Posted by: Titus Presler | March 5, 2016

Child of missionaries reflects on African experience years later

In the Lenten reflection below, the daughter of Episcopal clergy who were missionaries in Zimbabwe during the 1980s recalls many years later a particularly powerful religious experience she had among members of an African-Initiated Church.  She then relates it to an experience she had later in New York and then to the present in this season of Lent 2016.  Emma Presler is a parishioner, with her husband Steven Yong Lee and their young son Anders, at Grace Church, Broadway, in New York City.  Emma and Steven have been asked to contribute Lenten devotionals to the parish’s ongoing series in this season.  Emma is our daughter.  It is moving to us to see this reflection, a vignette from her mission experience in Africa.

 

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The African-Initiated Church (AIC) Emma is recalling is the Vapostori veJohane Marange, otherwise known as the African Apostolic Church of Johane Marange, which is the largest AIC in Zimbabwe, with probably about 2 million members today.  Marange was a nominally Methodist laborer from Marange District who in 1934 received a vision, while walking in the countryside, in which he believed God was telling him that he was a prophet after the manner of John the Baptizer and commissioning him to evangelize, preach, heal and cast out demons.  As mandated by Johane Marange, walking on fire is a requirement for every Mupostori at least once in his or her lifetime, but the order of prophets within the church makes a regular practice of it during their many all-night vigils.  Drawing on the many biblical references to testing through fire, the Vapostori believe they are called to walk on fire as a testing for the fiery end at the consummation brought at the further coming of Christ.  If they have the Holy Spirit with them, they believe, they will be saved at the end time, and walking on fire without being burned confirms the presence of the Holy Spirit with them.  And by the way, Emma really saw the fire-walking, as have I many times in the course of research on this powerful Christian community.  (For a full discussion of the Vapostori and this practice, with its biblical and theological background, see my Transfigured Night: Mission and Culture in Zimbabwe’s Vigil Movement (Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 1999).)

 

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