There was a scuffling in the back of the truck followed by embarrassed giggles. Looking back, I saw all of my passengers squeezed onto the right side of the truck.
“What’s going on?” I asked, pulling off the road. “Why is everyone packed into the right side?”
One of the older girls spoke up. “Pago’s mother died last week, and she is buried over there on the left side of the road. They’re all scared of her grave.”
I sat back, fighting a sudden wave of despair. How many years had I been teaching these people about the dead? I knew that they truly believed. But beliefs often don’t change the deep mental models that govern our automatic reactions to frightening situations. In that moment, I realized that beliefs would never overcome their fear. Only an experience could.
“Come with me,” I said to the girl.
“We’re not going to the grave, are we?” she exclaimed, eyes wide.
“Where is Pago’s mother?” I asked, leading the way.
“She’s gone. It’s like she’s sleeping.”
“Then what’s in that grave?” I asked, leading her closer.
“Just her body, returning to dirt,” she replied.
“Then what is there to fear?”
“The spirits that scare us.”
“And do they have any authority over a Christian?” I asked as I took her hand and pulled her toward the dirt mound.
“No. We can tell them to leave in Jesus’ name and authority,” she said, trembling a little.
“You’re touching the grave now. What do you feel?”
“Nothing,” she replied, surprised.
“What’s happened to you?”
“Nothing,” she answered again, a grin breaking out on her face. “I’m not scared anymore either! Wow!”
That evening, my young friend flitted excitedly from house to house, telling her relatives that she had actually touched a grave. “There really isn’t anything to be afraid of!” she exclaimed. “I knew it before, but somehow I couldn’t get over the fear. Now that John helped me experience the truth for myself, I’m no longer afraid!”