The warm African sun beat down on us as we meandered through Seguku Village, Uganda. Not far from where we lived in a shipping container, I looked up a grassy slope and saw an older man with a younger one. They stood together on a weather beaten porch. As I glanced over my shoulder at them the Lord showed me:
“You will go some day and
tell that older man how much I love him.”
When I shared this with Barry, our African companion turned to us and said with alarm in her voice, “That older man is Saul, the most powerful witchdoctor in this whole region. He’s standing with his born again son, Hillary.”
A few days later, his son surprised us with a visit.
“I have read your book, ‘The Trip To Freedom,’” he told me, “and now I’m going to ask my father if I can read it to him. In my country with its long history of war and pain, what you have written will greatly help my people. It will also touch my father’s heart.”
As we listened to this young man, we marveled that God had so quickly answered our prayers.
“If my father is willing,” Hillary added with a hopeful voice, “would you come to speak to him?”
“We will come if your father wants us to,” we assured him. Then we described our walk through the village and seeing him with his father on the porch. Hillary’s face brightened. “I’ve prayed for my father for five years,” he responded with eyes that shined with excitement. “I have asked God to send someone to him that he could receive. Now He is answering my prayers. My father will be open to you because you will come with God’s love.”
The day after we first spoke with Hillary, he returned to our home.
“My father wants you to come,” he announced with an almost uncontainable joy. Then as we walked resolutely together to this place of such horrific evil, we worshipped and found courage in God’s presence going with us as we declared out loud:
“Just as smoke is blown by the wind and wax melts in the fire,
the wicked perish in the presence of God.”
Yet although Saul had agreed to meet with us, he avoided us and had left for Kampala. So a few days later we went to his home without telling him we were coming. This time he hid inside his house and sent word to us through Hillary that he was sleeping. But we knew we were not to leave until we met with him. So we sent the firm message back to him that we would wait in the front yard until he was done sleeping and was ready to meet with us.
Meanwhile, we watched a young woman with a dazed look in her eyes sweeping leaves near the porch.
“That’s my aunt,” Hillary explained as we approached her. “She recently went insane.”
My heart physically ached in my chest as I looked into her tortured eyes. Then she suddenly ran into my arms and desperately held on to me. While I stood there and held her close, I shuddered at all the horrendous evil this striking young girl had tragically experienced.
Yet we also sensed that Saul was no longer inside his ominously dark house that was heavily shrouded in the black shadows of an evil presence. Instead, when we looked up toward the place where Hillary was pointing, his father had just walked out of his shrine and now was standing next to it. Saul visibly shook as we walked toward him. His hands jerked and trembled uncontrollably in his pockets.
“Witchdoctors know that most born agains are too afraid to come near their houses or shrines,” a Ugandan believer later explained to us. “In my country witchdoctors have the power over life and death. People die every day because a witchdoctor cursed them to die. So my people are terrified of what might happen to them if they come against the demons that control a witchdoctor. That is why Saul was shaking. He could see that you weren’t afraid.”
We crested the hill and stopped directly in front of Saul. He later told us:
“As you approached me, I couldn’t see you.
All I could see was the glory of God.”
While we stood unflinchingly in front of him, the demon inside of him glared menacingly at me through Saul’s piercing eyes.
“Why have you come?” the demon demanded in a deep, threatening voice.
I didn’t answer him. Instead I said to Saul, “I’ve come to bring you a message from God. He wants you to know that He loves you.”
At that moment the demon left. The evil spirits in the shrine disappeared as well and Saul’s countenance softened while tears welled up in his eyes.
“Let’s sit down and talk,” I suggested as I gestured toward the ground. “Wait,” he said with a wave of his hand toward Hillary. “My son will get us something to sit on.”
With a knowing look on his face, Hillary disappeared and soon returned with animal skins. Later we were told they came from goats that had been sacrificed to demons. They were also the same skins that Saul’s clients sat on when they met with him in the shrine and were his last futile effort to see if his evil power was greater than the power he saw in us. So he was shocked as he watched us sit down on them and nothing happened to us. This he had never seen before!
I reached over to hold his hand while I began to share the story of my life. Saul listened intently. He struggled to hold back tears when I told him, “My father didn’t love me. My mother didn’t love me.” “So sorry. So sorry,” he responded with a surprising tenderness. “The first person to love me was Jesus,” I continued. “He is the one who began to take all the pain out of my heart and fill the terrible emptiness in my soul with His kind, caring love.”
Then I told him about our walk through the village and how God showed me that some day I was to come to him with a message of His love. At that moment, I removed a letter from my pocket.
“I wrote the words down for you,” I explained while Saul glanced over at his son, shaking his head with stunned amazement. “These words are a message from God to you.”
“Saul, it is I, the Lord God, who has sent My messengers to you to express My heart of love for you. I have seen the painful torment of your spirit and the frightening troubles in your soul. And I say to you that I, the Lord God, have a love for you that is deeper than the deepest waters of Lake Victoria, taller than the tallest peak of Mount Kilimanjaro and higher than the highest sky that stretches far into the heavens above Africa. Ever since you were a young boy I have longed to give you My peace. It is a peace that you have searched for all these long years, but it is a peace you’ve never been able to find. I long to calm the frightening troubles in your soul and to remove the torment in your spirit with My presence and My tender caring for you. I want you to know that I love you more than anyone has ever been able to love you. I have seen your troubles, Saul. I long to help you just like a loving Father would help his very dear son. So I have come to you to ask you:
Will you let Me love you?
Will you let Me help you?
Will you let Me give you My peace?”
When I finished reading and looked up, Saul was overcome with emotion.
“What you just read to me was the actual story of my life.
You could never know that story. Only God could show it to you.”
Then as I held his hand once again, I told him about King Saul and David. His face lit up at hearing that his name was in the Bible.
“When David worshipped with the harp, the evil spirit that was tormenting Saul had to leave. He was miraculously refreshed by the presence of God and filled with a supernatural peace. God wants to do the same for you. When you are ready for us to come, send for us and we will bring the harp. God’s presence will fill this place and the demon that has tormented you all of your life will have no power over you anymore. You will experience God’s great love for you and He will fill your soul with His peace.”
“Soon I will send for you,” he said as we stood up and hugged Saul goodbye.
“Thank you for giving us a chance to know you,” I told him as I peered intently into his eyes.
We walked down the hill with Hillary. When we turned and looked back, Saul was still standing where we had left him with the same shocked look on his face. We smiled and waved at him one last time and as soon as we were confident that we were well past his father’s house, we shouted with joy over the miracle we had just witnessed. Hillary then proceeded to tell us this heartbreaking account of his father’s tortured past:
“In Saul’s family the mantle of a witchdoctor has been passed down from generation to generation for four hundred years. A sword that was in the blood soaked ground near his altar to Satan has been in the family all those years. It is used to slit the throats of the blood sacrifices. When Saul was in his mother’s womb, she dedicated him to the demon that controlled their family. He then became the designated one in his generation to be a witchdoctor. From a young age this demon cruelly abused and tormented him. When Saul tried to go to school, the demon blinded him so that he couldn’t read. He wasn’t allowed to love anyone and if he did, that person was killed by the demon. If Saul didn’t obey exactly what the demon commanded him to do, he was severely punished. The demon wouldn’t let him eat. He forced Saul to sit motionless for days, staring out into space, unable to speak to his family. They were so frightened by watching Saul suffer that they went to bed each night sobbing and screaming. Whenever someone angered the demon by trying to stop Saul from being a witchdoctor, a member of his family died, including all of his blood brothers and the only woman he ever loved, along with their unborn child. After one of Saul’s attempts to get out of witchcraft, he went insane. He ran up and down the street in front of his house naked, ranting like a mad man.”
Now his face looked stunned as he explained, “Everyone who has ever come against this demon has been instantly and violently killed by it. You are the only ones who have ever opposed it and didn’t die.”
Moments later, Hillary said goodbye. But a short time later he returned.
“My father is smiling,” he told us. “He’s very happy since you left. He’s already telling me he is ready to give up his witchcraft.”
The next evening Hillary excitedly brought this letter to us that was written by his father:
“This is my humble reply to the message from the Lord God. Dear Almighty God, I would like to thank you so much for sending me your messengers to express your heart of love to me. I have noted the deepness, length, height and measure of love you have for me ever since I was a young boy and the time you have spent longing to give me peace that I have been looking for these lonely years. Indeed I want you if possible to calm the frightening troubles in my soul and also remove the torment from my spirit with your presence and tender caring. I would like you to give me a new birth to my painful, tormented spirit. It is wonderful to know that you love me and also care. I wish you could be with me each second of my life forever so that I can let you know how I feel and also show you some of the responsibilities that you have put before me. I have always waited for this time.
I want You to love me.
I want You to help me.
I want You to give me peace.
All the doors to me are open for You to come in, Lord God.
Your lost son,
The second I finished reading this heartrending message, the demon that was losing his evil power over Saul fiercely attacked us. Barry winced with a sharp pain in his knee and was struck with a massive headache. Our computer froze and became inoperable. We were now cut off from everyone we had been communicating with and all our contact information was locked up inside the computer. Then the next morning while I sat alone in our shipping container, a swarm of huge, menacing mosquitoes suddenly surrounded me and aggressively began to bite me.
I instantly felt an evil presence behind this attack and declared out loud, “By the Blood of the Lamb and the Name of Jesus, be gone!”
Every mosquito and all the bites immediately disappeared.
We prayed earnestly for Saul while we waited for him to send word that he was ready for us to come.
Hillary also told us: “Ever since the time you came to my father, he’s been reading the message from God that you brought to him. I also have been reading ‘The Trip To Freedom’ to him and it’s helping him understand Papa God and what he must do if he wants Him in his life. My father is also losing clients for his witchcraft because when he asks the demons to come, now they won’t.”
The day finally came for us to return to Saul. He greeted us warmly and God’s presence was so strong that we could actually feel the evil spirits running away terrified the moment we entered his home. And the ominously dark room we walked into was suddenly flooded with a brilliant light. We immediately began to tell Saul what it means to be born again and then asked him, “Are you ready to renounce all witchcraft? Are you ready to give everything you are to God and live only for Him all the days of your life?”
“Yes,” he passionately said and I began to play the harp. Saul fell to his knees weeping and began to worship with us in his own unforgettable, childlike words. He renounced all witchcraft and with many tears he became born again. He also hugged to his chest the Luganda Bible we gave him and rocked back and forth with joy as we explained to him the parallel between his life and that of Saul in the Book of Acts. He was deeply encouraged to hear about a man who had done so much that was evil. Yet he was later used mightily by God.
We stood up to leave. But suddenly I felt compelled to stop and say to him, “The Lord just showed me there is one more thing that needs to be taken care of before we say goodbye.”
I knelt down next to Saul on the floor where he was still tightly clasping his Bible. “God has forgiven you because you’ve repented of all the evil of your past. But you are still in terrible pain because you can’t forgive yourself. You have many regrets that are already tormenting you.”
He hung his head low and said, “Yes, this is true.”
At that moment the Spirit of the Lord moved upon this broken man and helped him to receive His liberating forgiveness. When he opened his eyes, the anguish was gone. His countenance was radiant with peace. Throughout our time with Saul, we knew we were witnessing a breathtaking miracle.
The following morning we left for two days of ministry in the bush. That night Saul gathered everything he had ever used for witchcraft and put it in the center of his shrine. Then on Sunday morning he obeyed God and set it all on fire. People from the village ran to where they could see tall flames shooting up into the sky and began to wail and curse Saul as the flames consumed the shrine. Twenty-five wealthy clients had come that morning to offer him money to be their witchdoctor and they were shrilly yelling at him, “You’ve gone mad to do this! You’ve lost your mind!”
By now, word of him becoming born again had also spread like wildfire among the Christians and a large crowd of them also came running to his property. When they realized what was happening, they wildly cheered as they watched his shrine disintegrate into a massive mountain of flames.
Saul’s family joined in the chaos. “The demons are going to kill you for doing this,” they screamed at him hysterically. “And they’re going to kill us! How could you do this to us?”
Yet he was courageous in the face of his family’s fierce opposition. He stood alone in his resolve to destroy everything on his property that had anything to do with witchcraft.
“The demons won’t kill me and they won’t harm our family,” he boldly told them in response to their panic. “God’s presence is here and His presence is in me. If I die, then that is alright because I will go to live with Jesus.”
When we returned from the bush Sunday evening, we were thrilled to see him walking up and down the dirt path in front of his house, with his arms lifted triumphantly above his head as he loudly proclaimed:
“God changed my name to Paul.
I’m Paul now! I’m saved! I’m free!”
One of the pastors from the village later told us, “That used to be the largest shrine I had ever seen and there has been much, much evil that happened there. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is a man who was a general, a most senior officer in Satan’s army. Truly what is happening in Paul’s life is supernatural. It’s so powerful.”
The next day, Barry and I sat by Paul’s side in church and I was moved to tears when I heard him saying to his new Father with heartrending tenderness, “Please don’t let go of my hand, Papa God. I need your help. I need your love because now You are my Papa God.”
Yet now as we walked down the familiar dirt paths of the village toward his home, the violent mockery that the villagers had hurled against Paul also came against us. They were terrified because we had angered the demons. They didn’t want to be anywhere near us when they came to kill us. The angry, menacing glares and mockery from the villagers were disconcerting.
They inevitably asked me the same question: “Aren’t you afraid of the demons? Aren’t you afraid of what they are going to do to you?”
“No, we’re not afraid,” I told them. “The presence of God and the Jesus who lives in us are far more powerful than all the demons and all their evil powers.”
Meanwhile, our hearts were riveted on doing all we could to help Paul become as strong a Christian as possible. So during the remaining weeks before our return to America, we walked through the village each day to his home. Barry spent many hours teaching him, while I basked in the remarkable peace and the strong presence of God that enveloped his property, especially where the shrine used to be.
Watching how Paul loved Barry, just as a devoted son loves his father, was deeply moving to witness. We were also very touched each time Paul told us that he began every morning worshipping his Papa God and studying the Bible. He was already boldly preaching the Gospel to unsaved friends and neighbors and to the former clients who continued to come to his house for witchcraft.
The following Sunday was Paul’s baptism. He was radiant as he walked among the people. “Never have I seen heaven come down as I did when Paul came up out of that water,” a pastor later told us. “Never have I seen such joy in this place in all the years it has been a church. This one man’s salvation has changed this whole village.”
During one of our last visits to Paul’s home before our return to America, I leaned back in a chair in the middle of his tranquil yard. We were sitting where we first met with him just three weeks ago.
“Paul,” I told him as I glanced up at the trees overhead. “There are few places where I sense such a powerful presence of God. It’s so peaceful here. Truly the Lord is here in a special way.”
Many emotions raced through our hearts during our last days with Paul. We knew we would miss him more than we could even begin to comprehend. For we had grown so close to him that we now loved him as much as if he had been our son our entire lives. The thought of soon being nine thousand miles away from him in America grieved us. What comforted us was sitting next to him in church while he wept in the presence of God and then bowed low with his face to the ground to worship Him. “Thank you, Jesus,” he said over and over as tears poured unashamedly down his face.
“You deeply touch the heart of Papa God,” I later told him, “because you are so willing to humble yourself in His presence.”
“How could I do anything less,” he said with humble brokenness. “Standing just isn’t enough after all He’s done for me.”
We were in awe.
God had changed a witchdoctor into a worshipper.