No room for the witch doctor: Discipling Africa’s rural churches from the top down

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You’ve probably heard it said that Christianity in Africa is “a mile wide and an inch deep”—churches and converts are prolific, but real transformation and a wholistic, all-life-encompassing faith are harder to find.

“The problem with this statement is that it is also true of many churches throughout the world,” says Johannes Aucamp, a facilitator with Training of Pastors in Africa (TOPIA).

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Usually with his wife and children but sometimes alone, Johannes travels to rural communities and Bible schools across Southern Africa to train existing and future pastors on biblical worldview and wholistic community development.

Johannes, of course, is right: Just as the stereotype of spirit-worshipping African Christians has some truth, so does that of materialistic Western Christians. We all have failed in the first commandment to have no god beside the Lord. Johannes’ goal—the mission of TOPIA—is to build God’s kingdom by developing in local African churches Christ-like servant leaders who demonstrate biblical lifestyles every day of the week, leaving no room for unbiblical religious elements like fear of ancestral spirits or visits to the witch doctor.

“Godly and Christ-like servant leaders are the key to transforming nations and bringing glory to God,” he says.

This vision is not just for Africa but for the West, too, where the Church is observably declining. Johannes notes that in Europe, local churches are growing due to African and Asian immigrants. “This is where we have a great opportunity as African churches,” he says.

A contextualized approach

Born and raised in South Africa, Johannes knows that about nine out of 10 pastors in Africa have neither formal training nor access to academic training. Rather, they typically train on the job, being raised up by leaders above them who likewise often lack any seminary or Bible-college education. Leaving the community to attend seminary for years is not only out of reach for those who have little money and limited formal education (most rural African pastors); it also interrupts the future pastor’s connections with his family and community, filling him with academic knowledge that may not be practically applicable back home.

“In many cases, the trained church leaders are not able to adapt back into their local communities after they have been trained,” says Johannes.

This in-service training model is not the problem, he says: “If you had a biblically based leader and character, that would be a wonderful model.” Rather, the material and ideas passed on to rising pastors need improvement. Church leaders who preach on Sunday and visit witch doctors during the week demonstrate the need for a solid, wholistic, biblical-worldview foundation for their daily lives and ministries.

Johannes brings the core DNA teachings on biblical worldview and wholistic community development to rural church leaders and Bible-school students in Southern Africa.

From right: Johannes speaks with Rev. Jussa who left his fertile farmland back home, learned a new language and moved to Magodani, Mozambique to be a missionary. He earns a living through a small business he started: charging the neighbors’ cell phones using solar power.


Final preparation before teaching
When visiting rural communities, Johannes usually brings his tent and uses whatever facilities are available for teaching preparation.

Working through his existing relationships across southern Africa, Johannes engages mostly with in-service, practicing pastors in rural communities, many of whom never finished primary school. Helping these pastors shape for themselves and their congregations a view of the gospel that encompasses all of life and looks toward the reconciliation of all things, Johannes uses Colossians 1:19-20 to answer the question, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:19-20 ESV)

The Gospel Summary Booklet is especially useful for primary oral learners in rural settings.

With these pastors and their peers, he teaches a simplified version of the DNA Vision Conference. To aid in his teaching, drawing from DNA principles, Reconciled World’s Truth-Centered Transformation material and writings of the African missionary Koos van Rooy, Johannes has developed a Gospel Summary Booklet that employs a storying approach to help primary oral learners develop a wholistic biblical worldview.

This curriculum has multiple versions; click here to view and download them all for free.

Johannes also responds to invitations from theological colleges and Bible schools where he teaches part time and as a guest lecturer on topics including biblical worldview, ethics and Christian character, often using DNA’s books The Worldview of the Kingdom of God and Servanthood. In these settings, he finds it more effective to have students express what they are learning through drama, song and dance instead of more traditional paper writing and group discussion.

Johannes and Hein
From left: Johannes and Hein are the key contacts for the DNA’s local networks in several African nations.

Johannes had a passion for pastoral training long before he attended a Vision Conference in 2009 taught by Hein van Wyk, the DNA’s Global Leadership Team leader and an associate of Hope for Africa and Experience Mission. Energized by Hein’s teaching, Johannes attended 18 following Vision Conferences with Hein, being mentored in his thinking and approach to teaching. Today, Johannes and Hein teach mostly independently of each other all across the southern part of Africa:

TOPIA training
Countries where Johannes and Hein have focused their work

The story of Rev. Plum, a fisherman and a fisher of men 

By Johannes Aucamp, from the Footprints of Hope blog

Walk with TOPIA on a journey of transformation. See what the impact of a biblical life- and worldview is on people, communities and nations. Listen to the stories happening in and through God’s church.

At TOPIA, we are focused on taking hands and working with church leaders in Southern Africa. These are not famous preachers who you can follow on Twitter. You can’t read their blogs on a regular basis. They are leaders of small churches in poor communities. Very often, these leaders never finished school, and very few of them have received any form of tertiary education. Even so, they bring hope and leave footprints of hope in Africa.

Pastor Plum I met Rev. Plum (left) in Marka, which is in the Shire Vallei, the most southern part of Malawi. It is very hot and there are a lot of mosquitoes next to the Shire River. Most of the people who live in Marka are fishermen or small farmers. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) of Malawi invited me to come and teach to some of their church leaders. Rev. Plum is their leader in the Shire Valley area, and he serves eight churches. Four are on the Malawi side of the river, and the other four are on the Mozambique side. Rev. Plum uses what he has to serve the churches which have been entrusted to him across this vast area. He uses his bicycle and his mokorro (a hollowed-out tree trunk) to travel over many kilometres to encourage and equip church leaders. Like many other locals, Rev. Plum is a fisherman. For a couple of days each week, he is in his mokorro fishing. The rest of the week, is a fisher of men. He travels great distances on his bicycle and even rode 180km in total to attend the training in Marka.

Rev. Plum is not trained theologically and, since he never completed school, he will probably never be allowed to attend a Bible school or a university. Nevertheless, Rev. Plum is one of God’s chosen instruments to expand His kingdom in the Shire Valley. I learn about dedication, perseverance, a positive attitude towards life sacrifice, hospitality and kindness from Rev. Plum. I see something of God’s grandeur and wisdom in Rev. Plum, a humble fisherman and, just like Peter, he is a fisher of men.


  • Praise and thank the Lord for who He is.
  • Pray for the expansion of His kingdom in Africa.
  • Pray for churches and church leaders in the Shire Valley.
  • Pray that God will use TOPIA to inspire and mobilise churches and individuals to collaborate with TOPIA and carry His kingdom-message into Southern Africa.
  • Thank God for second-generation facilitators and pray that God will send more people to spread and ‘live’ His message.

Learned something new? Have a question? Enjoying this post? Let us know!

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Abel Aine
Abel Aine
6 years ago

Thank you for discipling the rural communities. After graduating from Charis Bible college,Uganda; I am now involved in discpling rural communities in rural Kazo, south western Uganda. I need some mentorship to serve better. I hope you will be able to help. Thank you.!

Disciple Nations Alliance
Reply to  Abel Aine

Dear Aine, thanks so much for your note–it is wonderful to make your acquaintance. To connect with our local DNA network in Uganda, please email our local network leader Murungi Judith at

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