Once upon a time in a faraway jungle lived a small, wiry man with darting eyes and wandering speech. He fancied himself a witchdoctor. Whenever someone was sick, he would appeal to the evil spirits to remove the sickness. Or if it was a difficult birthing situation, he would appeal to the dead ancestors to accept the gift of a blanket (after the birth they would take it back and use it again) and allow the baby to be born.
When the missionaries arrived, the witchdoctor made friends in a groveling sort of way, looking for opportunities to get something he wanted from them. Whenever a patient requested help from the missionary clinic, he would lurk around waiting for a chance to do his “medicine” when the missionaries’ backs were turned. And he wasn’t the only one. Other witchdoctors would do the same. They took their work very seriously, especially if someone was possessed by an evil spirit. They were certain that only their craft would free the person from their condition.
The witchdoctor was married and had many children. His wife was very quiet, intensely shy and remarkably lonely. As the children grew, their opinion of their father diminished. He was an angry man, lazy and often cruel. His children wanted desperately to attend the mission school, but he would discourage them, even ridiculing and threatening them. Still many of them persevered. One even graduated from the elementary school, and several were baptized.
This family lived just across a creek from the missionaries, and the missionaries heard lots of arguments and crying babies, but also children sweetly singing the songs of Jesus the older siblings had heard in school and were obviously teaching to the younger ones. What a contrast!
In the beginning, the young wife would make excuses to go and visit the missionary lady who would tell her Bible stories. As she came more and more frequently, a villager commented that she was taking Bible studies. “No I’m not!” she retorted, and she began visiting much less often. Saddened, the missionary continued to pray for her friend. She spoke to her about spiritual things as there was opportunity, but when the husband was there, he would answer for her that she wasn’t interested.
One day the wife told the missionary that she had been talking with her older children, and she really wanted to learn about God, no matter what her husband said. Would the missionary please come to her hut and teach her on a regular basis?
And so regular visits began. Progress was slow. The poor woman was hard of hearing, and with the restlessness and fussiness of her many children, it was hard to get through a story and make sure she understood it. But she loved to learn and sing songs of Jesus. Her first favorite was “The B-I-B-L-E” in her native tongue. The studies were slow, but her interest and sincerity were real, so the missionary kept going and praying, amazed at the obvious changes the Lord was working in the young wife’s heart.
One day when it was time for the usual study, the witchdoctor was there, but he said he wanted to hear the story, too! That was an answer to prayer. But it still wasn’t smooth sailing. He would challenge the Bible stories and tell his own versions mixed up with his spiritual beliefs and ancestral legends. Praying for wisdom and tact, the missionary persevered. For several years now, the missionary has been working with this family—thrilling at any progress and sorrowing at the man’s sporadic signs of disinterest.
After several weeks during which the missionary was sick and stayed in the lowlands, upon her return she heard that there was a bisara (a tribal court hearing) between the witchdoctor and his wife. It was reported that he had accused her of terrible shenanigans with their teenage son, and she wanted to divorce him because of all the hurtful things he was saying. It was a very busy Sunday at the clinic, and the missionary resolved to visit the family when her work was done. But the stream of needy people kept the missionary busy until far too late to go visiting. The demands of work continued for two more weeks, and the missionary was unable to visit the family. A second and final bisara was held, and the couple was officially divorced. The missionary was very sad, but she kept praying. And then she heard glad news: the couple had called another bisara and reconciled! The following Sabbath, the missionary was able to visit the family and see how they were doing. She hoped they were continuing to grow spiritually, but she also wondered how their marriage was going.
When the missionary arrived in the village, the witchdoctor greeted her warmly. He immediately took her to the home where they were staying while a new hut was being built. When the missionary saw the witchdoctor’s wife, she was glowing with joy. What happened? the missionary wondered. And they soon told her.
After the divorce, the witchdoctor was broken-hearted about the separation from his wife and children. A few days later, he went to his wife and asked for forgiveness. She told how God had softened her heart toward her husband and helped her to forgive when she thought she never could. He told about how they now pray together frequently, and how God is helping them. The missionary couldn’t get over how happy they both looked. The former witchdoctor’s eyes are clearer, his speech is more understandable and he can retell all the Bible stories he has heard! He sees the change in himself and is amazed at how God answers prayer.
This past week, the missionary took the wife to the hospital for a hearing check, only to find out that the audiologist was out of town. But during those two days with the former witchdoctor and his wife, she witnessed firsthand the eagerness with which they pray to the God in heaven, asking for what they need and thanking Him for what He has given.
Just the other day, the man told the missionary, “We have been asking God to help with my wife’s hearing, and she is able to hear more and more!”
Lord, please honor this couple’s faith and continue to bring them to full surrender to You. They hope to be baptized soon, so please help us know when they are genuinely ready. Thank You for their newfound joy in You! And please, Lord, increase my own faith. Where once this man fancied himself a witchdoctor, You are changing him into a man of God. Thank You for allowing me to witness Your work in their lives.