It was Monday morning, and our evangelists and other students were gathered in the classroom for our weekly leadership training. We had just started when Bernard arrived. He lives in the village of Koutié about 30 miles away and doesn’t always have time to come.
Bernard’s three-year-old son Simeon was with him, and I was happy to see him. Simeon has been sick a lot in the past couple of months. His parents took him to various health centers and hospitals in the region, and finally to the Catholic clinic down the road from us, which has friendly staff and offers good care. It is the best medical facility in our town.
Simeon had been released from the clinic three weeks earlier, and I asked Bernard if he had brought the boy for a final checkup. I could tell that Simeon still didn’t feel well. Bernard replied that they were done with the treatment, and Simeon was okay. However, the way he said it and the way the others didn’t join in the conversation made me realize that something was wrong.
I didn’t ask any more questions right then, deciding to wait until the end of the day when most of the participants leave, and the core team of evangelists, including Bernard, stays behind with me to discuss various topics related to our work. Then I asked Bernard again if Simeon was totally well. The full story finally came out. It turned out that the others had had a heated discussion with Bernard the previous week about Simeon. I didn’t know about it because I had been absent that Monday.
Bernard had indeed taken Simeon back to the clinic for a checkup. The doctor had done some tests and then sent him to the government hospital to do one more test that the lab at the Catholic clinic can’t do. When the test result came back the next day, instead of taking it to the doctor at the Catholic clinic, Bernard showed it to a friend. Bernard can’t read French, and even if he could, only someone with medical training could have understood the jargon and abbreviations. Nonetheless, Bernard’s friend pretended to understand the lab results. He told Bernard that his child was fatally ill, and there was no cure. Stricken with grief, Bernard went home and fell ill himself. He also showed the test results to the Koutié church leader, who, without any medical understanding, confirmed the diagnosis of the first person. Bernard decided it was not worth going back to the hospital if little Simeon was sure to die.
The village of Koutié has been struggling for a long time with demonic attacks. However, the church leader has not done a good job dealing with these problems and teaching the church members how to react. Instead of focusing on Jesus, the church members focus on Satan and his agents, allowing fear to grip them. Often when sickness strikes, instead of taking the person to the hospital, they immediately attribute it to sorcery. I learned from my team that some church members even go as far as consulting a marabou (diviner) to find out which of the other members or visitors are sorcerers and should be expelled. Needless to say, this gives Satan even greater access to the church. The membership of the Koutié church group has recently shrunk from the mid 50s to the mid 20s.
It is of course true that Satan is at work in many ways. He is strong, and he can make people sick; there is no doubt about that. But there is also malaria, meningitis and a whole list of other tropical diseases. To attribute each and every case of sickness to demonic activity means giving more credit to Satan than he deserves. What’s worse, it prevents sick people from getting the care they need. Countless people have lost their lives this way, to Satan’s great satisfaction I am sure.
The previous Monday when I had been away, the other evangelists had tried to convince Bernard to take Simeon back to the hospital, show the doctor the test results and hear what he had to say. But Bernard just said he was tired of the constant hospital visits, and he wouldn’t go back there. The others got very upset at Bernard, thinking he was being negligent. But they soon realized the real problem was that Bernard was certain that Simeon was the victim of sorcery, and there was nothing to be done for him but pray.
As our team discussed this situation together, Bernard was still very upset, so we didn’t pry for more information. However, I suspect that the test result is not as bad as he thinks, and Simeon will continue to recover as we keep praying for him.
These events once again remind me of the importance of our meetings and the lessons we have been spending so much time writing. The topical lessons will help our people to consciously leave behind their traditional animistic culture and develop a complete Christian culture that provides new answers to life’s situations. By God’s grace, the lessons will help them see more clearly how much Jesus loves and cares for them, and that the answers the Bible offers are infinitively better than any solution found in animism. This knowledge will enable them to build strong relationships with Christ that will help them overcome fear, superstition and fatalism. While these lessons were initially meant to target people that have recently given their lives to Jesus and who are just learning how to live a Christian life, Bernard and Simeon’s story makes us painfully aware of the need of such lessons even in groups and churches that have existed for many years.
Please continue to pray for our lesson writing and for the brothers who attend our meetings and take the teachings back to their villages. May God be glorified!