The swishing sound of witchdoctor machetes hacking through the bush, headed straight for our “bug tent”. I now knew that I had brought my wife to Africa to die.
How did we get into this predicament?
Dave Morrison (“Mo”), the director of Iris ministries in Malawi, had invited Debbie and I to assist with an outreach in a remote village far north of the base in Bangula.
A church had actually been planted in this village after the grandson of the chief had been run over and killed. When God raised the boy back to life, the chief was so impressed that he opened his village wide to the gospel. Many were born again and a pastor was trained to oversee the new church.
Outreach began in typical African fashion with two hours of dust-raising jubilant worship led by the Iris worship team.
During worship, Mo asked Debbie and I to preach to the crowd.
“What should we preach on?” we asked.
Answering us, Mo shared how some of the villagers who had accepted Jesus had not yet fully cut ties with occultic tribal practices. Some were still seeing the local witchdoctors instead of bringing their sick to Jesus. We could preach on being fully committed to the Lord.
So that’s what we did.
Preaching on Elijah and the prophets of Baal, I applied Elijah’s question “How long will you hesitate between two opinions?” to the issue of the witchdoctors. “We can’t keep one foot in Jesus and the other in the occult”, I challenged. Then for dramatic effect I lit the torch that I had hastily made out of one of my tube socks. As the flame shot up into the dark, I presented our God as the only One Who could answer by fire.
Debbie preached on how every time a witchdoctor was consulted, it was like pouring dirt into the clean water of one’s relationship with Jesus.
Outreach continued hours into the night with more preaching, the Jesus Movie, altar calls, and ministry times. It was all so exhilarating to us.
Exhausted, we finally arrived back at our camp site. Four of us were to sleep isolated by ourselves in the backyard of a mud house that bordered on the bush. The rest of the team was located on the other side of the village.
Mo, Debbie, a teen from Canada, and I readied our “bug tents” for the night. What is a “bug tent”? It is a little one man tent. Essentially, it is not much more than a mosquito screen stretched out over tent poles with a zipper.
As we lay in our bug tents looking up through the screen mesh at the amazing stars of the bush, we happily fell fast asleep.
About 1 am, Debbie and I were startled awake as hellishness seemed to break loose.
In every direction, intense witchdoctor drumming suddenly erupted into the silence of the night. We were surrounded by angry, pounding drums on all sides. The ground shook with them. Babies cried, women screamed, all was a discordant chaos of eerie, threatening sound.
We were terrified.
“Mo”, we whispered. “Mo, wake up! What is happening?”
No answer came from his bug tent. Now, we felt even more alone.
Debbie asked me to come into her bug tent. We shuddered in fear as we held each other, trying to pray. Our prayers had little effect on the terror that had gripped us.
I knew we were going to die. The witchdoctors were going to come and hack us to pieces just like our friend had warned us back in America.
Here we were, the “brave preachers who had challenged the witchdoctors” now shaking in our boots. I regretted that I had ever brought my dear wife on this missionary trip. I felt stupid. Now we were going to die a grisly death in the bush of Africa.
As Debbie shook with fear, a verse came blazing into her mind.
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
Suddenly, an assurance flooded over her that we had done the right thing to come to Africa and even to preach what we did about the witchdoctors. Yes, we were going to die for it, but we were privileged to be allowed to lay our lives down for the gospel.
When we had first heard witchdoctor drums in the distance days ago, Mo had counseled us to “listen for the higher sound”. That saying of Mo’s now came into Debbie’s mind.
She listened for the higher sound.
Suddenly, she heard them. Choruses of angels were singing above our bug tent. As their ethereal voices rang, Debbie looked up and in a vision saw the heavens parted. With that, we both passed out into a deep sleep.
Again, we were awakened in the night. This time it was a frightening, swishing sound of machetes hacking their way through the bush. “They were coming for us! These are our last moments on earth” we thought in dread.
The swishing sound continued, however the anticipated assailants never seemed to arrive to butcher us. Many minutes passed with the sound of swishing, but nothing more.
As night sky turned to grey pre-dawn, we saw them. Instead of witchdoctors, the village mamas were out sweeping the dirt outside their mud homes. The swishing was not machetes but harmless brooms. Now we really felt like “the Starbucks Missionaries”!
Suddenly, from the other side of the village came the sound of the worship team. Someone had turned on the keyboard and was playing a hokey-sounding song. We laughed. That keyboard never sounded so good! We were alive. We weren’t going to die. We had made it through the night to another day!
It was a surreal moment watching Debbie and Mo share a French press coffee out here in the bush after a night like that! We asked Mo, “Why didn’t you answer us in the night?”
He answered, “I was as scared as you were!”
The teen from Canada slept through the whole thing!
Joyfully, we helped lead the Sunday morning service in the village. As we played, sang, and danced with the children, our hearts were light and thankful.
We had been ready to give up our lives for Jesus and His harvest but hadn’t been actually called on to do it yet. Little did we know that the dreadful night we had just experienced was only a precursor of the “death” we were to die in purchasing the field containing the treasure of Jesus’ harvest of souls.
That is a story for another day.
Next – “GRACE – stopping for the one”