This past Thursday, August 25th, I went with a team from Eden Children’s Village to the national gathering of Johane Masowe- a professing group of people that essentially believe that God sent a man named Shoniwa Gandanzara the spirit (interpreted as soul) of John the Baptist so that he would be a prophetic voice for Africa and lead people away from their sins and to God.
We set out mid-morning and headed over the disparaged roads through mountain ranges that separate our part of Zimbabwe from this area called Shinje. It took about 3 1/2 hours of plodding through the mountains and across dry river beds to get to the main roads that lead to Guruve and Shinje, where we were headed. I was very grateful for the Land Cruiser that all of our supporters helped us purchase last year. Our old van would definitely have breathed its last on this journey had we retained it!
We arrived around 11am at the Masowe meeting and found ourselves in a matter of moments in the center of a very large gathering of white robbed followers of Johane surrounding us in camping gatherings. After parking, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants to just below the knee, removed all watches, cell phones, musical equipment and Bibles (as per the requirements of the group “to maintain holiness" of the land and gathering-which is essential for having the desired power manifest from “god” later in the meetings). We complied, with the heart of seeking to share Jesus with lost souls, and were led to the leaders of the gathering and the sect as a whole. The Masowe are now over 1 million strong in Africa in 9 countries. So, we found ourselves sitting around on rocks and in the dirt, humbly seeking an opportunity to share Christ.
The leaders were kind and received us warmly, though with a little skepticism. It was supposed we were there to cause trouble and we were open that we were there to learn and question what we’ve heard and experienced of Masowe tradition. Soon after this one leader looked at me and said, “So you’ve come to get the spirit?” I said, “I already have the Spirit.” To which he retorted, “Oh! You have the spirit? We will see!” The feeling was cordial, but there was obviously a competitive or adversarial tone to all of our interactions in the 31 hours we were there, which is true and honest, I suppose, as I wasn’t there to comply and agree, but to speak, share and pray for lost souls to believe.
After about an hour the leaders decided we could stay and that we could “camp” with those from our area who had invited me in the first place. So we moved the vehicle about 100 yards to the area where they were camping and we unpacked a little and began lounging and chatting about God and theology. The leader who welcomed us shared his version of several Biblical stories and we started asking questions and seeking open doors for the Spirit to open the iron doors of deception and false teaching that are so prevalent in Masowe doctrine. This conversation, which was our first, was really good and left the 5-7 individuals that we were chatting with questions about Masowe that were unanswered and unanswerable with their traditional doctrinal stances. This was a powerful experience as the Lord was leading us to passage after passage that clearly refute so many beliefs held by these incredibly devout but deceived people. The conversation died off after about 1.5 hours, but the entire time we were sharing about Jesus and questioning the rejection of the Scriptures that characterizes Masowe faith, there were spies sent from the leaders to listen and watch to find out what we were doing and why we were there. It was enjoyable to watch person after person come and stay a “stones throw” away and pretend to speak with others while looking over every few seconds to listen and see what was happening. One man in particular had some rather dark spiritual realities written all over his face as he moved in a very strange manner and starred us down for a few minutes. It seemed the “spirit” in him was very displeased with the “Spirit” in us and was letting us know that he knew who we were with, who we belonged to and why we were there. The presence of Jesus was very strong as we share and laughed and prayed in our hearts for everyone around us to believe and be set free from the lies that will render all who were present deceived and heading to hell when they die.
After our first conversation we ate some good sadza and kept enjoying conversation all afternoon and evening until supper time and sunset. At sunset, all the people face east and pray specific prayers before rising from their knees to fold their hand and bow three times before they can return to their meal and/or fellowship. We then sat around fires as we were “freezing” in the 40s while completely exposed. Our hearts were full, though, because we were fulfilling the purpose for which we came, to share Jesus with any, all and as many as we could! We continued that until about 7pm and then we got a few hours sleep getting ready for the Pungwe-all night prayer and party- that was coming. I was assured I would get to preach, so I found myself lying on my back on the ground in a sleeping bag filled with joy and realizing that only Jesus could say anything that would make a real impact on the lives of those whom I was sharing this time with. No human wisdom, no words, no eloquence, would do ANYTHING. Only Jesus would do and only He could do it! How wonderful to FEEL what is always true! So, I was in joyful prayer and expectant that they might let us speak in that meeting.
After a fitful 2 hours of trying to get a little rest and stay warm, we were notified that it was time to begin the service. This all night gathering has men on one side of a huge fire and the women on the other. I found out the next day that they call this the “Alter” and that when we were gathered around the fire, we were Isaac and were being the sacrifice as we were not sleeping but seeking god. (There will be many parts of this post that make you ask questions…I cannot answer them :-) as there are no logical or clear explanations for some of the things I am sharing with you.) We sat and stood and the Masowe sang for about two hours and then the open time for teaching came. Edwin and I got a white “robe” so that we were properly clad to speak, eagerly ready to share the Word of God as clearly and quickly as we could. The Masowe start singing when they don’t like what you have to say and you only get 3 songs and you have to sit down. So, we were ready and went to the front and were ready to share. Then, the leaders said, “No, no! You must speak during the day so everyone can see your face. You will speak tomorrow.” This was fine. We humbly accepted and went back to our camp and went to sleep. It was a really good night of exhausted sleep, wrestling in prayer each time we woke, longing for everyone around us to believe and be saved!
We were woken at 5:45am to “go for prayer.” It was COLD!!! I have experienced much colder temperatures, but sleeping outside, barefoot, exposed and on rock and dirt, it was really cold. So we got up and they gathered nearly all of the swelling 5,000 person crowd to the “meeting area” where everyone positioned themselves facing the sun on our knees. The prayer time began with singing and then everyone broke out into individual prayer and our little team was praising God and praying for protection and the thwarting of every evil plan over this mass of people whom God made for Himself and not for anyone else. The sunrise was one of the best I have ever seen in color and power of vividness and I felt as though Jesus was smiling on our attempt to lift His name up for the salvation of all who would believe and be saved. Immediately proceeding from prayer the leaders shared some news and introduced me as a guest, as I was the only murungu (white person) in the group of 5,000. One leader even said, “We will hear from him later today.” We were already very skeptical that they were going to allow us to speak, because the spies were reporting what we were talking about and we were unashamedly asking questions and pressing for the questioning of traditionally held beliefs. This meeting ended at about 7:30am and we headed back to camp for breakfast and preparations for the long, main event.
We sat round drinking tea and conversing with as many as would engage us with conversation. I had a very long conversation with one group of men and asked lots of questions that were not answerable. One of the elements of our conversation stemmed from the reality that we and the Masowe share the belief that God will condemn the unrighteous to hell. One man asked why I was there and said he expected I was there to argue. I said I wasn’t but that if I actually believe that there is only one way to Heaven and that is Jesus and Jesus only, then I MUST ask questions and seek to make sure that no-one at that gathering hadn’t heard the Good News. (In hindsight this is probably part of why I wasn’t allowed to preach). We shared a good, long conversation and ended up shaking hands as I expressed my desire to see all men come to repentance and the salvation that comes by faith in Jesus, but little if any seed met fertile soil in any of our conversations in our 31 hours there.
Then, the main event began and a huge gathering was assembled. 5,000 people isn’t really that many, but they were all robbed up and gathered in one large circle at the center of the meeting area. They group was facing a recreation of Mt. Sinai at the top of the hill, complete with stone barrier and restrictive access, only grated to the supreme leaders. The service resembled the others with lots of songs and intermittent preaching that was broken by songs as people needed to stretch their backs or were tired of hearing what a speaker had to say. We were sitting in the sun and getting roasted, in the exact same place where we had been freezing a few hours earlier. Still, our hearts were joyful and in constant prayer, asking Jesus to PLEASE let us declare your glory, name and Gospel! As the time drew close for the opportunity that they said I would have to speak, a woman stood up and began to “prophesy” by the spirit of Gabriel (that’s what she said.) Her prophesy was essentially that a foreigner was present and was coming in to steal thousands of people from Masowe and that no foreigners can ever be allowed to speak or many will be lead ‘astray’” Amazingly, that demonic spirit was telling the truth! I am a foreigner, I was there to preach Jesus, praying that many would believe in the true Gospel and find eternal life in Him alone, and probably leaving Masowe as the truth of God’s Word liberates them from the intense and treacherous lies that are so carefully and intricately woven to catch many. From the moment she started speaking, Edwin knew they were not going to let us speak. Amazingly, we were totally at peace, though our backs and bottoms were extremely sore from so many hours sitting on a hill against the grade.
Immediately following the “prophesy” all teaching was topped and they got out the traditional Shona bowls that the leaders had been using to pray over water (with some kind of soap or oil in it to make it smell good). It became obvious that they were either going to make people drink it or put it on everyone. Neither option seemed good to me. I leaned over to Edwin and asked him what to do. He said, “That water cannot do anything to you! He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. We don’t need to run.” After Edwin’s encouragement, I was prayerfully willing to stay and felt the Spirit reminded me of Mark 16:18 “…and if they drink deadly poison it will not harm them….” So, I had peace and was ready for whatever was coming in the next few minutes. We were in intense prayer the entire time the main event was going on. You could feel the evil and that reality that this mass of people was after power and not power from Jesus! So, to prepare for splattering everyone with the water they had the entire group face the top of the mountain that resembled the presence of God on Mt. Sinai. The entire congregation fell to their knees and began praying for spirits to come upon them and manifest. Without any conscious communication, we began praying intensely against all that was taking place and for protection for ourselves from the large amount of evil that was present. The man immediately behind me started making loud guttural blurts and groans and then uttered “Johane.” The oppression we could feel got stronger the longer they prayed, but we were standing in Jesus’ name and immediately rebuked all demons that were naming themselves and were protected. Quickly the oppression left and the peace of God was powerfully upon us as we were interceding and rebuking all the evil around us.
After several miniutes, the prayer ended and then they formed a guard around the entire group so that NO ONE would leave before they were hit with the water. Each person was supposed to get hit with one drop. Humorously, we were doused three and four times each, but just our group of outsiders! I am not completely sure what they were hoping to do, besides send spirits to overpower us, but it didn’t work at all. In fact, the water felt like quite a nice relief to the scorching sun that was burning my ancestrally norse hide. It seemed there was an expected response to the water, perhaps a manifestation, because several leaders were stealing glances at us to see if anything was happening. We simply smiled and carried on. Soon after this water event, we accepted that there was no chance we were going to be allowed to share.
So, we slipped out of the meeting and asked to speak with the leaders in private to offer them Bibles before we left. They agreed to meet us and explained that I was not allowed to preach because I hadn’t given then enough advanced warning and the program schedule had already been made. (We didn’t believe that because we had actually been invited to come share and I had specifically asked for pre clearance, but no worries!) We explained that we had no anger or hard feelings but were desirous to share truth with the entire congregation. They invited us back in October to share that truth (not really expecting they will let us share, but we will probably go anyway, knowing that they won’t!). The leaders did accept a gift of 12 Bibles for the leaders and the top leader, Mutumwa, said, “We will read what he was going to say.” This gave us joy, because it was obvious that they knew we were going to share from Scripture and they knew we were going to exalt Jesus, even if that meant standing against some traditions.
Overall, the time was powerful and challenging. I found my heart deeply impacted by one reality that should be a constant reality for every Christian…every lost person is going to hell. Without Jesus every person will face the consequences of the wrath of God against sin and will be without defense or protection on the day of judgement. I realized how little drive there has been in my heart to share Jesus with every person, because you don’t know who’s lost! How can we say we are saved, have passed from death to life and that everyone will enter into either eternal life or eternal death in hell and do nothing, say nothing and share nothing! It is said the Spurgeon said, “If you do no yearn for the souls of lost men you can be sure you are not saved.” That wording doesn’t sit well with the postmodern world, but perhaps we’ve become a bit too comfortable, a bit too blasé and a bit too pacified by our freedom! Brothers and sisters, there are BILLIONS of people on this planet right now who ARE going to face eternal condemnation if they don’t get reborn by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus! What will you do? Don’t be silent for one more day! Don’t hold that light in you under a basket! You CANNOT! Please, please, let Jesus out of your mouth and your life constantly. Throw off all the childish, ridiculous, materialistic and temporal junk that so jumbles and overwhelms our thoughts that we cannot even think of people as people and live from electronic moment to electronic moment, rather than engaging real life. Please, get serious about your relationship with Jesus and give up your life! I have no doubt whatsoever that He will meet you with power, intimacy, love and strength to be made just like Him! That’s what the world needs…Jesus…living, active and present in and through you. So, what will it be? For me, witnessing is changed and MUST be constant, daily and intentional. Please pray with me for Mutumwa! I want to see that man get saved by Jesus! I’m also going to be engaging Masowe leaders that live around us, seeking to have Bible study with them, as they have asked for time to hear and study more. Please pray for these times as they come up in the near future.
Brief Glossy of Masowe Terms and Beliefs:
Mutumwa - The supreme leader of the Masowe and the intermediary between men and god. They believe he is endowed with the same power as their original leader to lead by the power of the “Holy Spirit” and tell the people what God is saying.
Holy Spirit, no Bible: The group claims to follow the Holy Spirit and have superior revelation from the Spirit, making the Bible unneccessary. They believe there are massive and critical translation errors and that this is why the Spirit supersedes the Bible and does away with its necessity.
Johane Masowe: Shoniwa Gandanzara, the founder of the VaPostori (Apostles) religious movement. He claimed to be a svikiro or spirit medium who received the actual spirit/soul of John the Baptist from the New Testament and that Jesus sent John to make Shoniwa into the forerunner for Africa to prepare as Christ’s bride from Africa. Masowe believe that God has given different plans for each continent to receive the Gospel and that Masowe is the way that Jesus wants Africans to come to Him. This movement started in 1932 when Shoniwa had his svikiro experience. Svikiro is a key part of Shona (and many other African) traditional religious systems of communication with the spirit world. The entire Masowe church is after power and miracles, especially protection from evil spirits.
Salvation: The answer were widely varied as to “how” someone gets saved. Basically, obey the commandments and get baptized and never leave the Masowe church. Jesus is named and will be claimed for salvation, but all prayer and seeking for experience seems devoid of His name or glorification.
Much, much more to come as Jesus allows! Thanks for your prayers! They were powerful and effective. Jesus be with you you all, empowering you to LIVE for Him in this dark world.