I want to be free!

taken from New Tribe Mission’s Tribal Beat
By Debbie Burgett
July 8, 2010
Freedom. The desire is so God-given, it literally screams from within our souls to be satisfied. And to taste its peace, most will gladly sacrifice the dearest thing they have to find it. Even life itself.

Hours before dawn, the tortured Baniua chief stood at the river’s edge, trembling. The battle for his soul raged on in his heart. He had to make it stop.

“I want to be free!” he cried out desperately across the water. The empty echo didn’t bring any answers and only increased his agitation. “I have to be free,” he hissed the words frantically to himself — then stepped into the water.

The Baniua chief was a witchdoctor. He had everything he could ever wish or hope for. He had respect, wealth and power. No one ever made a move without consulting him. He had free reign over his village and people.

Yet he wasn’t free. He knew it. He was a slave to all the dead spirits and all the rituals needed to appease all the dead spirits. It was an endless game of manipulation — with the spirits ready to pounce at his first unguarded moment. And the constant, fearful waiting for what the spirits might do, ate around his heart like cancer.

Then a missionary came to his village offering education. He welcomed that. He wanted his people to learn to read and write and strongly encouraged them to listen to her. He even allowed them to listen when she taught about God and the Bible.

But he wouldn’t listen, of course. As chief, he wanted his people to learn what they could, so he could show off his newly literate society. But he was above the learning himself. As witchdoctor, he had the responsibility to protect the old and deeply entrenched way of life — not to mention maintaining his power and control over the spirits and his village.

But something unexpected began to happen.

One by one, the Baniua people were changing. Lights were springing into eyes. Faces were brightened with smiles. People were helping one another. Families were loving each other. But most of all, something old and familiar had suddenly vanished from their lives. Their fear was gone.

His people were … free.

And then the battle ensued in the Baniua witchdoctor’s heart. Should he keep to the old ways or reach for the new? If he let go of his power and control and manipulation of the spirits, would he be free too? Or would the spirits just swallow him up in sickness and death? Were they even trying to trick him now?

Sensing his spiritual turmoil, the missionary approached him many times and asked him to turn to Jesus, but he refused. He was a witchdoctor! He didn’t need anything else! Or did he?

Finally, he couldn’t sleep — at all. Every night became an excruciating inner war. Old or new? And the spirits began calling his name louder and louder.

One night in desperation, he ran to the spot behind his house where he had hidden his witchcraft articles, passed down from his father. He madly clawed up the earth, hoping for answers.

But the little pouch of feathers, crushed bones, teeth from dead ancestors, pieces of dried pig’s heart and poison herbs, just lay there silently in the dust. No answers. He snatched up the pouch and ran for the river. He must end this.

Now torn and weary at the river’s edge, he clutched his father’s pouch to his chest and stepped into the water. He had to be free. He waded out deeper and deeper and then stopped. He hesitated for a moment — then made his decision.

He must throw the articles, entrusted to him by his father, back to the devil. He must throw away generations of witchcraft and life as he knew it.

But as he tried to raise his arm, it wouldn’t move. It seemed tied to his side by an invisible force. So he offered his first prayer to the God of the Bible and asked for help.

Strength and power surged back into his arm and he heaved the little bag far out into the water and watched it splash down and disappear. The Baniua chief stretched his arms to the now rising sun — and placed his trust in Christ. He was finally free.

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