Reconciling the Luo Animists to Christ by Tom Ogada Ayugi


Among the Luo animism is prevalent. People have all sorts of ideas and fears relating to personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces. The Luo animist is overwhelmed by the many powers that might bring evil upon his life (Van Rheenen 1991, 22).

The churches that first evangelized among the Luo people did little to remove these fears. The Anglican church, which was established during colonial days, suppressed the belief in both personal spirituals and impersonal forces. People were threatened with ex-communication if suspected of witchcraft or if they visited witchdoctors. The early Christians were expected to go to mission hospitals if ill. So the animistic beliefs and practices went underground. People would claim to be Christians during the day while at night they would visit witchdoctors and sorcerers. This led to syncretism, which has persisted among the Luo to the present time. In fact, the Luo saying, "Ngaka item koni gi koni" ("You should try this side and that side") implies that Christianity is seen as a means of achieving oneís goal, i.e., if what one is aiming for seems to "fail" through prayer, then he would turn to the alternative, the witchdoctor (Omolo 1998).

The Pentecostal churches that are now mushrooming all over the Luo communities have also done little to suppress animistic beliefs. Though they emphasize the power of Jesus over demons and other spiritual forces, they do not have a strong theological foundation. Power demonstration has little, or wrong, significance unless it is related to truth, knowledge of the source of, and the reason for the power (Kraft 1991, 261). To effectively minister to the Luo animists, there should be a strong theological foundation. Whereas teaching of Jesusí power over the spirits is extremely important, it should not be over emphasized at the expense of knowledge of the scriptures and Godís desire for us to be faithful to him and to turn from sin.

In order to reconcile the Luo animistic people to Christ, the following should be emphasized:

Holistic preaching

Kingdom theology

Power encounter

Teaching on salvation and the cross

Nurturing to maturity

Holistic Preaching

The early churches among the Luo communities did not deal with problems dealt with by low religion (e.g. diseases, death, drought, barrenness, etc.). They dealt with concepts of high religion, like the origin of man, destiny, and the ultimate meaning of life (Van Rheenen 1991, 57). This led to syncretism, where converts look to high religion to answer cosmic questions and revert to the old religion to deal with immediate problems of life (Van Rheenen 1991, 63). These problems call for holistic preaching. To reconcile the Luo animists to Christ I would begin by integrating low and high religious themes. I would show how the Bible stories relate to our everyday life, e.g., the Israelites even though they saw Godís miraculous signs, still turned away from him and worshiped idols. This would relate to how God has brought salvation to the Luo and the power to defeat witchcraft and sorcery and yet instead of coming to Godís protection, they go back to those miserable powers.

Kingdom Theology

Secondly, I would move to kingdom theology. It is important to note that the first churches among the Luo focused on the individualistic nature of conversion theology. They taught that the person has within himself the power to succeed. He needs no other power or spirits, magic or wizardry to direct his life (Van Rheenen 1991, 129). This individualized formulation of the gospel presented some biblical truth but did not portray a holistic picture of Godís working in the world (Van Rheenen 1991, 130). This kind of procedure was not effective in helping the Luo since the content of the biblical message encompasses more than conversions (Van Rheenen 1991,131). In dealing with this problem I would preach that God did not send his son only to bring salvation from sin (Luke 19:10) but also to destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8) (Van Rheenen 1991, 131).

I would teach that God and Satan coexist in the world and would make use of Matthew 13:24-30 (the parable of the weeds among wheat) to show this fact. I would teach that even though the kingdom of God has been ushered into the world, it would only be consummated at the end of the age. This concept of inaugurated eschatology compels the Luo animist, who is overwhelmed by evil forces, to wait on the Lord to act. He also becomes aware that evil forces coexist in this world with forces of God and must, therefore, never "consult the mediums and the wizards" (Isa. 8:19) but "wait for the Lord" (Isa. 8:17) (Van Rheenen 1991, 139). Here I would be helping the Luo converts from an animistic heritage to be able to differentiate the two kingdoms.

Power Encounter

Before coming to power encounter, I would have already integrated low and high religionís themes and showed that the Bible is applicable to us in the present time. I would have also showed that both Godís power and Satanís power coexist. It would now be important to involve power encounter because people give their allegiance to Christ when they see that his power is superior to magic and voodoo, the curses and blessings of witchdoctors, and the malevolence of evil spirits, and that his salvation is a real liberation from the power of evil and death (Van Rheenen 1991, 83).

Among the Luo there is a tree called "murembe." They believe that if one is sick and he goes around the tree eight times, he will be cured. It is believed that anyone who cuts one of these trees will die on the spot (Odipo 1998). To demonstrate the power of God over the power of evil forces, I will cut down this "sacred" tree. Everybody will be surprised when I do not fall down and die. While they are still in a state of shock, I will call upon them to destroy occult objects or paraphernalia and renounce their involvement with witches and diviners. I believe this destruction of paraphernalia is important at this point because Elijah also commanded the Israelites to kill the prophets of Baal when they were still in a condition of shock (1 Kings 18:39-40).

Teaching on Salvation and the Cross

After the demonstration of power encounter I will settle down to much teaching on the Bible because a power demonstration has little (or wrong) significance unless it is related to truth. Knowledge of the source of and the reason for the power are essential for proper interpretation of a power event (Kraft 1991, 261). I will teach people abut salvation by using such scriptures as Acts 2:38, where Peter told the people to repent before being baptized. Their repentance will involve renouncing witchcraft and belief in curses. I will teach them to depend more in Jesus and to call upon him when in need. I will also teach them to wait patiently for God to answer (Ps. 37). I will share with them Galatians 5:19-21 and show them those who continue to believe in witchcraft are unfit to enter Godís kingdom. Revelations 22:15 also teaches that those who practice magic acts will not enter heaven. I will also tell them to repent of other sins as discussed in Galatians 5:19-21, Mark 7:21-22, and 2 Timothy 2:1-5.

I will then point the animist to the cross which symbolizes Godís great sacrifice of his son to cleanse us of sin and to deliver us from Satan (Van Rheenen 1991, 303). I will show how God has mightily broken into human history in the ministry and death of Christ to break the chains of Satan (Van Rheenen 1991, 303). Thus the cross should signify liberation from demonic forces against which he is fighting, deliverance from the rules and regulations which these powers attempt to project upon society and freedom from sin that has alienated his people from God and disharmonized society (Van Rheenen 1991, 303).

In order that the new convert not look at Christianity as a means of ending his suffering and permanently defeating evil, I will show them that the cross also symbolizes suffering. Just as Jesus bore pain for six hours before his death, so a Christian should also be ready to suffer at the hands of Satan, who rules this world and who is always attempting to turn the Christian from God. Thus the cross offers a theology of suffering to explain why the Christian suffers even though he is in Christ. Christianity without the message of the crucified messiah at the center becomes trivial (Van Rheenen 1991, 304).

Nurturing to Maturity

Those who are cut by the message and show it by renouncing their magic practices and by their agency to come under the protection of Jesus through baptism, I will baptize. After baptism I will constantly walk beside them in their new faith, by teaching them how to pray and read the Bible. I will also teach them how to reach out to people and encourage them to do so by themselves because one of the primary aims of Satan for Christians is to render them ineffective in Christian life and ministry (Warner 1986, 70). New converts should not concentrate on themselves but move out to help other people, "bringing people from the power of Satan to God" (Warner 1986, 86).

Because Luos have many rituals for various activities, e.g., burials, marriages, moving to new homes, seclusion of mothers after birth, etc., it will be important to Christianize most of this ritual so that the Luo animist is not tempted to go back to the witchdoctors for advice on how to go about these activities, like burial. Instead of involving many rituals that are associated with witchcraft, I can introduce a Christian burial where prayer is emphasized and the soul of the dead delivered to God. Thus the people need not fear that the dead person will return as a ghost, because he is with God.

Lastly, but most important, I will continually place them before God in prayer so that they will be able to stand firm just as Jesus prayed for his disciples and all believers in John 17:16-26.


Kraft, Charles H. 1991. What kind of encounter do we need in our Christian witness? Evangelical Missiological Quarterly. (July): 261.

Odipo, Paul. 1998. Personal Interview. Nairobi, Kenya.

Omolo, Grace. 1998. Personal Interview. Nairobi, Kenya.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 1991. Communicating Christi in Animistic Contexts. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Warner, Timothy. 1986. Teaching power encounter. Evangelical Missiological Quarterly. Vol. 22.


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