I looked up one sunny afternoon and Mogus, one of my hospital gardeners was standing at my front door. It’s not unusual to have one of the gardeners at the door. Sometimes they need me to come to the hospital but oftentimes they need medicine for themselves or their family. Three of our gardeners are hired only as day workers, so their salary is basic subsistence. They make 25 birr a day, which translates to approximately $1.50. They do not get health care at the hospital nor are they provided lunch or breakfast. Our hospital staff workers do receive this. They work eight hour days, doing hard labor such as digging, cutting the grass with a small sickle by hand, cleaning ditches, moving equipment, planting flowers, etc. I love and respect my gardeners and have made it a priority to help them with health care or extra things such as school supplies for their children or night school to better themselves.
On this day, Mogus hung his head and shifted his feet nervously. I could tell that he needed to ask me something awkward but he wasn’t sure how to phrase it. I called Abebe to come and translate so I could get an accurate understanding of his need. Abebe translated, “His daughter is sick but she does not have a sickness that needs to be seen by a doctor.”
“Uh, oh,” I thought, “A sickness that does not need to be seen by a doctor. This sounds too much like witchcraft.” My years in Cameroon seeing the results of witchcraft and ju ju were not wasted.
“He says he needs money to go to the countryside to take medicine for his daughter,“ Abebe translated.
Our conversation continued and I ascertained that his daughter was definitely perceived to be sick. Mogus was very frightened for her life and he could see no way out of the problem except to seek ‘country medicine.’ I told him that I definitely would not give him any money for country medicine but I would like his daughter to be seen at the clinic. He again told me that she did not need to be seen by a doctor. Only ‘country medicine’ would save her. I told him I would do some thinking and praying about this and get back to him. Later I sought the advice of one of our hospital chaplains, Pastor Tesefye, whom I respect very much. He said he would talk with Mogus and get back with me.
Two days later Pastor Tesefye came to my house and shared Mogus’ story. A female visitor had come from the countryside to visit his wife. The visitor cast a spell on the little girl and she became sick. Either the visitor or one of her family members had had a spell cast on her in the countryside and the only way for her to get relief from the curse was to curse the little girl. When the girl died they would sacrifice her body and the other person would get well. Mogus and his wife were legitimately afraid for the life of their daughter. The power of witchcraft is strong and they were not immune to it. Pastor Tesefye and I decided we would go to Mogus’ house and pray for the little girl and the family. In the meantime, Mogus shared his story with our head gardener, Degu. Degu had to give permission for Mogus to accompany us to his home to pray.
Last week Pastor Tesefye, myself and Mogus walked the short distance from the hospital to his home. He lives quite near to the hospital in a small two room mud house. We pried the rusty corrugated iron door open and entered the compound. His wife, Balyitch was working in the small garden at the front of the house when we arrived. She is a tall, attractive young woman, however painfully thin. Their petite daughter, Teeti, aged 11 months was playing happily outside by her mother. Balyitch invited us inside. We sat down on small four legged stools in the main sitting area. I had brought some clothes for Teeti so I offered them to the mother. She accepted them with her two hands outstretched. There was a narrow bed pushed against the wall, neatly made and a few boxes with clothes inside. The house was tidy, even with the brown dirt walls and floor. Balyitch went into the other room and began to prepare coffee for us. When it was ready she brought it into the living area, the tiny cups filled to the brim with the strong brew. She served roasted chick peas along with the coffee. As we sat drinking our coffee we began to ask more detailed questions about Teeti, her health and what happened with the visitor. Mogus began to tear up. He said, “I blame myself for most of this. Before I married my wife she was a strong Christian in the village. She sang in the choir and never missed church. Since coming to Soddo she has not gone to church because she says she does not have proper clothes to wear. This is the city and she cannot go to church in her old clothes as she did in the countryside.” Balyitch listened to her husband. She was thoughtful as he spoke these words, quietly nursing her daughter to sleep. I asked her if she believed in Jesus? She said she did. I told her that we wanted to pray in the name of Jesus that this spell would be removed from her daughter.
Teeti was now fast asleep. Balyitch laid her gently on the bed and covered her up with a soft blanket. We put our coffee cups aside and knelt down by the bedside. Pastor Tesefye had noticed something that I had not seen. Teeti had a charm tied around her neck. The first thing Tesefye did was cut the charm off and hand it to the mother to throw away. Then we began to pray in the name of Jesus. We laid hands on Teeti and I anointed her forehead with oil. We prayed a long time, I in English and Pastor Tesefye in Amharic, that in the name of Jesus the curse would be removed and Teeti would get strong. We prayed for the family and that Jesus would become important again in their lives. We cast the power of Satan out of their home and invited Jesus to take preeminence. Finally we finished, sat back and reflected. I turned to Balyitch and gently asked her what she was feeding her daughter. Mogus answered, “Only breast milk.” It was what I suspected. The baby was undernourished. I told them, “I can pray to Jesus all day long that your baby will be healthy, but unless you feed her she will die.” Pastor Tesefye and I instructed them about the food that the baby could eat and also encouraged the mother to also try and eat an egg. We walked back home, but my mind would not rest. It was the African curse of poverty, witchcraft and ignorance playing out again and again.
Later I shared her story with Mark and we decided to bless Balyitch with some money to purchase a new wardrobe. I told her the only thing she had to do was come and show me her clothes and go to church again! The next day she and Mogus and their daughter came by in the evening. Oh my goodness!!! She looked beautiful. She had had her hair done in braids and she was wearing a new long skirt with a white shirt, a light jacket and new black patent leather flats. Little Teeti also had on a new dress. They were all smiles!
Now for the rest of the story…my head gardener Degu attends Pastor Tesefye’s church. However, Degu was not attending one of the 17 small group Bible studies that are offered every Thursday on the hospital campus. He felt like it was more important for him and his workers to be working. In the past I encouraged him to attend Bible study and to allow his workers to attend but he balked at the idea. But this past Thursday he surprised me. He came to me with his Bible tucked carefully under his shirt, “I went to Bible study this morning. We are going to start a small group study for me and the gardeners.” I am so thankful for this. I feel like Degu saw what happened in Mogus’ life with the witchcraft and he made a decision to help his workers draw closer to Christ through the small groups. I praise God how he took a potentially terrible situation and like a patchwork quilt made of cast off cloth, wove it together to make something beautiful.