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The Witches’ Village

John on January 3, 2006 at 5:26 pm

About five years ago, my church made a connection with a missionary in Ghana named Johnson Asare who has has worked tirelessly to bring spiritual and practical help to the people of Northern Ghana. Northern Ghana is rural and consequently very poor. Most of the people are Muslim or practice some form of animism. Johnson plants churches, trains pastors, and offers loans ($30, which is a lot of money there) to help people start small businesses (ostrich farms and nut orchards primarily). Over the years, my chuch has provided financial support for both types of ministry.

In December my pastor (Bevan, it rhymes with Heaven) made his third trip to Ghana where he was a featured speaker at a conference for African church leaders. One afternoon, Johnson was taking him on a tour of a remote area where there was just one small church, a church which because people were so poor met under a tree. At one point Johnson (who speaks very good English) announced “We need to visit the Witches’ village.” My pastor had no idea what the “Witches’ Village” was but agreed to go.

On the one mile hike to the village Johnson explained the situation. The people in Northern Ghana believe that whenever there is a disaster in their village it is because someone has done something that displeased the ancestors or the local gods. There response is to select a scapegoat — usually an old woman — and denounce her as the source of the trouble. This “witch” is then forced to leave the village. However, since no other village will take in a witch, the only place they can go is to the “Witches’ Village.”

wv1

As if this weren’t bad enough, the village often sends “helpers” along with the women. These are usually children between 4-7. One can imagine how helpful a 5 year old will be to an elderly woman. All of them live in this small assemblage of ramshackle huts.

As people in the village came out to greet the visitors, they learned that Bevan was a Christian pastor from the U.S.(he’s caucasian so that’s a giveaway in Ghana). At this point, the women in the village all claimed to be Christians. And at first Bevan didn’t really believe it. Christians are a tiny minority in the area. It seemed more likely that this was a way of asking for financial help (which they intended to give anyway).

wv2

But even as Bevan was thinking this, one of the women began singing a Ghanain hymn. Then all the other women in the village began singing along. They were in fact all Christians. Bevan asked how this could be and the women explained. The memebers of the small church (the church under the tree) had been coming to the Witches’ Village to offer food and support. This tiny group of Christians were the only people in the entire area who would go there. And as they had received the help, the women in the village had all decided to become Christians themselves. They were not coerced. They saw a difference and they wanted to know what it was.

Before leaving, Bevan and Johnson emptied their pockets and gave all the money they had to the women in the village. Even as they did so, men from nearby areas began arriving and it quickly became clear that the men intended to take the money once the women were alone. Rather than allow this further injustice, Bevan and Johnson gave all the money to the leader of the church under the tree, instructing him that all the money was to go to the women in the Witches’ Village and that none of it was to go to the men from other villages. The pastor promised it would be done.

Though our contribution was indirect and the Ghanaian Christians deserve most of the credit, I was still proud to be a small part of helping the women in the Witches’ Village. These outcasts, widows, and orphans are less than nothing in their own culture, but God loves them as much as he does us and now they know it and have seen it. It’s hard for me to imagine what could be more beautiful or, indeed, more important than that.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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