The Occult in Mozambique: Dramatic Case Studies
by Alan Howell
Using textual studies, biblical case studies, and dramatic case studies can empower God’s people to respond to challenges in ways that glorify the Creator.
Ten Mozambican church leaders gather around a small slip of paper. One of them reads the text of the case study to the others in the group. They talk excitedly about how they can act it out. Another takes the few props and hands them out, and they begin acting out their case study.
Most of the group members play the part of a church gathered for a worship service; they sing a song and one of the men, Manuel,* shakes hands with the other church members and leaves the assembly for home. The others encourage him to invite his wife to become a follower of Jesus. Returning home, he finds his non-Christian wife, Rabia,* sitting outside their yard. She excitedly explains that she had gone to pound corn with her friends, but that when she returned she found a nrete (magical medicine) in the doorway that leads into their yard. She informs Manuel that she has called for the traditional healer to come and remove it, and that he should arrive shortly.
At this point, the drama stops and the actors ask the group watching the drama, “What will Manuel do?” This leads to a lively discussion about the challenges of a religiously-divided household and the best way to politely turn down a traditional healer. The discussion includes comments on Deuteronomy 18:9-15, a text we studied earlier that day. As the discussion winds down, the second group comes to the center and begins to act out their case study.
The Occult in the Biblical Text
Living among the Makua-Metto people of northern Mozambique, our team has seen how the occult, specifically witchcraft and evil spirits, affects daily life. Early in our time here, we interviewed different people on various cultural topics to get a broad perspective on the Makua-Metto culture. Since then, our experience in ministry has revealed more and more the way the intertwined roots of Islam, macini (the jinn or evil spirits), and witchcraft run deep. In order to address this issue with a group of twenty church leaders, we decided to use a mixture of relevant textual studies, biblical case studies, and dramatic case studies taken from life today.
We examined key texts that deal with the occult (e.g., Eph. 1:15-23; 6:10-20). We also looked at four early church biblical narratives, or case studies, that address the occult. We felt that Acts 8:5-24, 13:8-12, 16:16-24, and 19:8-20 were essential texts for clearing a path that the Church in our area could follow.
Rick Love’s book, Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God, was a helpful resource as he examines these passages with the occult and makes helpful applications to folk Islamic contexts. Love believes that Luke, writing to a “context where magic flourished,” organizes “his narrative to equip the church to confront magic in power-oriented societies” (Love 2003, 118).
These four “showdowns” between the followers of Jesus and the representatives of the evil powers “illustrate various aspects of magic” and highlight appropriate Christian responses (Love 2003, 119). At the end of each showdown, we ask two reflection questions: Does this story remind you of anything in your community? and What form of truth encounter might they need? These discussions help set the stage for the dramatic case studies taken from the Mozambican context.
The Occult in the Mozambican Context
Case studies were a significant element in my theological education. Many of us are familiar with Paul and Frances Hiebert’s book Case Studies in Missions (1987). The authors note that one of the major advantages to using case studies is that as “a real-life problem is presented to a class or group for discussion,” it challenges the group to become a “hermeneutical community” as they try to effectively apply biblical truth to these real situations (Hiebert 1987, 18).
After deciding to use case studies to examine the issues of the occult, we asked the Makua-Metto people to act the case studies out in order to increase participation. What we did not expect is that tweaking the case studies by adding the element of drama would have other benefits to the learning experience, both for our Mozambican friends and us as Western missionaries.
My teammate and I learned more about the details involved with the occult and saw that some issues were more complex than we had originally thought. We provided simple props: a baby doll, pieces of cloth, a pretend amulet made of tape. But our Mozambican friends quickly improvised other props to embellish the storytelling: cans made into shakers for the witchdoctor and strips of cloth to mark the residence of a traditional healer. We started with case studies that we felt would have a straightforward answer and moved to the more complex studies. We also placed these dramatic case studies alongside textual studies and other group-building activities.
Our team has seen that interspersing biblical case studies and relevant textual studies with modern-day dramatic case studies enhances the learning process. It improves the students experience and learning potential in three main ways.
The students stay engaged longer. Using dramatic case studies keeps participants fresh as they stay actively involved in the learning process. Making the group watch the drama responsible for providing a “solution” to the case study keeps them engaged. The group who acts out the drama has extra time to process, so they are quick to jump into the discussion as well.
The study is able to focus on practical application. Sometimes, biblical studies can seem to stay locked in the canonical past. While it is good and helpful to deeply understand the background of the biblical text, this should not be the ultimate objective of the study. Our goal is to equip disciples to live out the faith in their context. Incorporating dramatic case studies into the learning experience has the positive effect of pushing participants to make practical applications. It continually encourages students to make connections from the biblical texts they were studying to their modern-day situations. They are searching for ways to make connections between the texts we are studying and the case studies they are acting out.
Using current dramatic case studies alongside biblical case studies and relevant texts lays a solid foundation for the future. It would be impossible to imagine every real-life scenario that deals with the occult. By working through some common situations as a group in case studies, we can mark out a path for believers to respond faithfully when encountering new scenarios in the future. Effective teaching ultimately aids in the transformation of the believer’s imagination. Case studies are useful tools for doing that.
In order to bring about true worldview change, we need to make use of any tool at our disposal. It can take incredible force to help the church get out of the cultural patterns of behavior, especially in regards to the occult. Using a mixture of textual studies, biblical case studies, and dramatic case studies can help cut new grooves that run against the grain of the culture and empower God’s people to respond to challenges in ways that glorify the Creator.
Hiebert, Paul and Frances. 1987. Case Studies in Missions. Ada, Mich.: Baker Publishing Group.
Love, Rick. 2003. Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Example 1: Jose and Maria have had some conflict in their marriage. She is a believer and was baptized two years ago, but Jose is a follower of traditional religion. Last year, Maria went to a Christian women’s conference in the city of Nampula. Last month, Maria gave birth to a child, and Jose’s uncle, an imam, said that he would make a powerful amulet for the baby at a very good price.
All of Jose’s family wants the child to wear the amulet. At the women’s Bible study, Maria praised God for giving her baby health and showed the other women the baby’s amulet. She explained that even though she knew that followers of Jesus shouldn’t wear amulets, she remembered from the conference that “wives should obey their husbands in the same way that the Church obeys Christ.” She shared that her decision was to obey her husband and have her baby wear the amulet. How will the ladies respond?
Example 2: There is a problem in the church in Napela. A lady named Joana had suffered from many illnesses and worked hard to appease the evil spirit that possessed her for many years. Last year, she saw that some people whom the church had prayed for had been delivered from evil spirits, so she herself asked the church to pray for her.
The church prayed for her deliverance and told her that she needed to leave behind the evil spirits and only follow Jesus. On the day of her baptism, the church went to her house, prayed for her, and helped her destroy all of her magical items (the spirit house, the pots used in honoring the spirits, and all her magical roots). Joana was healthy for about a year and worshiped with the church, praising God for her deliverance. But recently she became ill and died. Now Joana’s family is angry with the church. The head of her family is saying that the church led Joana astray by convincing her to give up her magical “treatment.” This family leader is saying that the church is responsible for Joana’s death. How will the church respond?
Example 3: Carlos is an older man who was baptized this past year. He does not eat chicken out of respect to a personal taboo connected with spirit possession. Through his time with the church, he learned that followers of Jesus do not have to follow these rules and taboos, but still he would not eat chicken.
One day, Carlos was invited to the house of the church’s pastor, Marcos. Carlos was given a plate of food which included chicken. He knew it would be embarrassing to explain the taboo to Pastor Marcos, so he ate the chicken. The next week, Carlos became very ill and took a full two weeks to recover. A few months later, Carlos was invited again to Marcos’ house. But this time, when Carlos was given a plate of chicken and rice he refused to eat it. When Marcos asked why Carlos would not eat it, Carlos explained that he had decided to continue to follow his personal taboo and never eat chicken again. How will Marcos respond?
Example 4: Pedro, Paulo, and João are leaders of the church in Nicanda. They have worked together well since the church began. One Sunday, Pedro caught Paulo stealing money from the church offering. They argued, and at one point during the argument Pedro swore that he would put a curse on Paulo.
Now Pedro has stopped worshiping with the church and says that he does not want to be part of a “church of thieves.” Paulo has also stopped worshiping with the church, saying that he doesn’t want to be part of a “church of witchdoctors.” João wants to help, but it is complicated because he is related to both men. João has informed you of the situation. He wants your advice as to how to resolve this conflict. How could this situation be resolved?
Alan Howell (MDiv) and his family have been in Mozambique since 2003. The Howells are part of a team in Montepuez, Cabo Delgado, serving the Makua-Metto people (www.makuateam.org).
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 290-293. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.