It is the morning of my accident, and we have just given an old woman a ride to the village.
We reached her village well before the skies opened up and parked under a tree. We all got out, and then she thanked me, and bowed, The old lady pulled out these dolls, and waved them at me, shaking them side to side. They were hand-sized bundles of white fabric, bound in the middle, and had a human like form, but not so. Then she started shaking them at me, as if she was throwing whatever was inside them in my direction, and chanting, and scuffing the ground with her feet.
When I told Eric this story, he immediately asked “Did you pray over it?” The thought had not occurred to me at the time, so no, we did not. “At times we do not pick the old lady from the roadside. ” He said. Here in Ghana people think they are witches. We are afraid of them.” I am only telling Eric this story now seven month after the fact to get his perspective on it. “What was the old lady doing?” I ask.
[Old Ladies … don’t give them a ride!]
We waited until she was done with whatever she was doing and then walked around the “typical, peaceful fishing village. ” Mostly it was a desperately impoverished village, not unlike many in Ghana. Our presence attracts quite a following of young Ghanaian children and Anna danced with the girls, while Fox horsed around with the boys. It was great fun and if it had not been raining, I would have taken some pictures. A rather drunk man named Stephen attached himself to me as our “guide.”
When we had had enough of the rain, Stephen led us back to our vehicle. I dashed him for helping us. He said madase, or thank you in the local language and pulled me aside to speak privately. The drunkenness was gone, his eyes were alert, completely sober. “That old lady …she has cursed you…she is a witch …never give ride to old ladies” and then he got all drunk looking again.
[The only picture I have from that village]
I thought nothing more of it, not even mentioning it to the family, except Fox had heard the part about being a witch, and we joked about it driving back. Eric says “When you get to the village, listen to what the drunk man says…its true.” He continues “he hears everything, and because he is drunk, no one minds him. Even if he were to drink water, it would turn to akpeteshi in his blood,” akpeteshi being a potent local drink made from distilled palm wine. But we didn’t know to listen to the drunk man, or even pray over it and seven hours later, I am standing in ankle deep water holding a boogie board when a huge freak wave hits me face on. My shoulder is instantly dislocated and fractured in several places. In the coming weeks, I would discover half of the nerves that give feeling to my right hand were ruined.
We had gone away that week-end to decide what was next in the adventure of our lives. We had fallen in love with Ghana, but felt God calling us back to the States. In our final eight months or so, I planned to offer my services as a full-time pastor to a church who’s pastor was moving on to start a new one. I even had a lunch appointment for the day after we got back, an appointment I physically kept, but that’s about all. He saw the condition I was in, and I saw a look of disappointment across his. This was not going to work. It was a short lunch.
I am thinking about this because last week-end at Youth Group, I heard Nansie Ike, one of the youth pastors, speak about the balance between the spiritual worlds (those are my words not hers). She said that whenever you take back some of the enemy’s territory, you can expect a backlash. The Youth Group had gone on an outreach to a village in the north, and since they had been back, every one of the leaders had been either been sick, attacked personally or had a skin rash. It was backlash for a successful outreach where many people gave their lives to Christ. I guess that is consistent with my experience in the States, each time I was involved in some great ministry, something awful happened the following week, but I’d never heard of an advance attack.
In the weeks before the accident, everything seemed to be going well. My preaching was connecting at Asbury-Dunwell, the Elim Youth Group was leading worship well at its church. I was orientating incoming mission trip teams, and this concept of a local pastor to short term missionaries seemed to be catching on with the longer term ones, and I was planning to go back into full-time pastoral ministry. It all came to a splashing halt, and I wondered. Did I hear God wrong? Is this not what you wanted me to do here? Or was it the curse of the old lady?
In the weeks after, I felt it all slip away. Some friends became distant, others came out of nowhere. I felt very much cared for, prayed for and loved, but even so immediate healing did not come. In that regard, I felt pretty much on my own, until I met up with Suzanne, the physical therapist.
[Suzanne, from her blog: click here]
I had known Suzanne since last spring when we met at Tatum’s good-bye party, [click here to see that goofy pict] and since then she had been a regular at Asbury-Dunwell Church. After the operation in South Africa, she started treating me three times a week, then two, then once per week, then every other week, and now about once a month. It was under her care that I felt the supernatural healing of God take effect. She worked my shoulder over me in our home, in her home, at her office, and finally on the office table of Michael Mozley in his home. She is a gifted healer, but she doesn’t like it when you fall asleep on her (read: she has ways of waking you!). Because of God working through her, I am doing far better than any of the doctors and physical therapists in South Africa thought possible. It is, as they say here, “by God’s Grace.”
So I have been thinking about the Spirit World here in Ghana a lot lately, maybe even losing a bit of perspective on it. I say that because this past Saturday, as I was preparing chord charts for the band that was leading the worship music on Sunday at Elim, I began to get that familiar not so good feeling of knowing I was going to be really sick. I had all the signs, the burping, the gas, the ache in the belly.. , vomiting and diarrhea were only moments away. I wondered, was this some sort of advance attack? I prayed a prayer of protection and within a few minutes felt much better. Weird. The next day I was completely fine, the vomiting and diarrhea never came.
[Shrine in Elmina, as seen from Fort St. Jago]
I am learning that maybe this World of the Spirits is not all-powerful, and its influence comes more from fear, than actual power. Eric tells me of the shrines in the Accra communities of Osu and La. I ask him to take me to see them and he agrees, but when I mention taking a picture, he changes his mind. “It is not possible.”
I’ve seen these shrines before, they sit in the middle of the road, traffic going around them on either side awkwardly. Each shrine has a priestess, who is thought to be married to its god, or most powerful ancestor. Once a year the Shrine is opened during its festival and if it is your time to enter, you back in, keeping an eye on the entrance. He tells me those who walk in face forward are never seen again. Over the week-end, two men die at one of these festivals, the kind that initiates young girls into womanhood. According to the rite, when the musket is fired, the girls become women, but whoever fired the musket, shot two men, killing them.
[Shrine in Anamobo during one of its festivals]