Being in a country where people worship various gods, where fetishes, rituals and all kinds of beliefs are common, it is evident to me that God preserves the lives of His children. Though I suffered a bout of malaria last month, I felt God’s presence at all times.
After three months in Benin, it was time for my teammate Lucília and I to renew our visas. After a 12-hour trip on a very rough road, we arrived in Cotonou and began the process. We had to wait three days to get our passports back from the immigration office, so we used the time to visit some places around Cotonou.
We traveled to Ouidah, a small town of approximately 200,000 inhabitants about 25 miles from Cotonou. It was in this little town that voodoo was born, and learning more about its history gave us new insights into the beliefs of the people of Benin. As we walked through the history museum there, we were surprised to learn that Brazilian customs we are familiar with, such as Bumba Meu Boi, Cosme e Damião, Senhor do Bonfim and many others actually originated in Benin and were brought to Brazil by slaves in the eighteenth century.
A museum guide told us about the power of the spirits and about the kings who captured and sold so many slaves. She also told us about how important the worship of the python was to them, and about the temple of the python in the center of Ouidah. We took some pictures but did not go into the temple. After that, we began to notice all the python statues and decorations around the city. I confess this is the most bizarre thing I have ever witnessed—loving and worshiping a snake!
Leaving the museum, we walked down the path of the slaves to the sea, which is lined with monuments to many kings. The sea at Ouidah is incredible, its light-green color enchanting anyone who glimpses it. But the beach is dirty and dotted with crabs.
As we left Ouidah, we reflected on the faith of the people who know only the power of the enemy and who do not know the mighty King of kings and Lord of lords.
At the appointed time, we went to immigration to get our visas. Unfortunately, we did not get one-year visas as we had expected, but only for another three months. So it seems that we will be back in Cotonou to repeat this process in August.
Back in Natitingou, I witnessed the traditional circumcision ceremony. There is not a specific age of circumcision for young men, but they are usually over eighteen. The ceremony begins with dances, which represent surrender to the spirits of the ancestors. Then a costumed procession leaves the neighborhood with drums and whistles announcing who will take part in the circumcision. The mayor and his counselors consult the spirits of the ancestors to decide the date and place for the ceremony. When the day arrives, the young men to be circumcised are dressed in heavily weighted clothes that can weigh more than 100 lbs. But, due to the “blessing” of the ancestors, they walk and move freely and do not feel the weight.
Still wearing their special clothes, the candidates walk to the place of circumcision. Someone places a stick behind their heads, and they hold onto them with their hands, similar to the position in which slaves were bound. Under the control of the spirits, the young men cannot remove their hands from the stick. Then the elders make their invocations and perform the act of circumcision without any kind of anesthesia. Afterwards, three or four men struggle to break the spiritual power and pull the young men’s hands off of the sticks.
After the ceremony, the circumcised young men walk around the neighborhood to show that they are strong. For the next three months, they sleep in the mayor’s house, celebrating and eating meat, be it pork or dog or who knows what. The families of the circumcised raise a tall post decorated with cloth at their doors.
As I watch and listen to these ceremonies, I wish I could understand the local dialect. It would be interesting to know what they talk about.
Witnessing so many strange things here, I thank God for strengthening me. I have no fear, and I feel the presence of holy angels around me as I walk through the neighborhood. I know there are people praying for me, and I am comforted to have so many brothers and sisters of faith in various parts of the world. Just like me, you are engaged in hastening the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Please continue praying for us as we learn the language. We are in the midst of so many satanic works that keeping our faith strong is something only the Holy Spirit can do in us.