As a local church co-pastor with her husband in Mozambique, Samantha Chambo was baffled when she saw faithful church members visiting traditional healers when they were ill, or wearing talismans to ward off evil spirits. These syncretistic practices, just as likely to be practiced by successful, educated business people as uneducated, rural dwellers, are evidence that the faith taught at church is not believed to counter the spiritual forces that are at work in their societies.
Combination of context and research
When Western missionaries, who learned Christian faith through an Enlightenment lens, brought Christianity to Africa, they taught it as a systematic set of beliefs – a cognitive faith, Samantha says.
“But the African society is very practical. And religion is lived out on a daily basis – there’s rituals for everything and these rituals make the spiritual world very real. So the spiritual world becomes present amongst the people. That’s why people live in a lot of fear of witchcraft and spiritual forces. You’ll find that some Africans [think there are] things the church can’t help you with: health issues, success issues relational issues. You have to go back to your ancestors to sort things. There are faithful Christians that serve God faithfully but think the church can’t help you with [these things].”
The question of how Christian rituals can help Africans wrestle with their needs by seeking God rather than ancestors, spirits or talismans is what drove Samantha to pursue a PhD. Her research in biblical studies is focused on how Paul used rituals in the letters to the Corinthians to form Christian character, or holiness. It is combined with a study into African theologian John Mbiti’s concept of communalism in Africa.
I want to bring a seminal treatment between the two, and contribute to a discussion of the holiness theology from an African perspective.
While still early in her research, Samantha has noticed that rituals did play a role in the early church and were viewed as transformative during Paul’s lifetime. “I feel a lot of the problems that Paul addressed are problems we deal with in Africa: food to idols, honor and shame culture, and sexuality. If you look at the HIV/AIDs rate, how many people are dying, while Africa is becoming one of the most Christianised continents. How do you justify the HIV statistics if we are becoming so increasingly Christian? Corruption, that type of thing. It’s a complex issue.”
In the African Protestant tradition, there are two main rituals, or sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s supper. Yet, Samantha said that sharing communion is usually done in local churches just monthly, and it’s not utilised to its full potential. She is considering other rituals that African Christians have developed, such as anointing houses and praying for babies before they leave the hospital.
Further practical applications
Samantha, who now lives in South Africa, applied to Nazarene Theological College, Manchester (NTC) after she had completed a Master’s degree in theology through NTC, studying how key Nazarene denominational leaders in Africa contextualised the doctrine of Christian holiness.
Before enrolling as a distance MA learner, Samantha had struggled to complete an MA through another institution because there wasn’t as much structure provided. Through NTC, she was part of a cohort, and had classes, which helped her to stay focused until she finished.
Because of her success, Samantha decided to continue her education with NTC as a part-time distance student. Her supervisor, Vice Principal Kent Brower, , Kent is helping with the development of Southern Africa Nazarene University, in Swaziland and recently has served as consultant for NTC-South Africa, making him more accessible.
Even so, she enjoys the opportunity to visit Manchester once or twice a year for study and to participate in the summer PhD seminars.
I like the vibe, it’s very stimulating and challenging. I always go home thinking I’m not doing enough, I need to do more. It’s a wonderful sense of community, forming great friendships. You really feel at home.
Samantha is also a part-time lecturer at NTC-South Africa, recently teaching Homiletics 2. She serves as the coordinator for women clergy in the Church of the Nazarene Africa Region. In this role she helps to plan conferences to empower, encourage and advocate for female clergy across the continent. She has two children: Tsakani, 16, and Emanuel, 13.