Giant rainbow snakes, limited good and the everyday demonic. How do you minister to people who think completely differently from you? Wendy Atkins has been living in such a society for 17 years.
In his book Transforming Worldviews, Paul Hiebert defines the term ‘worldview’ as “the maps they have of reality that they use for living”.
People in different cultures have different worldviews, different maps that guide them as they interpret the reality of the world in which they live. They think differently. They act differently. They evaluate the world differently.
“The Azande have the most complicated witchcraft system in Africa.”
Only so much ‘good’ to go around
The Azande believe that within each society there is a limited amount of good available for the members of that society. This good can be material, physical, and even spiritual. Since this good is limited, it needs to be shared equally among all the members of that society. If one person begins to develop themselves and advances in any way, the other members of the society believe that this person is taking a larger part of the good than has been allotted for him. They are compelled to do all they can to bring that person back down to their level so that the balance of good can be maintained.
Living with evil spirits
The Azande live in fear of the evil spirits. They have one of, if not the, most complicated witchcraft system in Africa. It’s been said that the Azande eat, drink, and sleep in relation to the spirit world. The distinction between a biblical worldview of the spirit world and their traditional worldview is not clear for many believers.
Three deacons and a young church member were sitting on my front porch one afternoon. As I looked across the valley I saw a beautiful rainbow. “Isn’t that such a great display of God’s love for us?” I said. The young church member said: “Have you ever seen the bugs that make rainbows?” As I sat there very puzzled one of the deacons responded: “That rainbow was not made by bugs. It is a snake-like creature that makes rainbows. I know a woman who saw that snake once and when she looked at it, all of her black skin fell off and she turned white.”
“I believe the biggest challenge we have in our ministry to this people group is to determine what aspects of the believers’ worldview have not been transformed by the gospel.”
I then asked: “What does the Bible tell us about rainbows?” It took them all a few minutes to come up with the story of Noah. But even as they agreed to the biblical interpretation, they warned me that if I ever saw that snake I needed to be very careful.
AIM has been preaching the gospel in the Zande area in DR Congo and CAR since the early 1920s. Why have its truths not fully permeated the Zande culture? I believe the biggest challenge we have in our ministry to this people group is to determine what aspects of the believers’ worldview have not been transformed by the gospel. We then need concentrated teaching at all levels – church leaders, women’s groups, youth organizations, children’s activities, medical workers, etc. – to confront these areas with the biblical truths.
Today, when even the most well-meaning Zande believer comes face-to-face with a problem, he searches through the teaching he has had on living the victorious Christian life. He often does not find an answer to his specific problem there. So, he returns to his traditional teaching. He often finds an answer there so he tries it and often comes up with a positive answer. His faith has been challenged by the problem. His lack of a deeper understanding of Christ’s liberating power forces him to return to the ways of the past that give glory to the evil one and inhibit him from growing in his faith.