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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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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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