Her husband suffered a stroke. He was confined to a wheelchair for over 20 years. They were searching for answers, like we all do. ‘Why us?’ ‘Why me?’ His condition was attributed to witchcraft, either by his co-workers or by one of his sisters. As a result, his wife consulted several witchdoctors for a solution, but to no avail. This only brought more divisions, fights, disharmony, and lack of trust in the family because of what the Sangoma prophesied.
As Africans, who do we go to when we have no answers? Where do we go when we are between a rock and a hard place? What do we do when we are overwhelmed with pain and suffering and have come to the end of ourselves? It’s universal to ask and search for answers, but a more pertinent question is: What do we believe the root cause behind disease and disability is? Do rituals and Sangomas ease or stem the tide of suffering?
The Ancestors: Just Like Us, But Also Not
From an early age, we are taught to believe in and honour our departed ancestors. They represent our heritage and form the roots of our identity. As people who once lived, the living dead, they are meant to understand our hardships in this world and can therefore relate to our pain. The belief is that now that they have passed on, they hold the power to intercede with God on our behalf.
Ancestors hold the power to bless or curse us when not appeased.
However, they also hold the power to bless or curse us when not appeased. As a result, they are feared and honoured above God.
How I Tried to Get Rid of My Pain
When January 2000 came and I was faced with a painful, disabling disease, I turned to my ancestors to ease my pain. I was diagnosed with Trigeminal neuralgia, which is a condition that causes painful sensations similar to an electric shock on one side of the face. Searching for solutions, my parents took me to an Apostolic Church. It was here that a prophet told us that I had an ancestral calling and the pain would not stop until I accepted my calling. My options were: become a Sangoma or a prophet.
I just wanted the pain to stop. Confused and scared, I agreed and went on a three-week training to become a prophet. I was told this would appease my ancestors.
I was told this would appease my ancestors.
But this experience caused me to question my belief system. I couldn’t understand the need to experience such pain and struggle for a calling. This caused me to question whether my ancestors truly had the power to protect, bless or curse. I wanted peace and rest, and the training did not provide it. I was scared and confused more than before.
The Ancestors Lead to Bondage
The impact of believing in ancestors is that they rule with fear. There is no freedom. You are consistently paralysed and in bondage with worry. You are never certain of the outcome even when you perform every step successfully as advised by the spiritual leader, just like in my case. I did everything, but the pain never stopped. I came to realise that the ancestors are never satisfied. When we enquired as to why there was no change in my situation, we were told that my faith was weak, and that I did not practice as a prophet.
I came to realise that the ancestors are never satisfied.
This caused me to reflect on my life and the lives of the people that I knew who had walked the same road. It created more pain, anxiety, and fear. It spiraled me into deeper suffering. This belief in ancestors is a massive cause of mental illness in Africa.
Christ Offers Freedom
In 2014, my heart was transformed by accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. Jesus came to the world to die on the cross for our sins so that we can be forgiven, have eternal life, and have a relationship with God, the Father (John 1:14). He conquered death in his resurrection, and he is sitting at the right hand of God and interceding on our behalf.
For the first time I had peace, even in the midst of the pain and struggle. The gospel provided me the truth of God that set me free from all confusions. I was able to see many truths that set me free. We see how ancestors are nothing more than idols. In Isaiah 45:20, we see idols are mere wooden statues, who are unable to save. In Matt 19:25-26 we see Jesus being asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Because Jesus Is God, He Holds the Real Power to Intercede
As a biblical counsellor, when faced with someone’s suffering, I’m able to lead them to Christ and share how he suffered for our sake, even though he had no sin when he was here on earth. In Hebrews 2:18, it says “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And it goes on in Hebrews 2:17, to say, “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Jesus understands our pain and suffering. He was a human like us and is able to understand our pain. He is our true intercessor as he sits at the right hand of God. Jesus is able to be our true intercessor because he has dealt with our sin through his death and resurrection.
We Don’t Suffer Because of Our Sin
When faced with someone’s pain, I can give them assurance. We are born sinners and continue sinning. As a result, we deserve the wrath of God. However, in John 9:1-3, Jesus was asked by his disciples if pain and suffering were the direct cause of sin when they came across a blind man. He replied by saying neither the man nor his parents sinned, but that he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him”. Suffering is instead a door to glory rather than a consequence of our sin.
Jesus says that suffering is part of the journey. In Matthew 16:24-25 he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
God Comforts Us in Christ
What is more, Jesus is with us in our dark seasons and has promised never to leave or forsake us. Matthew 28:20 says, “Behold, I am always with you, to the end of the age.” In 2 Peter 1:3 we read of this promise, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” God has assured us as His children that we will go through struggles, but that He will be with us till the end.
We do not need to consult the ancestors when faced with pain and suffering. As a biblical counsellor, I am able to challenge these beliefs by sharing the truth of what Christ offers us. By walking alongside people, I am able to reveal the truth that God longs for us to know. The impact of living for God is truly a transformation. You become a new person in Christ. You have newfound wisdom and discernment. Rather than being dismayed and overwhelmed with pain, grief and many unanswered questions; you are filled with a sense of perspective, gratitude and humility. You are comforted by God’s truth and love.
As many come to me trapped in fear by their ancestral beliefs, I am able to minister to them. One woman was able to testify after hearing these truths that she felt God’s presence and peace. Christ wiped away her tears, gave her hope and she was strengthened in her newfound faith.
Be Assured of Peace
Going against our traditional heritage or ancestral and family beliefs can be so scary and binding. It might leave one feeling alone with a fear of being disowned by the family. But there is safety, freedom and peace that surpasses all understanding in Jesus. As Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”