Of late the ‘holy spirit’ has been credited for many a miracle – some more bizarre than the last – by charismatic pastors and evangelists who all claim to be anointed as the earthly mediums upon whom falls the calling to heal and uplift downtrodden souls. And the public’s demand for evangelists who can deliver miracles has become so great that the City of Windhoek alone is inundated with land applications from new churches wanting to establish a place of worship for their followers.
In the last five years alone since 2011 the City of Windhoek has received 157 land applications from churches, of which only 15 were approved in the same period. “We are still receiving applications from church people who want land,” City of Windhoek’s spokesperson Joshua Amukugo says. This is despite the standing moratorium, issued four years ago, to halt the process of giving land to churches.
Today Namibia has at least 590 churches registered as non-profit organisations with the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development, according to data obtained from that ministry. By our rough calculations that is a church – not a congregation – for every group of 3,729 Namibians. Interestingly, this figure excludes the traditional mainstream churches.
Police too have weighed in on the matter, inviting the public to immediately register any complaint should they feel violated, abused or taken for a ride by an evangelist, prophet or a church. “We had cases of pastors abusing young girls, for example fondling. In this case the complainant can open a case of indecent assault. We are aware of such abuse within the district the crime has been committed,” said the head of the Namibian Police Public Relations Division, Deputy Commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi.
Concerned family members, who feel their family members are being exploited, can approach the police. Kanguatjivi warns that the family would need to submit evidence of exploitation or abuse “otherwise it would just be hearsay which will lead to the case being thrown out of court.”
The most recent Charismatic evangelist to dominate local headlines is ‘pastor’ Paul Shetu, who this week reaffirmed to New Era Weekend his “supernatural ability” to bring the dead to life. He claims to have so far brought back to life three dead people – with the last ‘Lazarus’ moment happening last December. His two other cases, he says, happened in Russia.
Shetu trained as an engineer in Russia and works as a part-time engineering lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. Shetu is the founder of the Kingdom Gospel Ministries based in Windhoek North suburb, whose Facebook page and internet presence are crowded with miracle testimonies.
“I am very bold to say that I have an amazing, very good relationship with the Lord,” says Shetu, whose list of ‘miracles’ are endless. Besides ‘bringing back the dead’, he has also ‘cured the cripple’ in Moscow, and restored sanity to the mentally challenged in Namibia, according to him.
But as eye-popping as Shetu’s claims might be, evangelists who neither identify with the Pentecostal movement in Namibia nor with the traditional church establishment under the Council of Churches have poured cold water over Shetu’s power of bringing back the dead.
“Preachers are exploiting the people and they are not referring people to God the healer. I have never seen a person who prayed for someone who died and they came back to life,” says pastor Zelda van der Colff of Gospel Mission Church, who nevertheless reaffirms her belief in miracles just not of the dead rising.
In Namibia there have been ‘pro-phets’ who claim to have died, went to heaven and came back, and pastors who impregnated their young female congregants in the name of bestowing them with a blessing.
Van der Colff is the de facto spokesperson of the group of 32 churches calling for proper regulation of Charismatic churches in Namibia. The interim committee of the 32 churches, of whom Van der Colff is a member, has proposed that there be an ‘Association of Charismatic Churches in Namibia’ independent of the Council of Churches, to regulate the proliferation of Charismatic churches, establish directives and advise government where necessary. For now the group goes under the name ‘Network of Independent Christian Churches in Namibia.’
This is because, she says, they have observed a proliferation of ordained ministers using the institution of the church to perpetrate crimes and false prophets and pastors operating for financial gain. “The current state by the majority of the people, marked by poverty, hunger and a cry to be released from their situation and longing for a better living standard, are exploited by these so-called prophets/pastors,” Van der Colff’s group said in a statement they issued in September.
“There are people trying to imitate Jesus by doing literally everything that Jesus did,” remarked Anglican Reverend Lukas Katenda this week when asked if the dead can be resurrected with prayers.
“Our people are desperate and they are agreeing and accepting anything that comes under the wrap of God. As a result, they are exploited,” said Katenda, adding: “The danger of the prophetic ministry is they are uncontrolled.”
“Jesus Christ, though he was God did not fight to be God,” said Katenda who is the dean of the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary in Windhoek.
Ironically, Shetu maintained that his church and his miracles are not to be looked at in the same light as those by other preachers dominating headlines – feeding people snakes, grass, spraying congregants with holy water or insecticide Doom for healing and deliverance, and claiming to cure any chronic illness, including HIV/AIDS.
All miracles, just as his are, he says “should be based on the Word of God and anything less is witchcraft.”
“I would like to emphasise that it is not me or members of my church that are doing the healing. The healing is from the Lord. I’m not some healer,” Shetu says.
Has the traditional church failed or why do the charismatic evangelists and prophets continue to receive a huge following? Katenda certainly believes the traditional churches have failed to quench the spiritual thirst.
“Maybe we created a loophole by not teaching our people the word of God and that makes people to go to these people where the gap is filled and in the end they are exploited. If you are desperate, you can do anything. Namibians are generally not suspicious people and as a result they are exploited,” said Katenda.
He nevertheless chastised the evangelists for their showy display of material things. “Pastors are not celebrities. They should sacrifice for the sake of the flock. But, today pastors want to drive Mercedes Benz and Audis neglecting the principles of humility. We should not satisfy our egos,” stressed Katenda, who added that a car should be a means of transportation to do the work of God rather than for self-enrichment. “Who are we to die in hotels and not hospitals?” said Katenda.
Van der Colff pointed out that “the church nowadays has become like a business. Preachers are misusing what God has instituted. Preachers are exploiting the people and they are not referring people to God the healer.”
“These people are actually business people who are in the church or using the pulpit. They are not pastors. If you are a pastor you are not a pastor to be the boss or to be the richest. Most of these pastors are actually fortune tellers and they are not serving Jesus Christ. They are serving their bellies and their bank accounts,” says Van der Colff.