The first thing you see as you approach his place is a huge hill right in front of a tukul/hut. This hill is a monstrous heap of dung ash. Here cow dung is burnt at night to wade off the mosquitoes from the cows mainly, but also from the people. The higher your pile the more cows you likely have. For one to have a heap like this one you would have to be very rich. However in his case the hill acts as a sort of a shrine or a place from where he gains access to his gods.
We walked past the hill marveling at the kids who were scaling up the steep edges of the hill with buckets of fresh dung ash to add to the heap. However, an old woman halted our progress. She came at us with raised arms commanding us to take off our shoes. We were supposedly walking on ground that she considered holy. Needless to say, we did not take off our shoes. When she came closer and had a better look at us she asked what we wanted and was told we were looking to talk to the witch doctor (the conversation was all in Nuer I’m guessing this is what was being said…I’m sure they were not talking about Friday night’s NBA games). She pointed us to a different tukul where we could see a group of people seated waiting to see him. As we walked away from the old woman, I glanced back to look at her because I had a sense that she was demon possessed just by her weird posture and manner of talking…something was quite off. As I turned to look at her I found her half turned, walking away but still staring at me, she let off a low short laugh of sorts…creepy. We had been praying as we came to this place because I expected it to be the throne of the devil in this area. If God’s Work was going to thrive in this area it would not happen without a clear challenge to the work this man was doing.
We walked over to the waiting area and were offered a mat to sit on to wait for him, I was too tired to sit that low on the ground so we took a pass. It turned out that the witch doctor had gone to take a bath in the swamp. They entreated us to wait for him. I asked my friends what they thought we should do…we were all pretty tired and having to wait for an indefinite amount of time did not look too appealing to any of us. I think I spotted a measure of fear in the voices and body language of my students. They seemed very uncomfortable to be there. They suggested we go and plan a visit on a later date. We inquired how long it would take for him to get back and were informed that he would be back very shortly…the servants were very keen to have us wait I suspect it is because we looked like good customers. I suggested to the men that we wait and they obliged. We waited for about 10 minutes for the witch doctor to return (seats had been brought out for us so we dint have to wait on our feet), as we waited I was observing the people around me. The crowd waiting was pretty quiet, there was a tall man with unkempt hair walking around with a very big spear, he made me a little uncomfortable. Two rough looking characters walked in and went over to the witch doctors wives to greet them. I saw one of the men poke a wife with the rear end of his spear roughly although not in a way that would hurt her. He then took a fist full of her hair and turned her face to himself. There was something unusual about this whole place.
After our 10-minute wait Michael who the whole time had been standing looking down the road waiting for our host to appear announced with a hushed tone “He’s coming! And he is carrying a gun!” He showed up wearing nothing but his trousers, rolled up to his calves, an AK 47 rifle swinging carelessly on one of his hands, an entourage of wives and some men around him.
He walked into the compound and spotted James Koang immediately. He greeted him with a friendly tone and they had a short conversation. James had a smile on his face and the witchdoctor sounded fairly friendly. This gave me hope that we might actually have a chance to engage him with the Gospel. He walked away into one of his huts giving me a chance to confirm what they were talking about. James informed me that he was asking him why he did not send anyone to let him know that he was coming, to which James replied “we were just passing by and decided to pay you a visit”. He came out and walked past us still asking James why he had not given him prior notice before coming to visit him, he asked us to wait as he headed to the ash heap. Things were getting tense. He sounded more confrontational now, the team and waiting crowd was starting to look a little agitated.
When he returned he was a different man. He had an apron of sorts made out of goatskin hanging from his neck, a reed mat with some spears inside it and a chip on his shoulder. He came and immediately begun calling James out. He claimed that James had been trying to test his powers for a while now, and that the reason he had come un-announced was so as to catch him of guard. He invited James to try and take a photo of him and see if it will work (he claims that any camera used to take his photo would break). The waiting crowd were now on their feet marveling at the spectacle that had become. We hadn’t come seeking for a confrontation, we were coming to share the Gospel with him to show that the message we preached was for all, to show that our God was not in competition with any of the local gods they are not in the same league…not even conceivably close. The greatness of God that I sought to display was the greatness of His love even for him…to assure him that he was not outside the reach of His love.
I motioned to James to translate for me and I begun to share the Gospel with him. I introduced myself and informed him of my mission in the area, told him that I had come to share with sinful men the good news of God of how they can be reconciled back to Him again. It became clear to me shortly that the man was not the same man that had been talking to James a few minutes earlier. This man was not hearing a word I was saying. Every time I would say some thing he would answer back with incoherent words. He offered me a cow right in the middle of my presentation of the gospel; he told me that if I did not take the cow a hyena would eat it at night. All this he said without ever looking me in the eye, he ventured a quick glance or two once or twice but kept his eyes on my friend the whole time. We had not come to take but to give, to give the gift of eternal life made available in Christ and I told him as much, we had not come for a competition we came to communicate the offer of mercy and pardon from the God who made the heavens and the earth the God he would meet one day soon and bow the knee to. When I said this He challenged me telling me to “pull out my hair” and see whose god was greater. He then proceeded to unroll his reed mat take two dried up maize seeds and dramatically threw them at my feet. James and the guys later told me that everyone had at that point expected something really bad to happen to us. Nothing did. I asked him what those seeds were but got no answer. It was obvious at this point that we were not really communicating and that all the drama was not particularly edifying. I gave another offer of mercy told him that all his sins could be forgiven if he turned to Christ but this like my other words fell on deaf ears. We begged leave and stood up to go. He begun to plead with us to stay but there was no point of staying so we begun to walk away. He called out after us a few times but we were set on leaving.
After walking a few paces three men came running after us. One was the tall guy with the big spear the other was the rough character I had seen earlier poking the witchdoctors wife with his spear. They did not look menacing at all. They seemed to be beseeching my three Nuer friends. My friends were replying to them in animated speech and the men seemed to be explaining something to them. I tried to get someone to tell me what was being said to no avail. When we walked away they told me the men had asked them not to translate anything to me. The men were giving advice to the three to go back and entreat the witchdoctor lest something really bad happen to them. It turns out there are some old men who normally intercede for those with whom the witchdoctor is angry and they happened not to be present on that day. For fear that something bad would happen to their Nuer brothers they had come to entreat them to return (They did not care enough about me to extend the offer to me). The three were now full of excitement as they spoke of how they could not be harmed by any of his wizadry. After a few minutes of talking the men went back and we returned to our journey back. The men, excited about their encounter with the witchdoctor laughed at how his attempt to perform magic with his “hair” had failed. They were very excited in their speech but it felt to me like the excitement was not so much based on God’s power to preserve and protect but rather a mockery of the impotence of the witchdoctor. So I exhorted them not to take his powers lightly rather to delight in the truth that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Later that week we took a whole days class to examine how Christ crushed the head of the devil, how He destroyed the Devil’s work, this was to keep them from feeling like they would have to turn to a signs and wonders ministry to battle the Devil’s work there. They quieted down for a short while but after a minute or two they were back to excited speech about their experience. At least I tried.
I was glad that the students had come out of that experience with more confidence than they’d had as they walked in. It was not so much that they had learned something new about God as it is that the truths they knew about Him were confirmed for them. Later I had that there was talk in the market place about our visit. The general consensus of the villagers was that the God we serve must be real if we walked into the witchdoctor’s house preached and no harm came upon us. We rejoice in this, and trust that the Lord will use it to further crack the gates of hell in this region and allow it to serve the growth of His Church.
We walked back at a very slow pace, crossed the swamp, which at this point of the year it is not so deep and as the sun set upon our village we arrived back to the our camp. Home sweet home.