From a missionary point of view, the three greatest threats and challenges to the Christian church in Africa today are Communism, Islam and witchcraft.
More than half of Africa is strongly influenced by animism or ancestor worship. The power of the witchdoctor is immense as he lays on the people’s fears of the spirit world and exploits their superstitions.
When someone falls sick or dies, it isn’t because of disease, lack of hygiene or for want of medical help. No, says the witch doctor, it is an evil spirit who placed a curse on them. Nobody ever seems to get bitten by a snake or eaten by a crocodile, according to the witchdoctor. No, an ancestral spirit took the form of a snake and punished the person for some transgression of tribal custom.
When a bolt of lightening strikes a hut and a person gets burnt to death, the witch doctor gathers the people and jumps round shouting that everybody knows that bolts of lightening don’t just come out of the sky by accident — someone made it come down. Now, he exclaims, I must sniff out the witch who made it come down. Then the witchdoctor throws his bones and goes into trance, gets whipped up into a frenzy and finally identifies some poor terrified soul, who will probably even believe he is responsible. The selected victim will then be stoned to death or burnt alive, thrown to he crocodiles or made to climb up a tall tree or cliff and jump to his or her death.
In many parts of Africa today witchdoctors still cut numerous scars into the flesh of young boys and rub ash and dirt in the wounds — supposedly to ward off evil spirits. Young girls at age thirteen have their front teeth sawn off at a public ceremony by the witchdoctor, who clamps her head between his knees and, with an unhygienic blade and without sedation or pain-killers, performs this “beautifying ceremony”.
Even today in some parts of Africa "beauty competitions” are still held— where the most beautiful girl in the district is sacrificed to the “great crocodile god”. All the villagers dance and ululate on the banks as the selected victim is eaten alive by the crocodiles.
Ritual murders are commonplace where witchdoctors or their accomplices kill people for kidneys, livers, hearts, brains or other ingredients deemed essential for their “muti” (medicine).
Many famous African leaders have participated in ritual cannibalism in the belief that it would ward off danger and make them unchallengable and invincible. For example: Jomo Kenyatta, ldi Amin, Emperor Bokkasa, Samora Machel and Joaquim Chissano have all eaten human flesh in witchcraft ceremonies.
Statistically, there are 84-million practising animists in Africa today In Benin, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Sierra Leone the majority of the population follow witchcraft, according to the Christian World Encyclopedia and Operation World. Nevertheless, this does not take into account the enormous number of church-attending “nominal Christians” who adhere to animist superstitions and fetishism as well. This problem of syncretism — the mixing of witchcraft with Christianity — is a seldom-perceived and massive problem in Africa. The majority of the “nominal Christians” in Africa have entered the church without forsaking animism.
This is why we in Frontline Fellowship preach the nature of God, eternal judgement, full repentance from sin and separation from all evil. We emphasise the Lordship of Christ and warn against compromise. People coming forward to surrender their lives to Christ are urged to go home first and return with their witchcraft fetishes, burn them publicly, bury the ashes and thereby make a clean, clear and public break with the forces of evil. As the hymn goes:
“I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back, praise the Lord, No turning back.”
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, don’t follow the disgusting practices of the nations that are there. Don’t sacrifice your children in the fires on your altars; and don’t let your people practice divination or look for omens or use spells or charms, and don’t let them consult the spirits of the dead. The Lord your God hates people who do these disgusting things, and that is why He is driving those nations out of the land as you advance. Be completely faithful to the Lord.” Deuteronomy 18.9-13