As you probably know by now, I’m writing a thesis in systematic theology about miracles. A week ago I presented to you my research on how pope Francis views miracles, and now I like to share what Surprise Sithole, pastoral director for Iris Global in southern Africa, thinks about the miraculous. Enjoy!
Surprise Sithole was born in the late 1960’s into an animist family in the small village of Cachote in Mozambique. In his biography Voice in the Night, he writes:
“From the time I was born, my parents hoped I would follow the family tradition and become a witch doctor. […] My childhood was full of strange spiritual experiences and spiritual oppression. This was the only life I knew. […] Did my parents have heal power, or were they charlatans? The answer is both. Much of what they did was trickery, pure and simple. But I also know that they sincerely believed in the spirits, and I saw many strange events for which I have no other explanation than the supernatural. More than once, I found myself floating above the floor as I tried to sleep at night.”
Sithole claims to have heard the voice of God at the age of 15. This voice told him to leave his village, and after wandering in the jungle for two weeks he met a Christian man, Mr. Lukas, who took care of him and taught him how to be a Christian. Lukas said that God had given him a dream where he foresaw Sithole’s arrival. Soon, they received the news of that Sithole’s family had been poisoned back in Cochete. Surprise was the only survivor.
Sithole writes that he then became a missionary, travelling mostly by foot in Mozambique in Malawi to preach the Gospel. He says that on the island of Chikusi, he started to preach in a language he had never studied – Chichewa. People on the island were converting to Christianity when they saw this, Sithole writes, since they knew that he didn’t know the language naturally. He also claims that he still speaks Chichewa, and that his first bible was written in that language.
However, to this point he claims that he had not been reading the Bible. The very next day after the language miracle on Chikusi, a woman was seriously attacked by a puff adder. Concerned that the clinic was too far away, a woman asked Sithole “Will Jesus make her well?” Surprise writes: “It had never occurred to me that Jesus could and would heal the sick. But I knew He could do anything He wanted to do – and unless He helped her, this poor girl was going to die.” He then explains how he prayed for her, and how all the pain and symptoms disappeared from the girl, and she survived without getting health care.
Surprise also shares in his book how he have prayed for sick, dying people who have been completely healed, how he has survived mine explosions twice through supernatural intervention and how he has raised several dead people back to life. During my field trip to South Africa in 2013 I met Francis Shongwe – pastor for Iris Global in a small village called Clau-Clau – who claims that he has been raised from the dead through Sithole.
Shongwe said that in September 2003, he was helping out at a youth conference that Iris was arranging when suddenly, a gang appeared that wanted to go in and start a fight. Francis asked them to leave and they were then upset and started to beat him violently. Suddenly, Francis could see his body from above, and he says that he went up to heaven, witnessing people and angels worshipping God together.
He was enjoying this, thinking to himself that there would be no poverty or problems in heaven, when he suddenly heard a voice that said “Francis!” He woke up at a hospital, and Sithole was sitting beside him. Several other people said that they had witnessed the gang’s attack and agreed that Shongwe had been dead but had come back to life. However, no medical record of the event was available.
I also witnessed how Sithole prayed for a very sick man on the third day of my visit. About seven weeks later, I met this man’s wife by coincidence when taking a walk in the village of Backdoor. She said that her husband had been sick in TBC and had problems with the liver. He had not been able to work for nine months, but had been feeling much better the last couple of weeks. She said that he went to a doctor who proclaimed him “a hundred percent healed”, and that he now was at work.
When being asked how it feels when he sees God raise someone from the dead, Sithole replied “I feel personally that it’s chocking news, because it’s something that nobody expected very much. But it is written that we have to see those things.” He says that belief in miracles is not optional for a Christian: “If you are a true believer, you have to believe in miracles.”
In his book he discusses “why so many miracles occur in Africa while they seem to be so rare in America and Europe”. His answer is that Africans have “simple faith”, while Western people “question everything, including the Bible” and “think they are too smart and too sophisticated to simply believe and accept God’s Word”. “When we accept His Word simply, without criticizing and doubting, God blesses us and we are able to see even more of His truths.”
Sithole compares his miraculous experiences with miracle stories in the Bible. For example, he does a brief Bible study about how God has power over nature and how Jesus commanded the winds and waves to obey him, and then he shares how he “experienced this authority” as he claims that he and fellow Christians have commanded a storm, a drought and a tsunami to vanish.
Sithole argues that it is impossible for him to doubt: “There is no single doubt on me. I believe fully that God is alive, and He want to save the people.” And he encourages people not to wait for experiencing miracles before they believe, but believe in order to experience:
“Most of the people, they are waiting to see before they believe. So myself, I take it the other way: I believe for me to see. […] That’s why even last week, or maybe it was three weeks back, a lady that was healed from diabetes. So the day I prayed for her, she got healed. And in her testimony, she said that she did not believe the day I prayed for her. I said to her: ‘I believed. You’re all right when you say that when I was praying for you, you didn’t believe. I’ve been praying for the dead person that didn’t believe, but rose from the dead.’”