September 17, 2008

Native Cults in East Africa

When Christians hear about cults in East Africa, they often think of the many heretical religious movements originating in the West. The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolics, Branhamites, and others are all very active in Uganda and throughout the region. Their presence leads to a serious, ongoing challenge for believers in East Africa.

But many groups that corrupt and oppose the Christian faith spring up from within Africa itself, as two feature articles in the September 7th edition of Uganda’s Sunday Monitor newspaper illustrate.

Bisaka BookUganda now hit by an influx of cults” reports on the Faith of Unity and Oneness, a powerful and widespread sect led by Dosteo (Desteo) Bisaka. Once a writer of popular hymns, Bisaka claims that he left Roman Catholicism after he began to experience special powers. Today he leads a movement that rejects (and publicly burns) the Bible, denies Jesus’ very existence, teaches that God has several “Major Spirits,” and regards Bisaka as a manifestation of God Himself. The article explains the group’s appeal:
According to one Kaboyo, who has been a follower of Bisaka for the last ten years, the differences between his faith and Christianity are fundamental. “For starters, it’s not a religion but a movement founded by an African, unlike Christianity which was imported into Africa by the white man. The Bible is divisive; that is why we discarded it and formed Oneness, uniting all people irrespective of race, into one flock under one shepherd—Bisaka.” He adds that Runyoro is the chief language in the Faith of Unity because it was formed in Bunyoro, but quickly adds that other languages are used according to where their branches are situated. “We have branches in Nansana, Kamwokya, Bweyogerere and Sironko, but they use other languages like Luganda and English, though the hymns are in Runyoro.”
Bambi Baaba BookThe strange Baranda of Masaka” describes a Ugandan journalist’s quest to understand the controversial Sserulanda Nsulo Yobulamu Spiritual Foundation. The movement teaches that its leader, “His Infinite Grace” Mugonza Bambi Baaba (who currently resides in the United States), is “God Almighty” on earth. Bambi Baaba reportedly oversees all aspects of his followers’ lives, from the naming of children to permitting marriages and approving burials upon death. The writer visited the group’s Ugandan compound—evidently at great personal risk. He reports that “After long hours of abuse and threats, I was saved by a plainclothes policeman,” who cautioned: “You were lucky they did not harm you.” At day’s end the writer “boarded the bus to Kampala, fully terrorised.”

Take a moment to reflect on the seriousness of the overall situation in Uganda. Cults that you and I know well are present and active. But even if we were to flood the country with resources addressing each of these groups, it wouldn’t begin to touch the false prophets and heretical movements originating in East Africa. Such cults must be carefully researched and analyzed in order to develop effective biblical responses and evangelistic strategies—a task that has yet to be undertaken.

We must face this challenge! By advancing biblical discernment—especially among pastors—and defending the faith in East Africa, we can equip Christians to counter the growing spread of cults. Though the need is daunting, we continue to trust in our God who overcomes all obstacles for His glory. And by His grace, we continue to prepare the launch of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research in January of 2009.