‘Voice in the Night’ is a black African mirror on the life and work of the apostle Paul, an insight on 25 years of African spirituality and a reminder of the spirituality that drove the exposive growth of th early Christian Church. It’s an adventure story begging to be made into a film or adapted by an enterprising black church into a revolutionary piece of physical theatre.
"There is an African spirituality that will sweep up from Southern Africa… Millions will walk with the fire, praising God for the return of Christ." This spiritual fire is the final vision in a succession of visions and the only one not yet realised by Pastor Surprise Sithole in his autobiographical ‘Voice in the Night’.
Son of an African Witchdoctor
Son of witchdoctors, Surprise Sithole survived a life of poverty and danger in the Mozambique village of Cachote. Destined to follow in the family tradition he looked set to practice that uniquely powerful blend of spiritual awareness and outright trickery. ‘Voice In The Night’ gives rare insight into a desperate life of smoke filled mud huts, a diet of cassava, pumpkin and chicken soup with no chicken. Survival in an atmosphere of hopelessness typified his mother’s dictum, "Don't laugh today or you will cry tomorrow."
Living by a mixture of cunning and invention, Surprise and his family earned a meagre living from fake cures, spells and curses. This was all that life held for Surprise until that first vision or rather voice that warned: "Surprise, get up and get out of the house. If you don’t you will die." Directed by this voice in the night, Surprise collected his childhood friend, Gafar, and together they fled into the jungle. The story that follows bears striking similarity to that of Paul in the book of Acts. Surprise and Gafar undergo a life changing ‘Damascus Road’ experience.
African mirror to the apostle Paul
Like Paul, Surprise and Gafar are led to a Christian safe-house where, as with Ananias in the Book of Acts, their arrival has been foretold in a dream. At the house, Mr and Mrs Lukas lead Surprise and Gafar to find Christ and teach the young Surprise what it is to laugh and be joyful for the first time in his life. Surprise's first vision – that voice in the night, is fully and shockingly realised. From here on, the parallel between Surprise and the apostle Paul become even more remarkable.
Like Paul, Surprise earns his keep by working for a living. He begins to preach with conviction and where there is no church, he builds one - the first of 15,000 new African churches since the millennium. In true apostolic style, he holds a service in a language he doesn’t speak and yet everyone present understands his message. There are miracles - not the conjured blood and curses of the witchdoctor, but genuine healing and restoration. And there are visions, some quite disturbing; including one where the floor of the bus appears to open up and reveal the fires of hell.
Visions, healings and miracles
Like Paul, Surprise walks free of captivity and escapes death, yet he cannot escape world events and the civil war in his home country demands a response. With next to nothing in material terms, he embarks on a Pauline missionary journey back to Mozambique and Surprise begins his first missionary journey and the terrifying fulfilment of the vision on the bus. With the grand sweep of Paul’s first century success, the second half of ‘A Voice In The Night’ is a story of dramatic conversion, of life and death escape, of miracles and lives restored.
There is a strong emphasis on the supernatural – possibly to be expected given Surprises upbringing. There is casting out of demons with first century echoes and strikingly twenty-first journey horrors of war and travel by aircraft rather than by sailing ship. In the later chapters, Surprise connects with Rolland and Heidi Baker of Iris Global Ministries and work begins in earnest to fulfil the vision of spiritual fire sweeping out of Africa to welcome in the reign of Christ the King.
Unique Black African Spirituality
Like all autobiographies, although ‘Voice in the Night’ has a strong and passionate narrative, it lacks an objective and critical view of the situation surrounding the story. Again, like all autobiographies, it lacks a cohesive, mature structure to give it the shape of a novel. Even so the book is an engaging insight to what’s been going on in African Christian spirituality over the last 25 years. Without doubt ‘Voice in the Night’ makes clear that there is an African brand of Christian spirituality. The foreword to ‘Voice in the Night’ is written by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Redding.
With that church’s own strong emphasis on the supernatural, it might appear that the African and Redding traditions have much in common. However, born out of extreme violence and poverty, and coloured by local supernatural traditions African spirituality is a powerful and very different force to anything growing from the affluence of West Coast America and indeed the whole of Western Europe. If they’re not here already, in the next decade or so we will be seeing Christian missionaries to Europe and America coming out of Africa with a very different and liberating interpretation of the gospel.
Voice in the Night: the not-so-trivial files
In the Mozambique village where Surprise Sithole grew up, Monkeys were kept from the maize crop by rubbing one monkey black with charcoal and setting it loose so it scared off the others.
Quick Guide to 'Voice in the Night' by Pastor Surprise
What is it?
- Fast moving account of a young man’s journey from darkness to faith in Christ.
- First hand insight into the poverty, dangers and spirituality in African village life.
- True life parallel to the life of Paul and the energetic early growth of Christianity.
What will it give me?
- How Christ can change a culture and a country through the work of one faithful man.
- Modern day account of signs, miracles and a vision of what can be achieved by faith.
- Insight into what causes churches to root and grow among people by faith alone.
Over to You
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The African spirituality of ‘Voice in the Night’ has strong supernatural themes in the casting out of demons, experience of visions fulfilled and healing ministries.
- Have you first hand experience of African spirituality compared to Western missionary Christianity, do you think there’s a difference?
- Have you an experience of using Jesus Culture books and resources in your personal reflections or in your youth outreach?
- What difference did it make to your spiritual life or to your church, and what’s the single biggest tip you’d pass on to anyone thinking of adopting the Jesus Culture vision and resources?
Tell us. Post your ideas, views and tips – beautiful, bizarre and brilliant at Eden.co.uk
March 20th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison