October 31, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: East Africa Gathering, Piper on Missions, and Theology in Africa

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Grace Samson, "Call2all East Africa" in the Lausanne Connecting Point - October 2008. In this report, we read of a gathering of Christian leaders in East Africa coming together to reach the least and the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that the glory of Christ will shine in East Africa!

2) John Piper, "Bad Times Are Good for Missions" on the Desiring God blog. I appreciate John Piper's insights on missions as we face an economic downturn.

3) "Living on the Seam of History: African Christianity Part 7, Towards a Missiological and Theological Renaissance" on the Koinonia blog. This post includes some insightful quotes and even a video with Christopher J.H. Wright on Christianity in Africa and the Global South.

October 29, 2008

Ask Anything Wednesday: Material on Witnessing to Mormons

Welcome to Ask Anything Wednesday. This month I received two great questions, so I'll answer the first this week and the second next Wednesday. At the same time, please keep the questions rolling in! Just submit your question--on anything!--in the comments section below and I'll consider responding to it in our monthly feature.

"What do you suggest I read to learn to better witness to Mormons?"

Speaking the Truth in Love to MormonsWhile I have responded to a similar question before, I appreciate the opportunity to expand my answer. In considering books, I highly suggest reading Mark Cares' Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons. Cares is a Lutheran pastor in Idaho who has faithfully witnessed to Mormons for years. His book is easily the best work that I have read on this topic. Additionally, his ministry's web site has a lot of helpful information and his blog is also excellent.

There are many helpful resources elsewhere on the web as well. James White's "Verse Memorization System: Verses Relevant to Sharing the Gospel with Mormons" is very useful. You could learn a lot from web sites such as Mormonism Research Ministry, the Institute for Religious Research's Mormons in Transition, the Mormonism section of 4Truth.net, and others.

If you would like to learn more about Mormonism in general and how their beliefs are different from historic Christianity, I suggest checking out Is the Mormon My Brother?, Mormon America, and Mormonism 101. And if you are firm in your faith and want to dig deep, nothing can replace actually reading Mormon sources themselves. I would start with Gospel Principles.

I could continue, but I'm afraid that this list has already become too long. Feel free to ask me additional questions on witnessing to Mormons. Praise God for your desire to bring the light of the true Jesus Christ to Latter-day Saints!

October 28, 2008

Ask Anything Wednesday Tomorrow

Ask Anything Wednesday is tomorrow! Do you have any questions about the Africa Center for Apologetics Research? Do you have a question about witnessing to cult members? Do you want to know what I am reading right now? Anything is fair game!

Just ask and I'll try to answer it. The easiest way to submit a question for tomorrow is simply to post it as a comment below. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

October 27, 2008

Witchcraft in Africa

Since our culture celebrates Halloween this week, I thought it would be good to briefly focus on the reality of witchcraft. Too often we think of witches on brooms, classic Disney movies, or Harry Potter. We may also consider the Salem witch trials or the rise of Wicca in the western world. But I am not referring to any of these things. If we want to understand the very real presence of witchcraft, we need to turn to Africa.

Witchcraft is an ever-present reality in Africa. Witches are generally an integral part of African Traditional Religions, acting as intermediaries between people, the living-dead, and the Supreme God. Even today, with the growth of Christianity and Islam throughout the continent, witchcraft beliefs and practices remain strong.

Africa Bible CommentaryIn the Africa Bible Commentary, Nigerian church leader and scholar Samuel Waje Kunhiyop writes:

Belief in witchcraft is approaching epidemic proportions in Africa. While it is easy to understand how nominal Christians can cling to this deep-seated belief, it is disturbing that it is widespread among Christians too. Christian rituals are sometimes seen as little more than a form of protection against witchcraft. Thus mothers 'cover' the beds of their children with the blood of Jesus to ward off witches and evil spirits before putting them to bed. It is also 'poured' on roads to ward off the witches who cause accidents.

The Bible does not support the doctrines of demons, evil spirits and witchcraft that derive from traditional beliefs, but many professing Christians are unaware of what the Bible teaches on this subject. One reason for this is the tendency to interpret the Bible in terms of established opinions and beliefs. Church leaders and missionaries have also tended to dismiss witchcraft as mere superstition, rather than developing an adequate understanding of it rooted in the doctrine of evil. There is an urgent need for the culturally postulated reality of witchcraft to be addressed pastorally with seriousness, sensitivity and respect (374).
The church of Jesus Christ needs to take witchcraft seriously. Syncretism (the mixing of different religious beliefs) is a serious problem in Africa. Christians go to church on Sundays and then to the witchdoctor during the week. Even pastors corrupt God's revealed truth by combining it with witchcraft.

Christians in Africa need to see how our faith relates to all of life. As Kunhiyop says, witchcraft must be addressed. To counter this challenge, I have been researching witchcraft in Africa. You can see my reviews of Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage and Who Are The Living-Dead? as well as the book notice for Unveiling Witchcraft.

Lord willing, through our ministry many Africans will be set free from the bondage of witchcraft through the gospel of Jesus Christ!

October 24, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Gadaffi and Islam, God in Kampala, Faith in Africa, and Theology Weekend

Here's this week's round-up:

1) "Gadaffi crowned ‘King of Kings’ as he seeks to create ‘Africa govt’" in the East African newspaper (Kenya). Here's an article I recently came across on Libyan leader Gadaffi's continued involvement in Africa. If you haven't seen his zeal for spreading Islam throughout the continent yet, then make sure to watch our video on his mosque in Uganda.

2) "God of This City--Kampala, Uganda" (video). I cannot put into words how much this video caused me to long to move to Uganda. Watch it!

Africa - God of This City from Katlin Miller on Vimeo.

3) "Living on the Seam of History: African Christianity Part 4, My Neighbour's Faith by John Azumah" on the Koinonia blog. This post has several excerpts from Ghanaian scholar Azumah on the multi-faith environment in Africa. We are left with much to dwell on.

4) Kevin Larson, "Theology Weekend 2008 Just Ahead" on the Karis Blog. Kevin is a good friend of mine and this will be an awesome weekend addressing an essential topic. Who wouldn't want to hear a debate on "Only One Way? A Forum and Discussion about Jesus and Salvation" with Dr. Bruce Ware? If you are in the area, you'll want to check this out for yourself.

October 22, 2008

Happy Anniversary to You, James White

In light of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Alpha and Omega Ministries, those impacted by James White over the years were invited to write about how the Lord has used him in their lives. Below is my testimonial. While he may still post this on his blog, I also wanted my readers to know how much respect I have for Dr. White and his ministry.

John Divito and James White
Dr. White,

You can count me as another follower of Christ deeply impacted by your ministry. While I was raised as a Mormon, I came to a crisis of faith in college. I was trying to convince my girlfriend (now my wife) of the "fullness of the gospel" when I began to see overwhelming evidence against Mormonism which simply could not be refuted. By God's grace, I found real freedom in the true Jesus Christ.

At the same time, He used you to help me navigate through the many challenges that I was struggling with. Many of your books made Christ's revealed truth understandable. Is the Mormon My Brother?, The Forgotten Trinity, and The Potter's Freedom are just a few of your books that were foundational in my budding faith. As a tech-geek, I read through much of your web site (even though you struggled to keep it up-to-date!) and started listening to the Dividing Line online (back when it was still a Phoenix radio show). Once I began seminary, my fellow schoolmates and friends would get tired of me mentioning you so they poked fun in return by always asking "what does James White say?"

Even to this day, God continues to use you in my spiritual growth. Your blog is in my feed reader. I continue listening to the Dividing Line and reading your books. My wife and I were even able to finally meet you in person through being a part of last fall's AOMin cruise. I have included a picture of us together from the cruise.

You have been a gift from God in my life as well as a gift of God to His church. Without you, I can honestly say that I would not be preparing to defend our Lord against cults and error in East Africa. I pray that Christ will continue to bless your ministry as you "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints"!

Because of His grace,
John Divito
Director, Africa Center for Apologetics Research
Web Site: http://www.acfar.org/
Blog: africacfar.blogspot.com

October 20, 2008

Cross-Cultural Stress in Marriage

My family continues to prepare serving Christ in East Africa. While we have a lot to get ready for in our ministry, we also face fundamental changes in our personal lives. How will our move across cultures impact our marriage? What will it mean for our family? How will we be discipling our children in Africa?

EMQ October 2008This month's Evangelical Missions Quarterly is devoted to helping address these crucial questions, and I have benefited greatly from its articles. One was written by Sue Eenigenburg, "Preparing Missionary Couples for Cultural Stress." She begins by confessing to getting so frustrated in her cross-cultural challenges that she considered leaving her husband in the mission field. Eenigenburg says:

Culture stress can make or break a marriage. My husband and I had a solid foundation for our marriage and went to minister overseas after eight good years of marriage and three children. I would have never imagined that I would find myself daydreaming about leaving him. With the language and cultural differences, the stress of dealing with ministry in and out of our home, keeping up with laundry, and cooking and cleaning for our family of six, I was ready for a trip to Hawaii--without him and the kids. I felt tempted to charge my trip to his account and let him take care of the bill, the kids, and the laundry. I wasn't sure if I even wanted to come back (422).
I appreciate her openness and honesty. I am also glad that she devotes the rest of her article to helping missionary couples prepare for the cross-cultural stressors that can challenge and even overwhelm the best marriages. She lists twelve: 1) lack of privacy, 2) public displays of affection, 3) time spent together, 4) competition in language [acquisition], 5) competition in ministry, 6) physical distress, 7) emotional issues, 8) feeling pressure, 9) treatment of spouse, 10) spending time together, 11) expectation of roles, and 12) environment.

Wedding RingsEenigenburg then provides missionary couples with six steps to proactively face these stressors as well as lists 25 questions and ideas to discuss before moving overseas. She has packed a great deal of helpful information into the few pages of this article. I may not be able to provide all of her suggestions in this post (if you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out her article), but she has definitely caused me to realize the need to work through these issues now, before we move to Uganda.

Please pray for my wife and I as we prepare to serve our Lord in East Africa. I ask that you not only pray for our ministry but also for our marriage and our family. We continue to trust in Christ, knowing that only He can provide the strength we need to successfully handle the cultural stress we will face. May my wife and I glorify our Savior together!

October 17, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Prosperity Gospel, Sserulanda Spiritual Foundation, Emergent Movement, and Ethics in Africa

Here's this week's round-up:

1) "How preachers fleece their poor flock," "Poor worshippers pay for preachers’ lavish lifestyles," "Regulate churches - religious leaders," and "Tame errant churches" in the Daily Nation newspaper (Kenya). This newspaper dedicated several articles in an issue from last week to the problem of the prosperity gospel and those taking advantage of Christians for financial gain. These reports are truly saddening. May the true gospel of Christ expose this counterfeit gospel!

2) Carol Natukunda, "Religious sect stores dead bodies" in the New Vision newspaper (Uganda). Here is yet another report on the Sserulanda Nsulo Yobulamu Spiritual Foundation led by Mugonza Bambi Baaba, a "god in human form". This sect will definitely need to be closely monitored.

3) Tim Keel, "Video: Amahoro Africa" on the Emergent Village Weblog. The Emergent movement in Africa? Yes, this largely heretical group continues to make inroads in Africa. Now they even have a slick video. Be sure to watch for Brian McLaren:

Amahoro Africa from Andy Michael on Vimeo.

4) "Living on the Seam of History: African Christianity Part 4" on the Koinonia blog. The latest post in this series on African Christianity focuses on ethics. As always, there is much to think about.

October 15, 2008

Book Review: A Gentle Wind of God

A Gentle Wind of GodRichard K. MacMaster and Donald R. Jacobs, A Gentle Wind of God: The Influence of the East Africa Revival (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2006), 403 pp.

As I prepare to serve Christ in Uganda, I am continually seeking to better understand Christianity in East Africa. Upon the advice of Dr. Solomon Nkesiga from Kampala Evangelical School of Theology (KEST), I have been focusing my research lately on the Balokole and the East Africa Revival. One of the few books readily available in America on this topic, A Gentle Wind of God serves as an introduction to this largely unknown but central movement in Africa and its growing influence in the Western world.

The authors begin their account as the revival begins in Rwanda and then Uganda in the early 1930s. It started with a few men who desired renewal in the Anglican churches in East Africa. They had been deeply impacted by the cross of Christ and desired to live repentant lives in union with their Savior. Their devotion quickly spread throughout the region, causing many to meet together regularly as they grew deeper in their relationships to Christ. Through much opposition and struggles, these Balokole ("the saved ones") continued to expand and meet together, impacting many churches and denominations with their Christ-centered faith.

At the same time, the revival not only took hold among Africans--many Western missionaries were deeply affected as well. They took the East Africa Revival home through correspondence, return visits, and ministry opportunities. This was especially true of many Mennonite missionaries serving in Tanzania and elsewhere. As a result, this book devotes a great deal of space to the influence of the revival in the West. What was the message of the East Africa Revival?
If one were to try to summarize the message of so-called revival, it would be something like this. Come to Jesus with your sins; repent and be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ; live in the immediacy of the presence of Jesus, and walk in open fellowship with the brothers and sisters; absorb yourself in the Word of God by life-changing Bible study; allow Jesus Christ to do good deeds through you by the enabling of the Holy Spirit; and witness with word, life, and action that Jesus Christ is the head of the individual and of the body of believers (21).
When reading this book, I couldn't help but be moved by recognizing God's hand at work in East Africa. I have found many new heroes of the faith, including Ugandans such as William Nagenda and Festo Kivengere. I stand in awe of the Holy Spirit, who drew many thousands of people to Christ through this movement. The authors are to be commended for bringing together such a powerful testimony to God's glorious kingdom.

At the same time, I thought the book was somewhat imbalanced. A disproportionate amount was devoted to the transformation of the American Mennonites. It seemed as if the actual revival in East Africa was somewhat glossed over while great detail was included for such Mennonites as the Leathermans and the Mausts. Maybe this was due to the authors being Mennonites and the publishing house being a Mennonite press. Nevertheless, I wanted to read more about what was happening in Africa. Additional balance would have been appreciated.

Nevertheless, I still recommend MacMaster and Jacob's work. America and the West are not the only places where God has blessed His church. Hopefully, many more Christians will come to know and cherish the East Africa Revival.

October 13, 2008

Working Together With the Institute for Religious Research

As we continue preparing to launch the Africa Center for Apologetics Research in Uganda, our ministry has been blessed to have many partnerships with other Christian organizations who are also devoted to defending our common faith. I have already mentioned our partnership with Stand to Reason. Now I'd like to focus on another apologetics ministry. By working together, we are already making a different for the kingdom of God in East Africa!

One of ACFAR's most important partner ministries is the Institute for Religious Research (IRR), based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. IRR is widely known as a model ministry, characterized by its balance, integrity, and innovation. Led until 2007 by the late Luke Wilson, IRR is now headed by veteran apologist Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

In my mind, Bowman is one of the foremost Christian apologists alive today. He has written or co-written many books and journal articles, including one of my favorites on defending the faith: Faith Has Its Reasons. As a former Mormon, I also appreciate IRR's Mormons in Transition ministry.

IRR Swahili TractAdditionally, we have a long history serving Christ together. IRR was one of the founding sponsors of the first Center for Apologetics Research in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1993. Since then, IRR and the Centers for Apologetics Research have teamed up on a number of projects, including the translation and adaptation of IRR’s tracts, pamphlets, and videos in Russian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Portuguese.

IRR is one of the few North American countercult ministries that shares CFAR’s vision and commitment for international, cross-cultural apologetics outreach. We look forward to distributing their English- and Swahili-language resources in East Africa and to partnering in the translation of key materials into other local languages across the continent!

October 10, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Christian and Islam in Tension, Buddhism in Uganda, the Holy Spirit in Africa

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Joshua Mugabi, "Church forced to bow down to moon" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). This opinion piece shows the ongoing tension in East Africa between Christians and Muslims.

2) Florence Baingana, "Happiness over material needs" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). It looks as if this Soka Gakkai Buddhist is now regularly writing a column in Uganda. As always, she is extolling the practice of her faith.

3) "Living on the Seam of History, Part 3: The Holy Spirit" on the Koinonia blog. Every one of the posts in this series has been immensely informative. The latest entry is on the African doctrine of the Holy Spirit (known as pneumatology). A quote from Timothy Tennent is especially thought provoking:
"If, in this study [of pneumatology in the context of world Christianity] I have neglected the 'mote' in the Pentecostal eye, it is only because I am so painfully aware of the 'beam' in my own eye. In other words, I maintain that despite the incongruities, Pentecostalism remains the most important corrective to the blind spots in our pneumatological theory and practice on the planet today. By God's grace, we (western evangelical Protestants) may very well represent the most important corrective to the blind spots in their (Christians in the East) pneumatology.... To be effective, the twenty-first century church desperately needs the dynamic union of both."

October 8, 2008

Book Notice: The Uganda Cult Tragedy

Bernard Atuhaire, The Uganda Cult Tragedy: A Private Investigation (London: Janus Publishing Company, 2003), 138 pp.

The Uganda Cult TragedyThe Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was a cult born in Uganda which ended in tragedy. The lives of roughly a thousand members, including many women and children, ended eight years ago in what is now known as the Kanungu Massacre. To understand how and why this Roman Catholic sect ended so violently, Ugandan scholar Bernard Atuhaire traveled to Kanungu to personally investigate the movement.

From the back cover:
On 17 March 2000, over 500 people died in the blazing inferno in the remote hills of southwest Uganda. Shortly afterwards, hundreds more bodies were discovered in mass graves across the country.

Those who died belonged to a religious cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, who believed that only those who committed themselves totally to the sect’s revival of the Ten Commandments would be saved on the day of reckoning—which was close at hand.

The Uganda Cult Tragedy is an account of the formation and growth of this cult, in particular examining the reasons why it rooted itself so firmly in Uganda, passing unnoticed by the authorities until it was too late...

The author believes the cult phenomenon is not only highly dangerous but is now universal and growing. He has researched his subject thoroughly with former cult members in the hope that this revealing account of the terrible, but not widely publicized, tragedy in Uganda may act as a warning—to prevent such appalling loss of life in the future.

Table of Contents:
Introduction, x
The Beginnings, 1
Recruitment, 27
Entry and Training, 33
The Centres: Practices and Daily Life, 47
Opposition, Indifference and Support, 65
The End?, 81
Reflections and Conclusions, 99
Appendices, 103

October 6, 2008

Dialogue with Non-Christians

While I posted this entry on a previous blog, my current studies on missions work and engaging with people from other religions reminded me of an important journal article that I read on the topic. So I have decided to share a little from it again for the readers of the ACFAR blog.

In thinking about such issues as evangelism, apologetics, missions, and Christianity's relationship to other religions, I ran across an older but excellent and informative article: I. Howard Marshall, "Dialogue with Non-Christians in the New Testament," Evangelical Review of Theology (16): 28-47. Unfortunately, this article does not appear to be online. Nevertheless, it is essential reading for all Christians interested in sharing the gospel with others. It begins where we all should start in working through these issues--God's Word. While I'd love to post the whole article (but am equally sure that I cannot!), below is the introduction to whet your appetite. Hopefully it will serve as a "hook," leading you to find a copy and read it in its entirety.

The place of dialogue with non-Christians in relation to the evangelistic task of the church has received renewed attention recently in the pages of the Evangelical Review of Theology. It is clear that some Christians regard dialogue as an important form of witness, and think that the church's evangelistic task should be carried on by means of dialogue as well as by proclamation.

We may roughly contrast the two possible approaches as follows. In proclamation the evangelist (X) has a message (G--the gospel) which he communicates to his hearer (Y) as something which is to be accepted or rejected; the evangelist himself has received this unchanging message, and he communicates it virtually without change. In dialogue, however, the message is not something which the evangelist already possesses in normative form. Rather he must enter into discussion with his hearer, both participants contributing to the dialogue and thus together reaching an understanding of the gospel.

G ---> X ---> Y

X ---> G <--- Y

The question which is posed by juxtaposing these two types of approach is whether the Christian message is something 'given' to the evangelist which is passed on unchanged to the potential convert, or whether the truth of the gospel is something that emerges in the course of dialogue. Obviously the issues are not as sharp as this in practice. Any evangelist must shape his proclamation to the situation and character of the hearer; it is no use speaking in German to somebody who only understands Tamil, and illustrations and concepts must be chosen which will be intelligible to the hearer. Similarly, even in a situation of dialogue the evangelist will have some understanding of the gospel, even if his understanding of it may undergo radical alteration in the course of dialogue. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to ask whether the essential content of the gospel is something 'given' to the evangelist or can undergo radical alteration in a common search for truth along with a non-Christian.

It is surely essential that in discussing this matter we have a clear understanding of what is meant by 'dialogue' in the New testament and determine whether it was practised as a means of evangelism. We shall look first at the meaning of the Greek verbs which suggest the idea of dialogue, and this will involve us in a study of the church's evangelism as portrayed in Acts. From there we shall turn back to the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] to see whether the dialogue form can be found there, and then we shall move forward to see whether Paul's letters reflect the use of dialogue, and finally we shall consider the Gospel of John as a source for dialogue. The essay will close with some brief conclusions.

October 3, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Bahá’í in Uganda, Prosperity Gospel, African Doctrine of Christ, Proclaiming the Gospel, and 12 Mission Theses

Here's this week's round-up:

1) Eshban Kwesiga, "My visit to the Bahá’í Temple: The beauty and the rumours" in the Sunday Monitor newspaper (Uganda). This reporter recounts a recent visit to the Bahá’í temple in Uganda, the only one in all of Africa. The result is a brief introduction to the history of the Bahá’í and their local temple.

2) Kakaire A. Kirunda, "False Spiritual Healing Threatening Fight Against HIV/Aids - Experts" in the Daily Monitor newspaper (Uganda). Another example of prosperity gospel preachers conning people out of their money and health.

3) "Living on the Seam of History 3: African Christology" on the Koinonia blog. I am really enjoying this series so far! Their latest post is on the development of the doctrine of Christ in Africa.

4) Nii Amoo Darku, "The Verbal Proclamation of the Gospel" in the Lausanne World Pulse (October 2008). A Ghanaian pastor explains the centrality in our faith of proclaiming the gospel. I greatly appreciate the insights of this African church leader!

5) Andreas J. Köstenberger, "12 Theses on the Church’s Mission in the Twenty-First Century" on the Biblical Foundations blog. Well known American evangelical scholar Köstenberger provides some important and much-needed reflections on the church's mission today.

October 2, 2008

Viral Video: The Challenge of the Cults in East Africa

We humbly offer this new film in the hope that it will stir the Body of Christ to action.

Pray with us that God will use this tool to help more Christians in the West to realize the enormous challenge facing our brothers and sisters in Christ in East Africa—and the potential we have, by God’s grace, to change the equation by raising up a generation of believers who are fully equipped for discernment, the defense of the faith, and cult evangelism.

Please send a link to your friends so they can catch the vision for ACFAR’s uniquely strategic ministry. We also plan to distribute the film on DVD; to request a free copy, please e-mail me.