Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Witches' Camp, Northern Ghana

Dear friends,

I am home from Africa and have stories to tell. Here is my first installment. I will tell you about the Witches' Camp we visited at Nabuli Village in Northern Ghana. It was the highlight of our time in Ghana.

The first photo is of some of the accused witches with a poster saying they were going to remember us and pray for us. We told them we would remember them always. The second photo is of me with some of the Nabuli children. They love, love, love to have their picture taken! They try not to smile in pictures, but laugh and get excited when they see themselves on the digital camera screen afterwards. A girl from the village took this picture. In the 3rd picture is COF missionary Elisha on the left, and Jacob on the right. The third picture is of my teammate Robert, Elisha the missionary next to him in the white shirt, the guy in the hat is the fettish priest (witch doctor), the man in green is the chief's interpreter (linguist), the man in print fabric and hat is the immam of the village (leader of the mosque), the man in white pants and man to the right are assistants to the chief, and the last man on the right is the village chief. Last are our pesticide treated mosquito nets purchased from a nearby hospital for $2 each. The picture below is of some of the accused witches we met and hugged. This is a long story, but I had to tell it all.

4th of July Eve
On Friday evening, the 3rd of July, we had gotten settled into a small cement house owned my World Vision. It had a small fridge and sink in a kitchen, but otherwise that room was empty. The house had a bathing room, cement with a door, little drain on the floor, and not the cleanest place to think about getting clean in. That room had a bucket and dipper for bucket baths. The next little stall with a door was the toilet room. Their were a lot of bugs in there when we arrived, but our hosts got rid of them for us. There was a drying rack and 2 bedrooms with 2 beds each that had mattresses on them, and a sort of sheet (where the 4 of our team women slept). There was also a generic room on the front of the house with slatted windows all around and a torn screen door, and a solid door. We had ceiling fans and electricity.

We had our dinner of spaghetti noodles and tuna and sardines, mangos and a sauce to put over the noodles if we wanted. It tasted great. It was prepared by “fully pregnant” Ernestina, the wife of one of the two Ghanaian missionaries we spent those days with. She is due in a month and it was so hot! She worked very hard to cook for us with 2 village girls. She rode up on a motor bike, which was quite a sight!

As we talked about the next day at the village with Elisha, Ernestina’s husband and one of the missionaries, we flexed on our plans and prepared to act out the Good Samaritan as he suggested.

After dinner we saw clouds roll in. The wind blew so hard, the curtains in our living room were flying horizontally across the room. It reminded us of the tornado taking Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz. Our electricity went off and we thought of the mud huts with thatch roofs in the village and wondered how they could hold up to this weather, and if the countless village children we had seen were scared.

Then the lightening and thunder began and intensified. We had been singing patriotic songs earlier to celebrate 4th of July Eve, and next came the fireworks! The sky lit up with beautiful, God-created lightening patterns that went from one end of the horizon to the other. I don’t think any of us will forget that night. We stopped a few times and prayed for safety and wondered about what was coming the next day as we visited the “witches’ camp” in a nearby village. We climbed into our mosquito netted beds, which for the guys were dirty mattresses on the living room floor.

Nabuli Village on the 4th of July
The next morning we had breakfast, including Ernestina's delicious rolls from her bakery. Elisha came with us in the van and we stopped 40 minutes and 4000 pot holes later to pick up Jacob, the missionary to Nabuli. We traveled another half hour or so and came to the village. Several people were standing around and we mingled with them and talked to them through interpreters. We learned some words and greetings. We realized later that we were chatting with the Muslim leader, the fettish priest (witch doctor), the teacher, and the chief -among others.

We walked a ways over to a large tree next to the school building where lots of people were gathered. I looked around an older sibling on the way to see the little brother or sister she was carrying on her back. The one year old screamed when seeing my white face, undoubtedly because I was the first white person he or she had ever seen! I scurried away fast!

After exchanging greetings with the entire village population with Elisha and Jacob translating, and singing and dancing some, we performed our Good Samaritan skit. Jacob translated the story for them afterwards, and then they talked about what they thought about the parable from the Bible. This village is mostly animistic and Muslim, with a few Christians. One Muslim man said that he had heard the story before, but seeing it acted out made it come alive for him. Someone else said a while later that it reminded them of how the accused witches in their village were treated- ignored and passed by, and that it was wrong. And with that began a discussion of this extensive problem which is prevalant at least in the rural parts of Ghana. It was known by the villagers that we were coming all the way from America to help them deal with this issue. We were surprised that they brought it up so quickly and openly.

Many took turns describing the problem for us…When something goes wrong, a sickness, or death, or accident, someONE must be blamed. They always attach what happened to a person. In their culture, a man only needs to say that he saw a certain woman in a dream, and she is then accused of being a witch and causing the incident. She is usually around 50, but not always- sometimes she is younger. The men admitted that some reasons for her accusation might be one man getting revenge on another who had previously accused his wife of the same thing. Or a husband might be a polygamist and wants one less wife to feed. He gets a friend to accuse his wife and he can go get a younger one who isn’t as wrinkled. That's what he said! We asked how many of the women gathered there were afraid that they might be accused of being a witch at some point in their lives. Every single woman raised her hand! Young and old.

We told them we would be back the next day to deal with the issue some more and drove the hour and a quarter or so, and dodged 6000 more pot holes, returning to our World Vision temporary home. Our host was Emmanual Dabson, the Director of Christian Outreach Fellowship (COF). COF is our Partners International connection in Ghana. When you give to Partners, this is one of the ministries that we we partner with. He is Elisha and Jacob’s mission director and has a special burden of his own about the witches’ camps because his mother was sent to one based on an accusation by her own brother. She later died at that camp.

We debriefed with these men who were very pleased at how the day had gone. We talked about the next day when we would be going back there, and then enjoyed our specially prepared 4th of July feast of goat soup with ‘meat balls’ in it. The problem was that the meat balls were things like bound and tied entrails, the goat’s tongue, a hoof with some hair on it…You get the idea. For them it is a delicacy and is very special, and a lot of work to prepare. We gave the 'meat balls' to our driver, Kwame, who really enjoyed them. Our hard working cooks figured out that Americans only like to eat the muscle part of the meat. Who knew?! The next time someone is fixing me goat soup, I will be sure to mention that!

Nabuli Village on Sunday July 5th
We drove again to Nabuli the next day, picked up Jacob again on the way, dodged and went into potholes again. We got to the village and met with everyone packed inside a room in the school since it began raining just as we pulled up. We split up into groups with the children, the women and the men separately. Our 16 year old team mate, Rob, took 150 kids in another room and kept them busy for almost an hour.

It stopped raining and the men went outside to meet. Wendi, Mardi and I were with the women, with Megan in the back videoing our discussion. We asked the 45 accused witches to describe their accusations and being “tested” to see if they were indeed witches by the fettish priests. Many told stories of being beaten until they confessed to being a witch. The alternative was to be beaten to death. One woman told us she was beaten by something, but Jacob didn’t know how to translate it. Soon they brought a bicycle to the door and pointed to the chain. She had obvious scarring and the bitterness and unforgiveness was evident on her face. Could you blame her?

Others described a ceremony they went through with the fettish priest of having to throw a dead chicken. Its throat was slit while the accused woman held it and then she had to throw it. If it landed stomach side down, she wasn’t a witch, and if it landed on its back with its feet in the air, she was a witch. From what we could figure out, 19 out of 20 times the chicken landed with its feet up. Some women were sent to the city to be cleansed of witch craft for several months by a fettish priest- sometimes sexually abused. Once found to be a witch, they were sent away from their village to a witches’ camp near another village several hours from their own village. There they were treated like outcasts, or like leapers, not to be touched by anyone, and expected to fend for themselves to provide for their own needs. If one became sick, she was sent back to her home village where she was stuck somewhere and ignored until she died. I have written this in the past tense, but what I am describing is still going on today.
They said that one of their greatest sadnesses is being taken away from their children and grandchildren right when they are finally at the age of enjoying them. They have worked HARD their whole lives, and just when they should be able to be taken care of and enjoy their family, they are accused of witchcraft and taken away. They also expressed thanks to the leaders of this particular village, because they built them huts when they came and let them do some farming to earn money. It wasn't much but they were grateful for it.

One of these women said that she felt the only solution to the problem was to become a Christian. And they wanted to know how to become Christians. Wendi and Mardi and I talked about forgiveness, bitterness and God’s unconditional love and that there was no guarantee that this practice would stop. But God would be with them in the midst of their circumstances and He promises forgiveness and eternal life if they confess their sins (which we ALL have no matter how big or small) and ask Him to be the Lord of their lives. We explained that it isn’t a magic process. I got the idea from the Holy Spirit to share the footprints in the sand story. I changed it to fit their setting. I told them that Christ came alongside a woman to walk on a journey. Then they came to a hard part and had to walk through a very difficult valley. When she got to the other side and looked back she only saw one set of footprints. She asked Jesus why He left her during that difficult part. Jesus told her that there was only one set of footprints because He had carried her. It seemed to hit home for some of them. I just knew I had to tell that story.
Then as we stood there, I asked Jacob if they would like to take some time to confess their sins and then we could lead them in a prayer of salvation. He said, “Oh no. We need to pray together right now. Out loud.” Mardi and Wendi told me to go ahead, so I prayed in English, he translated into their language, they repeated the prayer, and I said the next part of the prayer and so on. Again, it was a powerful time. The Lord was there. They all prayed. We told them Jacob was there to answer any of their questions after we were gone. Jacob told me later that he thinks some of them actually meant what they were praying, but regardless, he could follow up and build on what we talked about later. The three of us Obruni’s (white people) sang Amazing Grace for them in harmony before we left. It was a powerful time. The Holy Spirit was there. This was about 2-3 p.m. on the 4th of July there, 7 hours earlier Spokane time (8-9 a.m.).

When we went outside and I went up to one of the accused witches and hugged her good old American-style. She pulled back and told me she wouldn’t hurt me. I got Jacob who translated what she was saying and I told her that the thought she would hurt me had not even entered my thinking. She was amazed by that and I hugged her and some of the others. You could tell they weren’t used to being touched, but that it was very appreciated. I told them God had created each of them, He loved them and that they are beautiful in His sight. Mardi and Wendi talked to others. There were children everywhere as well.

The whole group gathered when the men were done, and the chief said that he thinks the only solution to this problem is that the whole village become Christians. He wanted to get the surrounding tribal chiefs together to talk about stopping this practice of accusing witches. Emmanuel, Jacob and Elisha were very excited to follow up on this in the near future and felt our visit had made a huge impact. Our team agreed to keep posted on how things are going and to pray for them. We also will try to see what we can do to help from our side of the ocean.

We waited for the accused witches to walk back to their witches’ camp while the men on our team went over to the chief’s compound to give him gifts and receive a guinea foul from him as a gift to our team. (We later gave it to Ernestina.) Several men (maybe a dozen?) had come to the village that day who were related to the accused witches in that camp. The word had gone out that we were coming and wanted to talk to them. They had talked to the men while we talked to the women. They also went over to the witches’ camp. Emmanuel spoke powerfully to them about how evil this practice is and how it must stop. He asked them to take their women back to their families and let them back into their lives. One man in particular agreed over and over. Emmanuel spoke with power.

Our team presented the witches’ camp with 2 large sacks of maze (corn meal). We learned that it could feed the 45 of them for about 2 weeks. As we left, Robert took pictures of each accused witch with her family member if one was there. I also started hugging them again. I got to hug 5 or so and they seemed to be lining up to do that. I will never forget feeling them in my arms, so skinny and pulling back humbly since they weren’t used to touch, but also wanting to be hugged. We thought we would have more time with them and really wanted to wash their feet, but we had to go. Maybe next time…
Well, that was the first intallment. There will be more coming in the days ahead. Blessings and thank you for all your prayers! Nancy Fritz 509-990-8465