education and social protection for the vulnerable and children who are at risk within church’s community. According to 2010 UNICEF report, Cimpric says, “Reducing poverty and economic stress factors should strengthen the protective role of the family and reduce some of the risk factors associated with witchcraft accusations.”[47] As the church, we have a responsibility to teach their family members that they must not tolerate violence or any abuse that happens when somebody is accused of witchcraft because often times it may be wrong. In many places, torturing witches is something that is acceptable by the community.and Christians remain quiet when such things happen and sometimes perpetrators of those violence are the same Christians. Much as the change is very important to the whole community, the best place where the change must begin is a family and from there it can now be spread to the whole community.

Churches must realize why culture is central in our mission to reach a culture impacted by witchcraft and magic. Kirk addressing the issue of the gospel within cultures offers some of the reasons why culture is central to mission at every point. Below are the points he makes:

Seventh, churches must emulate Christ’s method of humility. He came like a stranger, a slave and a servant. In order for the church to realize its potential as cross-cultural communicators and allies Gittins says, “…our marginal and ambiguous status reveals to us that we are strangers to any community that we just enter. We are not the primary agents of mission but collaborators and assistant servants to God’s Spirit who we must.”[48] We are always to remember that we have been called to be missionaries in the spirit of Jesus: nothing more or nothing less. According to Gittins, Jesus displayed the following traits that made his ministry have greater impact on those that he came into contact.

First, Jesus moved, listened, responded, shared, and adapted. He did not lord it over others. He identified himself with the people. Second, Jesus identified and worked with the local community. He was collaborative, picking unlikely people to be close to him and to carry the responsibility after him. The story of the woman at the well is the good example of how gracious Jesus was in his ministry. This is what is lacking in many pastors today including Malawi. Many pastors do not want to come close to people who are alleged to be witches because they are also afraid of being bewitched by such kind of people.

Third, Jesus shared himself, his time and energy, his presence and power, his prayer and his passion. In other words, he incarnated and contextualized himself. He discovered the secret of making moral relationships that helps one to reach someone’s life.  Fourth, Jesus was able to name his needs. He could state his need for privacy and prayer, for companionship and consolation. He did not burn out through misplaced zeal: he was able to withdraw, to be alone and to go to the hills where he got refreshed.

Finally, Jesus experienced linguistic and cultural adaptation, transition and assimilation. In his ministry, he used the language that engaged and entertained and informed people, telling stories, preaching and mentioning different words that people were used to hear. This helped him to make sense to the people. He was able to connect with his audience, using question and answer, dialogue, gesture and participation.[49]

Eighth, the Seventh-day Adventistchurch must have a missional framework that challenges its members to participate in God’s mission while engaging its unique and dynamic context. Learning from what James Tzu-Kao Chai did in helping Southern Baptist Church in Taiwan grow; members must learn to “engage and respond to challenges of its context.”[50] In Malawi context, witchcraft is the major challenge that collective collaboration of members in doing the missional assignments can transform the culture very quickly as opposed to what is happening now that a pastor is the only person expected to handle issues related to witchcraft and magic, yet he does not have well formulated theology on witchcraft and magic.


Malawi is a country full of potential for Christianity to grow very fast. The study has found out that the major hindrance to the growth of the church in Malawi is the impact of witchcraft and magic culture. Many people believe and practice witchcraft because it is culturally embedded in them. The approach taken by some earlier missionaries of condemning and demonizing the entire cultural practices did much damage to the trust with Malawians who because of such attitude felt disrespected. The approach appeared foreign and other people found it incompatible with the culture and concluded that they had to fight with everything that missionaries brought to them because it was considered as another way of strengthening their colonial power. This is the reason in the study, it has been revealed that most of them accepted Christianity conceptually but practically they continued using their culture that includes witchcraft and magic to answer their questions.

This study has factored in the researcher’s personal experience, anthropologists’ findings, modern missiologists in Africa and the West suggestions.  There is a common agreement in what different authors and scholars say concerning the importance of contextualization. It has been evident that the Christian church need to contextualize their mission to Africa. This is a challenge to the Seventh-day Adventist church in Malawi that has to find a better way on how to establish a rapport with the people that live in a culture where witchcraft is beyond superstition or mere illusion. Missionaries or any person doing the work of God must spend enough time to understand the culture before working with the people. It is vital to point out that missionaries who took the gospel to Malawi did their best according to the knowledge of that time. However, we are now in an era when many studies have been done that help us to see areas that need improvement. It is our collective responsibility in the 21st Century to improve the method.

There is high anticipation for maximum growth of membership if the church can follow what this study has found and adopt the eight ways that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Malawi can use in their quest to expand church growth. We can learn from what other churches like Pentecostalism are doing by not ignoring witchcraft issues but finding a way to help those affected by it directly or indirectly through different ministries that the paper recommends. It has been revealed that there is need to develop a better approach of doing mission in Malawi. As a culture that has many people who believe and practice witchcraft, the church must minister unto them with love and let Christ win their hearts. Therefore, I strongly recommend that the findings of this paper be shared to all church leaders and entire church congregation in Malawi. Pastors in training and those working in areas with strong cultural beliefs must be given enough training before they take responsibility in those areas. Most of the cultural factors discussed in this paper are common to the entire African culture, which makes the paper relevant to all churches that are engaged in mission to Africa.


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McCord, James. My Patients were Zulus. New York: Rinehart, 1951.

Mereau, A.S.  Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Motaroki, Ernest Nyakina. “A Theological Response to the Fear of Evil Spiritual Powers,” in Biblical Principles for Missiological Issues in Africa, Editors. Bruce L. Bauer and Wagner Kuhn. Berrien Springs, MI: Department of World Mission, Andrews University, 2015.

Neil Stephen Neil, The Unfinished Task. Edinburgh, London: House Press, 1957.

Olukoya, K. D. Prayer Rain. Lagos, Nigeria: Press House, 1986.

Ott, Craig and Stephen J. Strauss. Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues. Grand rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Parrinder, George. Witchcraft: A Critical Study of the Belief in Witchcraft from the Record of Witch Hunting in Europe Yesterday and Africa Today. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1958.

Priest, Robert J.  “Putting Witch Accusations on the Missiological Agenda: A Case from Northern Peru,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research; (Jan 2015) vol. 39 Issue 1. Accessed on March 29, 2017. http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2015-01/2015-01-003-priest.html.

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, “Witchcraft: A Philosophical and Theological Analysis.” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology, Vol 21.2, 2002.

Stein, Rabecca L., and Phillip L. Stein. The Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2005/ 2007.

White Ellen. “Love and Kindness.” The Review and Herald. 16 February 1897.

White, Ellen G. The Great Controversy. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2005.

White, Ellen. Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948.

Wikipedia, Pentecostalism, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentecostalism.Accessed on 3/21/ 2017.

Yusufu Turaki, “The Minority Ethnic Group and Christian Missions” Boston: Typewritten, 1982.

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[1]“Year Book,” Malawi Union Conference Online Statistics, last modified September 20, 2016, accessed March 21, 2017, http://www.adventistyearbook.org/ViewAdmField.aspx?AdmFieldID=MWUM.

[2] Wikipedia, Pentecostalism, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentecostalism, Accessed on 3/21/ 2017.

[3] Sarah Eekhoff  Zylstra “The Season of Adventists, Christianity Today, 2015, 18.

[4] Ellen White,Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6 (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948), 438.

[5] Ogbu U. Lalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 23.

[6] Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and Religious Dimension of an African Civil War (London: Hurst & Co., 2004), 44.

[7] Special time during their church service that is set apart for special prayers. They invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons that are tormenting people and dispel the evil powers of witchcraft and magic on their members.

[8] Rick Love, Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 2000), 1.

[9] John Kevin Livingston, A Missiology of the Road: Early Perspectives in David Bosch’s Theology of Mission and Evangelism (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), 76.

[10] Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, “Witchcraft: A Philosophical and Theological Analysis,” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology, vol 21.2, (2002): 127.

[11] John Kevin Livingston, A Missiology of the Road: Early Perspectives in David Bosch’s Theology of Mission and evangelism (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), 158. 

[12] A.S Mereau. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 230.

[13] Craig Ott and Stephen J. Strauss, Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 165.

[14] J. Andrew Kirk, What is Mission?: Theological Explorations (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 11

[15] J. Andrew Kirk, What is Mission, p.13

[16] George Parrinder, Witchcraft: A Critical Study of the Belief in Witchcraft from the Record of Witch Hunting in Europe Yesterday and Africa Today (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1958), 202-203.

[17] Stephen Neil, The Unfinished Task (Edinburgh, London:  House Press, 1957), 1, 17-18.

[18] David S. Dockery,” Shaping a Christian Worldview: An Introduction (Part I),” Integration of Faith & Learning, Union University, accessed March 21, 2017, https://www.uu.edu/centers/faculty/resources/article.cfm?ArticleID=364#_edn1.

[19] Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker, 2004), 17.

[20] Robert J. Priest, “Putting Witch Accusations on the Missiological Agenda: A Case from Northern Peru,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research; Jan 2015, vol. 39 Issue 1, accessed on March 29, 2017, http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2015-01/2015-01-003-priest.html.

[21] Frankle and Stein, Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft, and Witchcraft, 2nd ed. (Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon 2007), 5.  

[22] Stephen Neil, The Unfinished Task (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1957), 1, 30.

[23] Priest, “Putting Witch Accusations, n.p.

[24] Stein and Stein, The Anthropology of Religion, 226.

[25] Kirk, What is Mission, 75-79.

[26] Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology, (London: SCM Press, 1971), 170.

[27] Olga Oleinik and Knud Jorgensen, “The Primary Role of the Local Church in Mission,” accessed on April 15, 2017, http://www.edinburgh2010.org.

[28] Olga Oleinik and Knud Jorgensen, The Primary Role of the Local Church in Mission, p. 5.

[29] Ibid. 5.

[30] Yusufu Turaki, “The Minority Ethnic Group and Christian Missions” (Boston: Typewritten, 1982), p. 27.

[31] Lagerwef, Leny, Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Spirit Possession: Pastoral Responses in Africa. Gweru: Mambo Press, 1987. Originally publishes as special issue of Exchange, vol 14, nr.41, 1985.

[32] Elias K. Bongmba, “Witchcraft and the Christian Church Ethical Implications, in Imagining Evil: Withcraft Beliefs and Accusations in Contemporary Africa, ed. Gerrie Ter Haar(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Africa World Press, 2007), 117.  

[33] Ibid p. 118.

[34] James McCord, My Patients were Zulus (New York: Rinehart, 1951) np.

[35] Elias K. Bongmba, “Witchcraft and the Christian Church ethical implications, 118.

[36] Ellen G. White. The Great Controversy (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2005), 520.

[37] K. D. Olukoya, Prayer Rain (Lagos, Nigeria: Press House, 1986), 76.

[38] White, Great Controversy, p. 519.

[39] Douglas W. Waruta, and H. W Kinothi, Pastoral care in African Christianity (Nairobi, Kenya: Acton Publishers, 2004), 94.

[40] Ernest Nyakina Motaroki, “A Theological Response to the Fear of Evil Spiritual Powers,” in Biblical Principles for Missiological Issues in Africa, Bruce L. Bauer and Wagner Kuhn Eds.,  (Berrien Springs, MI: Department of World Mission, Andrews University, 2015), 380.

[41] Mark 16:17-18

[42] John 13:34-35

[43] Galatians 5:13 and 6:10.

[44] Elias K. Bongmba, “Witchcraft and the Christian Church ethical implications, 135.

[45] J. Christian Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, p. 259.

[46] Ellen White, “Love and Kindness,” The Review and Herald, February 16, 1897, 2017. 1.

[47] Aleksandra Cimpric, ‘Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological Study of Contemporary Practices in Africa’, UNICEF Report, April 2010, accessed on April 18, 2017, https://www.unicef.org/wcaro/wcaro_children-accused-of-witchcraft-in-Africa.pd.

[48] Gittins, Ministry at the Margins, 151.

[49] Gittins, Ministry at the Margins, 154.

[50] James Tzu-Kao Chai, “A Contextual Missiology for the Southern Baptist Church in Taiwan: reviewing the Past and Envisioning the Future,” in The Missional Church in Context: Helping Congregations Develop Contextual Ministry, ed.  Craig Van Gelder (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publications, 2007), 242.

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