A team from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary led more than 100 spiritual conversations during their evangelism mission in June, with one profession of faith coming from a man of African traditional religion background. Seven students, led by World Missions Center coordinator Dalton Hodges, served alongside Kenny Vines, an IMB missionary and Roy Fish School adjunct professor who has served in the area for more than 10 years.

“If you were to ask any local person if they were a Christian, 99 percent would say ‘yes,’” Hodges says. “As a former British colony, in Zambia, the basic tenets of Christianity have been spread thoroughly, and they formally proclaim to be a Christian nation. 

“However, they have deeply ingrained traditions including belief in an ancestral realm, with which elders and witch doctors commune as mediators to God. Add in rampant heresies like the prosperity gospel, and there are a lot of obstacles keeping people who claim to be Christian from genuine saving faith.”

The Southwesterners spent their time in the village of Luangwa, near the southern Zambian border, where the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers meet. Southwestern Seminary’s Practicum in World Religions was taught in conjunction with the trip. Students spent most mornings studying African tribal religion with Vines, discussing how to contextualize the Gospel with the local people. In the afternoons, they broke into small groups and ventured into the local market to engage people, asking about their culture and beliefs. 

They typically received positive reactions, which led to powerful spiritual conversations.  

“We definitely learned that you had to invest a lot of time in people to truly understand their underlying beliefs and help them develop a biblical worldview and truly place their faith in Christ,” says Hodges. 

Local pastors requested that the Southwestern Seminary team teach and preach at their churches, and each had the opportunity to lead a Bible study.

Vines also invited local “traditional healers,” whom locals call Nanga or “doctors,” to conduct a session with the Southwestern Seminary team. The Nanga include herbalists, including some who practice witchcraft.  

“It was a pivotal event for the team in helping us to understand the local culture, as the Nanga play a vital role in African traditional religion,” Hodges recalls. “We learned that locals visit the Nanga for everything from healing a headache, to communicating with an ancestor, to lifting a curse.”

“This trip was highly educational because Professor Kenny Vines combined lectures about African traditional religion with activities such as visiting local villages, talking to people in the market, attending a funeral of a teenager, seeing an herbalist demonstration, and seeing elephant meat distribution,” says student Honchiu Leung. 

“Local people respect the nature and the spiritual world,” he says. “This unique experience impacted our depth in knowledge about the African traditional culture, religion, and subsequently the contact points for evangelism tremendously.”

The World Missions Center at Southwestern Seminary exists to inform, inspire, equip, network, and engage all Southwesterners in God’s vision for the church as expressed in Revelation 7:9-12. To view upcoming mission trip opportunities in the 2019-2020 academic year, see here.