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Water in "Fire" churches

Mogotsi D. Baloyi

In the 1997 movie, "Anaconda," there is a scene where the ferry transporting the expedition team deep into the Amazon to study the elusive Shirishama Indians, comes to an artificial barrier mid-river.

John Sarone, an enigmatic and colorful character played by Jon Voight, whose trade was trapping live anacondas, proposed blowing up the barrier with dynamite so as to greatly reduce the distance to the hospital to which they were carrying one of the team members.

As Gary, played by Owen Wilson, was helping Sarone tie dynamite sticks to the barrier, he suddenly reacted to something moving beneath the water. "There's something in the water," said he. "Yes, there is," replied Sarone. "There is something in the water."

I want to take up my discourse this week from that simple statement made by a startled character in a movie, the response to which was, "Yes, there is." There is something in the water. There has to be, if the ubiquity of water usage in religion is anything to go by.

However, for my submission, I will preoccupy myself not with water employment in religion as a whole, but only within the commonly termed Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, lately derisively called in these parts of the world as "Fire" Churches. You won't be long in these Churches before you come across the use of water – from drinking, to spraying, to bathing, and everything else in-between.

This water can be "normal" water in a bottle or any container, to specially branded water in bottles of varying sizes and sometimes each labeled for specific uses. The packaged water is typically still water. I'm not aware of the use of sparkling water, although you must expect anything these days.

But I digress. Now, this water comes under many names, the most common being, "anointing water," popularized and introduced into the Pentecostal-Charismatic mainstream by Nigerian Prophet, Temitope Balogun Joshua of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations. Other names are, "holy water," which is perhaps the oldest name for it, and also, "living water." These are the most common names of water used in "Fire" Churches.

This, as I have mentioned, is your typical bottled water you can find at your local supermarket. Nothing fancy. Water is water. The only difference is that it is rebranded with either the picture of the "Prophet," his title, the name of his organization, and sometimes a scripture verse, and intended usage and instructions. For those who want to add a touch of exclusivity, the whole bottling and packaging is done by the Church organization.

And still for those who want to bury the competition, the water would be said to be imported straight from the River Jordan in Israel! Game over to the competition. You can't beat that. Water from the River Jordan, in which Naaman was cleansed, is the Real McCoy! Most Catholics are familiar with the practice of entering their church, dipping the finger(s) of their right hand in the font with holy water, and making the Sign of the Cross. Catholics repeat this ritual upon leaving the church.

The holy water in the font is "holy" only insofar as it has been blessed (or sanctified) by a priest. The water itself is not magic. Its power depends on the prayers, faith and devotion of the person who uses it. The Catholics believe that making the Sign of the Cross with holy water, one expresses faith in God as Father, God as Son, and God as Holy Spirit and asks God's blessing in the name of the same three divine persons.

This ritual action of blessing oneself also serves as a reminder of one's baptism. Water, itself, has a long association with God's saving deeds. With water all things are washed and nourished. Water is a life giving source for all of nature and vegetation. Water flowed from the rock as God's gift to the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. The water of the Red Sea was divided to liberate God's people from slavery.

Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan. He came walking on the water to calm the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Ritual washings were required for the Jewish people before entering the temple; and, of course, this prefigured baptism. In the theology of the Catholic Church, holy water is considered as sacramental as are crucifixes, medals, pictures of saints, rosaries, ashes and palms. Only when blessed are these to be thought of as holy.

The Catholic Church also views as holy candles, Bibles, ashes and palms that are blessed. All such "blessed" objects are to be treated with reverence and respect; and when they are broken or damaged or no longer usable, they are to be disposed of by pouring into a special hand basin in the sacristy (sacrarium) or buried but never thrown into the garbage. It is believed that the use of holy water dates to the first century, and even some sources relate its early usage to St. Matthew, although written documentation about its usage date to the third or fourth century.

In the Catholic Tradition, holy water is used for the purpose of baptisms, blessing of persons, places and objects, or as protection against evil and danger. Holy water is also used by the priest to sprinkle the congregation during the entrance rite of the Mass.

It is used by priests when blessing homes, animals, places of business, automobiles, and objects of devotion such as medals, rosaries, etc. But how and why did the Pentecostals and Charismatics join the water brigade? Why the fascination and preoccupation with water from the very people who, not too long ago, bashed and mocked traditional Africanist Churches for using water?

As recently as the late '90s, followers of "Fire" Churches would never be caught dead using water as a faith medium. It was looked down upon, and those "garment" Churches that used water were the butt of jokes and subjects of ridicule. Fast-forward to this decade and "Fire" Churches churn more liters of water per day than all these "Water" Churches combined per month! I lie not! There are some Churches where entire warehouses hold thousands of gallons of water, ready to be blessed, and ready to be sold to the thirsty and desperate throngs.

Some Churches generate considerable revenue from water sales alone. With the right marketing strategy, a man of God can become a wealthy water distribution entrepreneur wielding a Bible as a front. Water bottles easily outsell Bibles, books, tapes, CDs, and any other materials combined! Yes, Gary, there is something in the water. But what is it that's in the water?

Why are Churches known for their emphasis and screams and shouts of "fire" now neck-deep in water? Aren't fire and water incompatible? Or we are now deep into physics whereby we argue that water is a by-product of fire since it is a result of the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen molecules? Fire! Why the about-turn from condemning water to leading the pack in its usage in faith matters? I don't purport to have the answers, but I'll throw in my two cents' worth. You see, water is a basic requirement of and for life. In their deep space quest for signs of life, for instance, NASA almost invariably look for ice caps (water).

The premise is obvious. If there is a presence of water on a planetary body, then it scientifically follows that life can be supported. The very world we live in, according to the Genesis account, emerged on Creation morning out of water. Genesis 1:1-2 KJV [1] In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. [2] And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. Science tells us that our human body is made up of about 70% water. In other words, more than half of our constitution is water-based. Is it a wonder therefore that we should be so easily responsive to water? I think not. So, even before the importation of religion, we are biologically wired to be at home around water. Indeed, before we are even born, our essence is crafted and subsists in a watery world called the amniotic sac. In other words, we were formed in water. Water phobias and general avoidance of water later on in life are learned habits, completely unnatural.

I posit that this major role of water in the human body is the building block giving rise to the religious use of water for supernatural purposes. Not that this is itself strange. Not in the least. Throughout the Bible, water plays a major role in the narrative.

The first universal judgment was through the employment of water. Moses, whose very name means, "drawn from water," a huge personality in the Bible, was rescued from the waters of the Nile River. Running as a fugitive from Egypt, he met some women, one of whom was later to become his wife, at a well in the land of Midian.

His plagues of Egypt aside, perhaps his greatest feat of supernatural power was the parting of the Red Sea, a huge water body. En-route to the promised land, he "cured" the bitter waters at Marah. Exodus 15:23-25 KJV [23] And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. [24]

And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? [25] And he cried unto the Lord ; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them…

Such was the prominence of the water theme in Moses' life that his career, one that began in the water, so to speak, also ended around a water issue. The Bible says that when he was instructed to speak to the rock so that the water can gush out, he struck it in anger. In displeasure at Moses' disobedience, God told him he would not enter the Promised Land. Throughout the Old Testament, the water theme features prominently with the acts of God and the presence of God.

Psalm 29:3 KJV [3] The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. Psalm 77:19 KJV [19] Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known. Jeremiah 2:13 KJV [13] For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Ezekiel 47:1-4 KJV [1] Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar. [2]

Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side. [3]

And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles. [4] Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees.

Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. Zechariah 14:8 KJV [8] And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. God likened the life He gives to water. It should come as no surprise therefore that water is being used in faith cycles as a symbol of water. In John 5, the waters of the Pool of Bethesda were like a hospital.

Wholesale masses of the infirm and invalid would be cured upon entering the pool after an angel stirred up the waters. It mattered not what the affliction was; the angel stirred waters would heal. Whether the stirring of the angel made the water "holy" or "anointed" is a debate for another day. It is from texts like these, that the use of water is promoted.

Used as a faith medium, it is preached and hoped that the user will naturally identify with the life-giving nature of water and its refreshing abilities to give his or her faith a boost. In other words, the water medium would play the role of a visual aid to assist one's faith.

Unfortunately, there's a fine line between a visual aid and an idol. In fact, aren't idols visual aids to begin with? Aren't idols visible representations of invisible realities? As such, aren't they visual aids? But that's another argument for another day. The point being driven home is that, for those who are sincere, or who claim a divine revelation or instruction to introduce water in their Churches, water is used as a symbol of life.

Where there is decay, sickness, struggle, oppression, poverty, and all other human or demonic vices, the introduction of water as a faith prop is supposed to bring in supernatural intervention. It's a slippery slope, I know. But it works. Although it can be argued that it's not the water that works per se but one's faith.

Many years ago as a little boy, I accompanied a man on a strange mission. I understood that he was a "water diviner." His mission was to go prospecting for water from underground aquifers. Now, this man had nothing scientific to go about his mission in the form of equipment or any obvious tools. The only thing he had, curiously, was a stick.

Yes, a thin, dry twig you can find anywhere, although I doubt his was any old stick as I was to later discover. There was nothing eventful about our quest as I followed quietly behind. All of a sudden, he started to tremble and shake violently! His stick seemed to assume a life of its own and wiggled and wriggled in his hands like the tail of an excited Jack Russell! The man was sweating profusely! I was both awed and petrified at this spectacle.

Clearly, something beyond the natural was at play and I had a front row seat to the whole thing. "There is a lot of water here!" He panted breathlessly, to me and to himself and to no one in particular. I got to understand that his "divining rod" helped him locate where subterranean waters were. The stick would point this way and that way, and he would follow. Where the stick pointed, there he went.

This went on for a few minutes until he had satisfied himself and finally there was calm again. Mission accomplished. That afternoon, his violent reaction was testimony to the fact that there was plenty of water underneath our feet.

It demonstrated that not only was there water, but there was plenty of it. His stick and his body reacted to the presence of the water. How? I don't know. I don't know whether what I witnessed that afternoon falls under science, physics (or metaphysics), or religion. But it doesn't fall under fiction. Yes, there is something in the water.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi:

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media.

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021


The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media.

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