This afternoon as I sit writing this, is my last afternoon at our beloved mission in St. Louis for this trip. The sun has been shining all the day, yet as I write this, large black clouds have formed out over the eastern passage, and mist is forming over the mountains beyond the mission. It promises to be a wet night.
Earlier, this morning, we went out to the big river market. Where the river reaches the ocean, there is an enormous flood plain of white round river rocks, washed down from the mountains above by countless storms over the years. There, ladies gather to sell their wares on Wednesday mornings. There are mangoes, picked from trees all over the village, some plantains which get put into soups or fried like potatoes, cheap plastic shoes from China, and lots of used clothes. Many of the stalls are too poor to even have an old sheet to put under their wares. The well-to-do ones have woven leaves on mango branches to help keep the sun off.
On other trips when I have been to the market, we have bought entire branches of bananas to carry over our shoulders, home to the mission. This year, the bananas are noticeable by their absence. The hurricanes ruined them. Also ruined by September’s storms were the cashews. Here, on the huge ‘pomme’ tree, what Haitians call their cashew trees, inside the mission, the cashews are all withered and black, when they ought to be in full season right now. There were no breadfruits or avocados at the market, though I have seen some young ones starting on the trees. The fall crop was damaged, but the trees which are left, by God’s grace, will produce again.
We have dipped our mangoes which we bought in strong bleach water for ten minutes to clean them of any e-coli or salmonella bacteria which may be present on them. My hands now smell strongly of chlorine bleach, and the heat rising from my computer keyboard is filling the room with the aroma, not of food, but of bleach.
Before we left for the market, after I went downstairs to pray with our patients and their families, I met a friend in the hall. This morning, coming in for her post surgical check-up, was a dear sister in Jesus named Mercelia. We hugged and she cried tears of joy, assuring me that she was okay, and healing well after her mastectomy, grateful that the Lord spared her life and removed the cancer from her. I want to tell you about Mercelia.
On April 22, Mercelia came to the pre-op room, where I was receiving patients. She appeared to be a very elderly, wrinkled lady, who obviously walked many miles, and had become ill and bent with sickness. To get to know her a little and help her relax, we talked about general things: how far she had come, if she had friends nearby, where did she go to church. She assured me that she went to the Catholic church in her village and she did not smoke, “not even a pipe.” I tried not to smile at this. For some reason, in Haiti, people think that a Christian may have an occasional drink, but NEVER does a Christian smoke. (It is a well known ‘trait’ among elderly voodoo women in the hills to sit outside in their doorways and smoke their homemade pipes.)
I asked Mercelia if she was a Christian. She shook her head and said quite defiantly, ‘No!’ Very patiently, I asked her if she had ever heard the story about Jesus, about how much He loved her, and even gave His life for her, going to hell in her place, so that she could live? (Please forgive me for not describing the love of Jesus in much more detail for you. I am assuming that every reader of this letter knows intimately about our precious Substitute, who died that we might live. If you do not know about these things, dear reader, do not hesitate a moment. Write to me and tell me what you have not heard, or ask one who loves Him. We, I, any who have met Him, will dearly love to share all the news we have about Him with you!)
Dear Mercelia said that she had heard all about Jesus. She knew what he did. In fact, her mother and father had been Christians. She said that all her children were Christians. She had ‘made sure of that!’
So, I asked her, ‘So you are NOT a Christian?’ She said ‘No!’
You know, there are times it is better to think a little while before you open your mouth. So, I sat there a while on a little step stool at her feet, and just thought for a while. My spirit was crying out to the Lord to guide me in what to say next. It seemed that before me was a closed door. And yet, there was almost a challenge to try the lock on that door.
I was so thankful for Nedgie, my faithful and very skilled young interpreter. She knew how to follow the Holy Spirit, and not jump in to rebuke the elderly patient before us. She just stood there, and remained very still.
So, I felt finally, that as Mercelia had been very blunt with me, I, having my share of white hair, could be very blunt with her. So I asked her very plainly, that if she knew all about our Lord’s great love for her and of His sacrifice for her, why did she not love Him? What stopped her from clinging to Him with her very life, especially since she had this terrible disease? (Mercelia had open cancer on her right breast, a very large tumour, weeping through her hospital gown. She had every right to be terrified.)
She said she could not be a Christian yet. She had a debt to pay.
Then she refused to talk. So, we got her blood pressure, counted respirations, got an IV started, wrote a chart for her, and all the usual pre-surgery things we do in this hospital environment. Then, in my spirit, I felt the moment had arrived. I asked her what kind of debt was so great to prevent her from becoming a Christian and receiving the help she needed?
She said that she owed a debt to the Loa. Loa are Haitian voodoo ‘gods’, spirits which they worship. Voodoo priests specialize in a few of them each, so a community might have several different voodoo priests, each one with a different specialty. I read somewhere that there are more than 200+ of these spirits that they worship. One of the big objects of blood sacrifice in voodoo worship is to be possessed by one of these spirits, even if only for a short while. Worshippers have been known to do amazing acts, like lifting heavy objects beyond normal human ability, etc. Often, they go into trances and hallucinate. We know from scripture that all these false gods are actually demons disguising themselves as ‘good’ spirits or even angels of light. (1 Corinthians 10:20; 1 Timothy 4:1; and 2 Corinthians 11:14, to give you a starting place in the Bible on this subject.)
You know, whatever we know about the gods people worship, we never want to make them feel like we are putting them down. Our Lord died for them! So, I held her hand, and told her that I knew these Loa. She didn’t really believe them, did she? She said yes, of course. They are spirits. AND they are POWERFUL. (Please see the capital letters as emphasis in her speech.) Besides, she said, I could not possibly know the Loa.
Well, you know… There are times, when working with Jesus, that He does not let us keep our prideful ways, and look all pure and white and like we were born perfect! Talking to Mercelia, I remembered well, that though I was raised in a Christian home, after much science at school and simple rebellion, I became an atheist for a long time. During that atheist time, I got hungry for something I could not find. So, I bought books on mysticism. I went out on hillsides in the night, drew the pentagrams, lighted the candles and set them in the correct places, and even broke eggs for sacrifices – all to call up the spirits of the air and the rocks and the water. Later, when I met Jesus for myself, and gave my life to Him without reservation, I repented of that time of seeking after other gods. I even burnt the books. Not easily do I speak of this time of my life, because it is somehow embarrassing to me. (Here I am sharing it with so many of you, my dear ones, now! O, the things that our Lord would have us do!)
Here was this precious, sick, worn-out woman, who had travelled for two days to come to us for surgery for something that was quite possibly a life threatening disease. She came to us for help. So, I helped with even the secret places inside my own heart.
I assured her that I did know the Loa. I told her that I had practiced the rituals out in the hills at night, when the moon was hidden. I had drawn the circles, lighted the candles and said the words of invocation. I knew the Loa.
She looked at me with unbelief in her eyes. She said that surely the Loa in Canada were different Loa than the ones in Haiti. I said that maybe they were. But weren’t the ones in Haiti the very old spirits, the spirits of the waters, spirits of the air, and spirits of the earth? Didn’t they work all over the earth? She had to agree that the Loa did (or said they did.) So she really listened to me.
Mercelia explained that her parents were dead and that the Loa had them hostage and would torment them if she did not obey them. My mouth fell open. I exclaimed, ‘You don’t really believe those Loa, do you? You cannot control them. And they LIE!’
She agreed that they did lie. We talked about how they only do what people ask them until they have them in control, and then they quit. They ignore their most committed servants. AND they lie. They are tricky. She knew all this. Never the less, they had her parents.
We talked about many things, about how Jesus was tormented in hell (Isaiah 52:13- 53:12, for a start on this subject.) so that the demons would not be allowed to torment her dead parents if they were Christians. Jesus was their Substitute, and God got Him out of there after He had paid the debt. She looked reluctant, but hopeful.
It was time for her surgery, so I asked if I could pray for her. She said I could, but she was not going to be a Christian. So I prayed that God would give her a successful surgery, give skill to the surgeons’ hands, and that he would spare her life, because she was not a Christian, though she was my friend. She cried.
After her surgery, she woke up, and I was there. I practically live in the pre-surgery/recovery rooms during the surgical mission teams. I saw her a lot. Always, she was reaching for me. So I would stop and visit with her. Every morning, I would do my ‘rounds’ touching each patient, praying for them, giving God thanks for bringing them through the night, and for healing their bodies. Each night, the young missionaries, our interpreters, and I, would go in and sing some hymns, and pray over them as a group.
Mercelia finally grabbed my interpreter, Nedgie, and demanded to know why I did not pray for her. I only visited. I explained very lovingly, that she was not a Christian. So was I supposed to ask a Friend who loved her to bless her when she rejected Him to His face? Of course, He was very good, and still loved me when I did that. I thought maybe she did not want me to bring it up. She begged me to pray. So I did. I asked God to make her hungry for Him, for His presence. To give her strength to walk away from those deceitful Loa. To give her peace about her parents.
On April 27th, dear Mercelia was discharged. Before she would get dressed in her own clothes, she demanded that we pray with her and be witnesses to the fact that she now accepted Jesus as her only Lord and Saviour. She asked Him to forgive her for ever serving other gods and for being afraid for her parents, and for not trusting Him to protect them. We all cried.
This morning, when I saw Mercelia, we cried again. She still is free of the Loa which held her in bondage by fear. The lines in her face, even with the post surgery pain of a mastectomy, have softened very noticeably, and she stands much taller than me now.
Mercelia is one who knows what deliverance means. He, whom the Son sets free, is truly free indeed.
I have hesitated to share the story of Mercelia with you, because it is very personal to me, too. Our God is so very good. He soothes the furrowed brow and takes away our fears.
May He richly bless you for the prayers you have prayed for our work in this mission trip. He is more than we could ask or imagine!
In His great love, Tina
May 7, 2009 – Rev. Tina Leslie