Christian missionaries working cross-culturally around the world are aware of the tensions between different communities of faith. These realities must be considered in every approach to ministry. The Apostle Paul recommended “gentleness and respect” in witnessing (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). This means that Christians, churches, church councils and mission agencies must not engage in any form of deception, manipulation or coercion and must speak and act in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness against other religions.
Sadly, some gospel workers overlook the ninth commandment “You shall not bear false witness.” Having lived and worked in eight West-African countries, I can say that false witness is a serious challenge to Christian mission in West Africa. From hurting the reputation of some churches, mission agencies and missionaries to affecting religious decisions, spreading falsehoods about others and their faith weakens collaboration among Christians and nourishes interreligious tensions. Those who use deception and coercion in their outreach betray the very gospel they claim to promote. Such moral departures call for prayer and repentance.
In power-oriented African cultures, most believers cling to some level of superstition. This is especially true in rural areas where 99 percent of people might have little or no formal education. Superstition took its toll on our work in the village of Sonsoro three years ago when a group of 40 baptismal candidates suddenly backed out and cut ties with us. We soon learned that someone had maliciously started a rumor that these believers would be magically transformed into fish as they were baptized. Our lay worker, who had labored so long and diligently for these dear people, was so bitterly disappointed that he almost lost his faith.
Many mission agencies employ local Christian missionaries who know the weaknesses of their culture well. Some of these missionaries are unscrupulous and spread falsehoods to play on the superstitions of their people group as a witnessing strategy or to make them fearful of competing churches and missionaries.
After the terrible fallout from the rumor in Sonsoro three years ago, our lay worker picked up the pieces of his ministry and redoubled his efforts in God’s strength. God blessed his work, and many people were delivered from evil spirits as they surrendered their lives to their Lord and Savior. Sonsoro became one of the fastest-growing Adventist church communities in Benin. In March of last year, 12 members joined the fellowship through baptism. Soon the membership grew to 45 baptized with 25 people interested and five of those preparing for baptism.
This rapid growth alarmed some local missionaries of another denomination, so they began spreading another incredible rumor, inspired by the tragic events in Waco, Texas in 1993: “The Adventist lay pastor is planning to lock his members in the church and set it on fire to hasten their meeting with the Lord!”
I could hardly believe it when our lay worker told me about the rumor. I was furious at these men who called themselves missionaries of God. But, praise God, the members in Sonsoro rejected the rumor, and the whisperers’ plan failed. In fact, God was fighting for us, and He used the publicity surrounding the rumor to bring even more people into the Sonsoro church. The members have seen and experienced His delivering power firsthand, and they treasure the blessing of the Sabbath. No longer are they controlled by superstition or inclined to believe fantastic rumors planted by enemies. God’s name be praised!
Thank you for your continued prayers and support.