While in Haiti: Part I

Jeff and Harold Mckee, an elder from Morgantown Community Church

at the Dominican/Haitian Frontier

From December 8th to the 12th I had the opportunity to facilitate an excursion trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Of the seven visitors, three were from a youth ministry that supported a Haitian pastor we work with, two were from Louisville trying to decide as to what capacity they were going to come alongside of the work we are doing, and two were from a church in Morgantown, Kentucky who are considering partnering with G.O. and Vicki and I.

We had a four day tour of the ministry. Friday we landed. Saturday we drove from Santiago to the Dominican/Haitian frontier and crossed over. We made the 40 minute walk from the border into Quanamenthe, Haiti. This was the first time four of our visitors had ever been to Haiti. It appeared to them to be a wholly different world. They are right.

There were at least 2000 people gathered in the church yard,
surrounding streets and roof tops for the conference in Haiti.

We were in Haiti to celebrate a conference taking place at a church in Quanamenthe. Saturday evening was dedicated to worship and the testimony of a former voodoo sorcerer who had been transformed by the gospel. His charismatic presentation of his life practicing the dark arts and his eventual conversion captivated and entertained the audience. We American observers knew very little of what was being said, though it was clear that the Spirit was present and moving. Testimonies like this in Haiti are significant.

In Haiti it has been said that the population is 90% Catholic and 100% Voodoo. Voodoo is the spiritual heritage of the Haitian people. It is a part of the landscape of their history and lineage; it pervades Haitian culture and is an unquestioned power, except for those surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.

Sunday morning we were the audience for another former voodoo priest who had become a Christian. He was at the celebration but did not share his testimony this time. He had spoken at a previous gathering. He told us his story through Romano who served as our translator. I do not pretend to understand all that he said and all that it meant but I will reproduce it for you hear as best my memory can serve. This is Emmanuel’s story:

When I was a boy of nine years old, a special secret was imparted to me by my father (as I was his favorite). I did not choose this life for myself; it was given to me. My father told me that he wanted to share a secret with me and that I could tell no one about it. He was a witchdoctor and was late in years. He took me to his hut when no one else was around and got a stick out of a special box that had been hidden. He poked me in the arm with it. It didn’t hurt but I did feel a burning sensation in my arm that lasted for some time. Three days later my father died.

I went back later to his hut and among his belongings found a little book with many pages on it. On the first page was a picture of a rat, in fact on every page there were pictures of animals that could be found on earth with different words arranged under each of them. The words described how one could transform one’s self into the creature on each page. That night I did what the book said under the entry pertaining to the rat and I became one myself. With my transformation complete I began to understand the nature of this secret shared with me by my father. I wondered through the village unnoticed. Later, I reversed the transformation and returned to my human form. These newly developing skills would prove to be very useful to my new occupation.

And so I grew to be a man. By early adulthood I was already a very powerful voodoo sorcerer. The spirits I served compensated me well with material goods and status. This was my number one reason for refusing the Gospel when Christians would attempt to share it with me. I would mock them and say things like, “You say you serve this Jesus but you have nothing! Why would I want to be like that?! Why would I want to be like you? My spirits give me power and wealth and I do as I please. Who is this Jesus?!”

I was feared and respected and many did my bidding out of fear of death (except for Christians). I have, with my powers and abilities, killed many, many people who have angered me or gotten in the way of what I have wanted.

But I can remember two occasions when my will was broken against those who served the Gospel above all else…

The first was a Haitian pastor who was preaching at a conference in the community much like the one we had last night. As he preached he condemned the practices related to voodoo and denounced the priests and sorcerers. I was offended and angered by what he said and made up my mind that I was going to kill him.

I hid out near his home for a few days to get a feel for his comings and goings. He had a red truck that he would sometimes drive to get to another community. I decided to go and wait for him to take his next trip and when he would come, I would ambush him. A few days more went buy and I heard a truck coming down the road. I had my preparations ready for him. But when the driver came close enough to identify I saw that it was an elderly man and not the pastor I was waiting for. I let him pass.

Several days more went past and I saw the pastor walking down the road towards me. I used my powers to turn him into a cow and I threw a rope around his neck. I had him! I began to whip him again and again and again. I continued this from day until late into the night, punishing him for his slander. I made up my mind to kill him but did not wish to kill him as a cow but as a man so I turned him back… only to discover that it was not the pastor that I had transformed or beaten but it was one of my friends. I did not then understand what had happened because of my spiritual blindness. Later, I would figure it out.

The second confrontation with a Christ follower had to do with a young woman who lived in my community who was all the time trying to convert me. I was amazed by her attitude because she had no fear of me what-so-ever. She persisted in harassing me until I finally decided that I would rid myself of her annoying presence. I made up my mind to kill her. One night when I knew she was away from the village in the wilderness I turned myself into a dragon. I flew through the air and discovered her in an open area. I was about to swoop down on her when I felt the wind change. Suddenly I was oppressed by a fierce blast of wind and I could barely fly against. Then, out of nowhere, a bright creature with white wings flew quickly past me and knocked me out of the air to the ground. I have a scare on my ankle from where I crashed to the ground.

I lay there alone in the woods. I felt as though I were dying. I cried out to all of the loa (voodoo spirits) that I had served my whole life and no one would come to help me. I was terrified and began to cry thinking that I would die. I began to pray to Jesus, this Jesus I did not know but had heard about, I began to understand that he was more powerful than the spirits I served and that if he wanted he could help me, he could save me. I cried out to him for help…

The next morning I awoke in my own bed, not remembering how I came to be there. And from that day to this I have served only Christ and testified against voodoo in his name. My spiritual blindness has given way to sight.”

Now, I have not made any of this up. I have heard dozens of other stories like it from other former voodoo priests though only second hand. This was the first I heard recounted in person. As he told his story I watched the Americans around me struggle to make sense of what this man was saying… “you turned yourself into a rat, a friend into a cow, yourself into a dragon… What?!” At the same time I watched the Haitians absorb the story like you might absorb the reading of a grocery list or a sports page or any other typical expression of your everyday life and culture. This account, however baffling to us is typical of everyday Haitian experience and they are not the least bit taken back by it.

Though the details of this story are different from the details of our own stories the heart of it is the same. It impressed me that Emmanuel rejected the Gospel primarily because the people who followed Jesus appeared to be so weak and poor. From his perspective they had nothing to show for it and were fooling themselves. Because for so long Emmanuel had been his own lord of sorts he had no way of conceiving what it might look like to live under the Lordship of Christ until his own idolatry had been exposed for what it was. This exposure revealed the truth of his own situation, his own weakness, poverty, and emptiness. And he came to serve the real Lord on account of it.

I don’t know what you may make of all the stories in Haiti about voodoo, loa, sorcerers, possession, etc. I’m not sure what I make of it. It is clear that certain powers are at work there. One might think that such beliefs are primitive and superstitious, and those are easy assumptions to make when you come from a culture that is technologically advanced, bearing a scientifically weighted worldview. But in North America we serve our own loa. The unquestioned reality of voodoo in Haiti is mirrored in our own culture by the unquestioned reality of materialism. Emmanuel served the loa, we are tempted to serve our automobiles, our bigger houses, our boats, our stuff. We cover over it and say such service is for the benefit of our families but at the heart of it, it is about us, our egos, our own pretended lordship over our lives. Emmanuel was constructing his own kingdom at the expense of others. We, as a culture, are guilty of doing much the same. We fail to question it and it oppresses us without our knowledge just as Emmanuel was oppressed by his own spiritual blindness. The methods in Haiti and the U.S. are different but the functions are much the same.

Once Emmanuel came to Christ he burned all of his belongings he had gained through his dabbling with the loa. He offered them up as a sacrifice to Christ. Afterwards, he began to reach out to some of his fellow voodoo priests. Some responded in his old fashion, “Why would I serve your Christ? Look at you; you have nothing…” One in particular responded, “Once I have secured a few more comforts I will turn and follow, perhaps…” Emmanuel told us that he received a message the previous night at the conference that this man had died that same night. The spirits are different but the function is the same.

The arrogance and foolishness of our own kingdoms is everywhere being frustrated. It is only a matter of time before the coming Kingdom invades our own superficial borders to confront us with the truth and power of Christ’s Lordship. For many of us who have by his grace already been annexed into the Kingdom this is cause for great celebration for others, cause for fear, but only, by his grace until they discover that they are only squatters, not lords and that the Lord of all has for them a much better habitation than they could have ever previously imagined. Amen.