Founded by an eighteen-year-old Zimbabwean prophet, Shoniwa Masedza, in 1932, the Johane Masowe Gospel of God Church now has millions of followers across Africa. They are commonly called “Vapostori”, which means “The Apostles”. Born to a peasant father, Shoniwa forbade his followers to attend conventional schools and read the Christian Bible, because he believed these to be colonial wisdom and spiritually vile. Through spiritual inspiration he taught the Vapostori to be masons and artisans from a young age as survival skills and as a means of achieving financial independence.
“When Johane came he told us to burn our Christian Bibles because they are from men with black hearts. The book has been used as a political tool for achieving white monopoly, so we cannot trust the whites or their book. There is nothing good about this book except to mislead the African. It is simply a record of what Europeans want others to know,” church elder and preacher Munaye Chigwida told 7Dnews.
The Vapostori movement is also known among locals as “Johane Masowe Saturday”, which refers to the followers of the biblical John the Baptist who worship on the Sabbath. The group believes that their late founder Prophet Masedza was the reincarnated version of the Jewish John the Baptist, who was sent to redeem and deliver Africans from bondage. They usually refer their founder to as “Baba Johane”, meaning “Father Johane”. Interestingly, the Vapostori have a strong belief in Jesus Christ as the messiah of humankind, not through the Bible but through the teachings of Baba Johane.
“We allocate positions of authority to various able members of our church and together as a group undertake economic enterprises. Our main emphasis is not on money but survival because the end of the world is nigh. Baba Johane taught us to be self-dependent and protect ourselves from the corroding influences of the outside world. We observe all of this to ensure our mission and way of life conforms to the original teachings of Baba Johane,” said Chigwida.
“Baba Johane taught us to be self-reliant and sustain ourselves by employing our hands to produce. God will bless the works of our hands. My Father was a stone mason and he taught me the same, now my two sons Munashe and Chipo have also mastered the art of stonework. My wife is a basket weaver while my daughter uses crotchet to do interior design. It was not formal education that empowered us but the teachings of Baba Johane.”
In the satellite town of Chitungwiza in Zimbabwe, the Vapostori have a well-established church hierarchy, institutional offices and live together in a self-contained community. This is highly characteristic of the Vapostori wherever you find them in Zimbabwe and on the African continent as a way of ensuring observance of their spiritual fabric and social cohesion. Rejection of biomedicines and television viewing solidifies their unwavering faith in the teachings of their late founder Johane. Anyone who falls sick gets prayed for by prophets from the church and pregnant women give birth with the help of the church’s own midwives, whom they call “Mbuya Nyamukuta”.
A young congregant from Chitungwiza, Simbarashe Lidi, told 7Dnews, “Since 1931 we have developed and perfected a wide variety of manual skills, which include the production of metal utensils, construction, carpentry, baskets and mats made from bamboo cane. By 1960, our fellow Vapostori in Port Elizabeth managed to establish a furniture factory selling to all the districts in South Africa. Again, basketmaking has made us wealthy and is one of the distinct activities you will see with all the Vapostori wherever you find us on the African continent. Even here we have created a market for our products and skills. The community which we live in knows that we deliver the best and that’s why we continue to survive and prosper.”
“We hold our prayer meetings and church services outdoors because we do not relate to symbols of Western culture. The earth is sacred and no human being owns our place of worship in the wilderness. This means we do not ask for anyone’s money to enable the mission to grow and be sustained. You will find this to be true wherever you go on the continent and find Vapostori,” Simbarashe concluded.
Always clad in white clothes and covered heads, the Vapostori women, sometimes in the company of young children, can be seen on the streets hawking their wares at very reasonable prices. It seems they have naturally adapted to the everchanging and competitive business place by applying competitive prices.