Curses and Christians: Chowning Report

September 7, 2001



A couple of months ago I thought it a cross-cultural challenge to advise an Aja brother.  He said,  "Before I became a Christian, a man was convicted of putting a curse on me.  He was assessed a fine, but he has not paid me the money yet.  Should I continue to try to get the money from him?"


Last week I found a greater challenge.  Antoine sat in a chair in our living room and rubbed his fingers nervously.  It was eight-thirty in the morning and he had ridden his bicycle more than fifteen miles to get to our house.  He is one of the oldest men and a trusted leader in the Kadahoue (kah-DAH-hwey) congregation.  He said very little until Cyndi brought him something to drink. 


He sat the glass down and said, "Richard, I want your opinion about something.  Someone in our village has been stealing things and sleeping with another man's wife.  This has been going on for almost six months.  We know who is doing this, but he denies it.  Yesterday, the Delegate (the only government appointed official in a cluster of villages) said that he was sending a man to our village to help us solve the problem once and for all.  The man would come with some special water.  He would gather us all together and each of us would have to make a public statement that we were not thieves and we were not committing adultery with someone in the village.  Then, we would have to drink the water.  The Delegate said that if anyone lied, the water would kill them."


Now, if I were purely an anthropologist I could have made a very interesting cultural study for a journal out of this ritual.  The official term for it is an "ordeal."  If I were a psychology teacher I could use this as an example of how fear can bring people to confession or cause illness, even death.    


Antoine wanted to know, "Can we Christians drink the water?"  He was not simply asking if it was permissible for believers to consume the liquid.  Does God want His people taking part in this traditional rite?


If I were a typical American Christian I would be very tempted to tell Antoine that the whole ritual was a farce.  That water could not kill anyone. 


Antoine even said, "Some people say this is just a ceremony that our ancestors used to do.  It does not have anything to do with the gods."


But after many years of working in Africa, I have come to know that this ordeal purports to rely on the powers of the dark, evil realm to ferret out truth. 


I told him, "God's people do not put any trust in any power other than the Lord and we should not give anyone the impression that we trust in anything else.  God is our Judge.  He tells us that our 'yes' should be 'yes' and our 'no' should be 'no'." 

Antoine continued, "The Apostolic Church members are not going to drink the water.  But their minister is coming to the ceremony and will ask God to strike down any member of his congregation who is not telling the truth.  Would you be willing to come and do the same?"


I had been giving lessons, in a couple of congregations, concerning how Satan tempted Jesus.  So, I told Antoine, "We are not to put God to a test.  God will work as He chooses."


I told reminded Antoine that I am not an Aja person.  Some of the best advice he could get would be from other Aja believers.  "God trusts his leaders among the Aja and so do I.  You should talk to some of the leaders in other congregations."


When Cyndi and I worshiped with the Kadahoue (kah-DAH-hwey) congregation last Sunday, they told us that they had informed the delegate why they would not participate in the ordeal.  He accepted their reasons and cancelled it all together.

Once again, praise the Lord!