A Consuming Fire

The West Africa training facility where we ministered this week is in a small town on land that the national church acquired almost 20 years ago. A friend who has been associated with the work here for a long time wrote that he remembers standing under a tree on the property in 2003 and praying for the church and for the gospel to penetrate the local community there. Yet for years, there has been almost no spiritual fruit, no breakthrough.

But in the past few days, those prayers have been answered, and a remarkable work of the Spirit of God has begun to bring light to this dark place!

It came as a surprise to our team. We arrived at the training center on Thursday morning and things began as usual with everyone gathering under the big tree in the courtyard for a time of singing and an excellent devotional, brought by one of our team members. Following that, we would normally break up into our respective ministry groups (kids, teens, and adults) and commence activities and teaching.

But not this morning! Two prominent men in the town had come to Christ in the past few days! The older man was the village communicator. In this role, he is the keeper of the culture and oral history of the village. While not a “witch doctor” per se, he is often consulted on matters when there are disputes, etc. and is paid for his advice and services. 

The younger man was the assistant priest for the town’s evil spirit. He was also the next in line to become the priest for this spirit, one of the most powerful and feared in all of the country. 

In fact, the nation’s champion wrestler always came here to seek the priest's blessing and the spirit's power before every match. As a result, he was undefeated for 10 years. But this year his opponent got here first and bribed all the priests and helpers to give him the blessing instead of the champion. He won the match. So you see, the presence and power of the evil one in this town is very, very real. 

Both the priest and the village communicator had been ill. The priest has a disease that could not be diagnosed by the best of the medical community here. All the tests and x-rays came back negative, no reason could be found. The village communicator has a known disease but could not afford the expensive treatment required to cure him.

Finally in desperation, both men came separately to the local pastors to ask for prayer. Those pastors said they would pray for them, but also told them they needed to leave their evil ways, repent, and turn in faith to Jesus. As they shared the gospel, both men came to faith in Christ! Then the pastors told them they must complete the break with the old ways by bringing their amulets, fetishes and charms to be burned.

And that's what happened Thursday morning. The things were brought out and placed on a plastic bag, some gasoline was poured over them, and a match dropped on the pile. And as the entire congregation here—men, women, children, and Americans—sang praise to God, the fire burned up the past, signifying the breaking of Satan’s power by the blood of Christ, and the dawn of two new lives of hope and peace in Christ.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that
cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God
acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:28 - 29

This act will, of course, cost these men dearly. They will likely be rejected by their family and community, and be subjected to ridicule and persecution. And especially for the priest, following Christ will also mean the end of the considerable economic benefits of their past positions. But there they were, in faith, taking up their cross to follow Christ. Both men have turned their back on earthly wealth and gained eternal riches instead. 

But this is another fact of life for the church here. They will now welcome both men into their community of new creations and support these new believers spiritually, emotionally, and physically/economically. Pray for these men (the priest was in church this morning!), and for the church that has already begun to incorporate them in the love of Christ. What a blessing that God has begun moving so powerfully in this town.

The end of the story? No, as the leader of the National Church reminded us, Satan is not pleased, and the spiritual counterattack has already begun and can be expected to increase. That very day one of the pastor's young daughters fell from the second story of a building here. No one knows how it happened. But by God’s protection she was unhurt as confirmed by a doctor who examined her. Praise the Lord!

The reality is that this land is a stronghold of the evil one. Yet the church is growing on every side as the light of the gospel breaks through the darkness. Pray for believers here as they come together in an alternate community, the church of Jesus Christ, and as they labor to take the light to so many who live in darkness. 

I cannot shake the image of the fire consuming the amulets, fetishes, and charms of the two new converts. The words of "When I Survey" keep echoing in my mind and soul: "All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood." These two men have cut their ties to the past and were ready to suffer persecution that will surely come. What would it look like if I took the things "that charmed me most" and put them to the consuming fire of God's holiness? Good question for each of us.

*Name withheld for security purposes.

Richard* on Jul 28, 2016

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