Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
Transcribed from a
1977 interview with
Rev. Jim Herzog
for the International Lutheran Layman's League.
The topic of the interview was "Christ and the Occult."
This transcription is posted at www.ChristDeaf.org
by permission of Rev. Herzog.
It was a situation where I had just arrived in this new area, and there was one particular tribe that would have nothing to do with my message, or with me. They were not unkind. They were simply firm that they didn't want me around to tell them anything about my God, because what they had was sufficient.
I had been on the mission field long enough to realize that this was very unusual. Immediately red flags went up, and I wondered what was going on. Most natives welcomed the missionary, if for no other reason, that he brought matches, and razor blades, and steel ax heads, and things of that nature. And apparently they could do without that.
I came to find out later that their witch doctor was a man whose reputation was very high among other witch doctors in my area. He was The Number One witch doctor. Apparently he had these people in the palm of his hand, and he had warned them not to have anything to do with this new religion.
I began to feel like I wasn't going to get through to that tribe. So one morning I told the Lord in prayer, "Father, if You are going to save this tribe, You will have to do it without my help. I have a lot of work to do and a lot of other tribesmen to work with, and I just don't have the time to go back there to be rebuffed. So I dust my feet off in their presence, and I wash my hands of it, and turn it over to You, like You told me to do. And I am going over to do this other work."
Then about two weeks later it happened.
Early one morning I could hear the sounds of the death chant coming up from the valley, down there where this tribe lived. There had been a landslide early that morning, and several houses had been wrecked. Most of the people got out, except in one place where there was a little girl, about five years old, who was caught in the landslide. The rocks rolled over the house where she lived, and when they recovered her body, she had been terribly smashed. She had three huge cracks in her skull. The center one reached all the way around from the back of the skull to the base of her nose. It was about two fingers [between 1 and 1-1/2 inches] wide. By the time I got to her about two hours later, what appeared to be the brain membrane was already swelling and pooching out. Her right eye was completely dislocated and was about where the cheekbone should have been. It was a horrible mess.
The natives thought that she was dead, and they were bringing her up to their burial ground, which was right next to my station, for burial. About 150 men, plus their women and children, came up in a long line, crying, weeping, and wailing, and carrying on.
When they came near my hill, where I was working on my house early that morning, I had to stop the procession. I had to go down there and examine the body, because the government had given all the missionaries the word: "Examine bodies before they bury them, because natives sometimes bury people before they're dead." So I did that. Of course, I knew I wasn't very welcome. The witch doctor was standing there glaring at me.
I did what I had to do. I felt her wrist to see if I could feel a pulse. I checked for breath, using a mirror -- very "scientific" methods, you know. And I couldn't really tell whether she was dead or alive. But when I saw her head, and how horribly mutilated she was, and the fact that that had happened two hours earlier, I was convinced that if she wasn't already dead, she would be very soon. So I gave them permission to go ahead and bury their dead.
But I followed along behind, and I watched the whole thing.
They made a huge circle, the father with the child in the middle, kneeling down. And they appealed to the ghosts. They believed in the world of ghosts, and the ghost of the little girl was their primary target for worship. They believed that her ghost was hovering around, watching and making sure that everyone was sufficiently sad that she had died. So everyone was crying very loud and very hard. There may have been some genuine grief, but I knew that most of it was fake, born out of fear.
That, plus the fact that Mr. Witch Doctor kept giving me the funny look -- and all kinds of other thoughts crowded in my mind. Then I found myself doing something that my seminary professors had warned me that I should never do. "Don't ever put God on the spot."
All of a sudden, without wanting to do it, I watched myself jump into the middle of the circle. I actually physically pushed my way through that line of half naked "savages" with bones in their noses and spears in their hands, and I stood next to the father. Like a very bad Tarzan movie, I held my hands up and I looked at all of them and shouted, "Wait! Wait!" All of sudden they cut off their weeping and their wailing. They looked at me, and they were waiting. And I continued.
"All of this time, you told me that you don't have any need for my God, that your gods are powerful enough. And here you are, about to bury this little girl, and your gods haven't been able to do anything." Then I said the big one, the one that my seminary professors said I should never do. I said, "Why don't you, just this one time, let my God show you what He can do?"
And when I had said that, I suddenly came back down to earth, and I was very much alone, very weak, very insignificant, and all I could think of was finding some way to get out of that circle, and get out of there. I had said something I should never have said!
Apparently, in the minds of these people, I had challenged this witch doctor to a dual of magic. They were looking all around. Some were looking up into the sky. I guess they were expecting me do something to raise the dead. They were waiting for this demonstration of power.
Then another thing dawned on me: I had just spoken very fluently in their language. All of the words that I had just spoken, starting with "Wait! Wait!" was in their language. I had not learned to speak their language yet. I was in the process of learning it, and I confess that I knew a few phrases that I was taught in language school. But I could not speak fluently, and I could not understand when they spoke. I had to rely on an interpreter. But now I had spoken very clearly in Enga.
Then the next thing I thought was, "What do I do next!?" Where do you go from here? They were waiting for a miracle, and I didn't know what God was going to do. I don't even know why I said what I said. I wished that I had never said it!
There was absolutely nothing I could do, except kneel down and pray. I thought to myself, "I am going to pray now, but what do I pray about?" And then it was like the Lord was leading me step by step. "Well, pray for the little girl..."
I knelt down, put my hand on what was left of that little girl's head. And again, my mouth very fluently speaking in the Enga language, said words that I still remember very clearly. (I think that greater part of the miracle was that I could understand what I was saying.) I said something to this effect, "Father, if You can glorify Your name more in the presence of these people by letting this little girl die, then let her die. But if You can glorify Your name more in their presence by letting her live, then let her live." I don't remember saying, "Amen." There's no word like that in their language, anyway.
Then I got up, and again, very helpless, very alone, feeling like nothing great had just happened, I felt like I should put a lot of distance between me and these people. So I said, "Go and make a stretcher, and I will take her to the nearest government hospital," which was in Wabag. That was over a ten hour trip. I had almost ten hours of walking, plus another couple hours in the Jeep.
So we took off -- the father, a couple men he took along, and a small boy. All the time while we were walking through the jungle and they were carrying the body, I never stopped to examine the body, to see if there might be life, because the last time I examined her, there was nothing that I could tell that she was alive. It was just a horrible sight. I just wanted to keep moving and put on a lot of distance. But we were heading toward the hospital.
Ten hours later we came to where I had left the Jeep, parked it beside the road. Then I discovered that it was stuck, sunk up to axles in mud. We had to spend another hour or two getting enough natives from that part of the jungle, to come with jungle vines and pull the whole thing out by hand. I think it took about 200 men to pull the Jeep free.
Finally we got into the Jeep, and we drove. By the time we got to the government hospital, I had lost all track of time. I was dead tired. All I did was back the Jeep up to the receiving area, and told the young native man, who had been trained as a medical orderly, what had happened.
The young man said, "I'm sorry. The Master isn't here." The "Masta" was the European surgeon who was in charge of the hospital -- and there is only one for each government hospital. He had taken a two-week vacation, and left the whole hospital under the supervision of this medical orderly, who could not do surgery of any kind.
I thought, "That's the last straw!" I just unloaded my cargo, went to the nearest mission station, slept, and then went back out to my part of the jungle to continue my work.
About two weeks later, I had to come back into Wabag for supplies, and I stopped by the government hospital to see what happened to this girl. I was expecting them to show me her grave. But instead, they showed me a room where she was sitting. Her head was one huge bandage. Her left eye and her mouth was all that was free. The rest was all bandaged up.
The Masta still hadn't returned. He was still on his vacation, and had not come back yet. Apparently, all this bandaging had been done by the native staff that had been trained for medical orderly work.
I thought, "This is a super miracle! I can't believe this girl is still alive!" I was quite sure that she was dead, even while she was still with me on that trip. But to see her alive...!
She was sitting on her bed, playing with toys, apparently in her right mind, and having fun. Her father was there and he had made some home-made toys for her.
I could hardly wait to get back out to my part of the jungle to tell Mr. Number One Witch Doctor what had happened, how my God had shown them what He could do. But as I was going back out, I came back down to earth again, when I remembered that in their society, anyone with a disfigurement like that would be cast off as untouchable. I thought it was kind of a cruel twist of fate that she should be saved, condemned to live as a cast-off. She would never appear in public. If people came to visit her father and mother, she would not be visible. They would shun her off into the background. She would never be married, never have children. So that took some of the fun out of telling the tribe what had happened.
But they didn't believe me, anyway. There were no telephone systems, no way for them to convey messages directly from the hospital to the tribe, so they only had my word for it. And they didn't believe it. They didn't believe the girl was still alive.
About a month later, the day came when I could finally go back and bring the little girl back out to her tribe with her father. She still had her basic bandages on. The huge bandage was gone. But the bandage over the immediate areas was still there, and I had to take it off at a little later date.
They were really overjoyed when they saw the little girl. I don't think they immediately associated it with "my God." But I think it dawned on them as the days went by. Because about a week later, when I went back to the village to remove her final bandages, I received the biggest thrill of my life when I saw that there were no visible scars or wounds anywhere on her head. Her right eye had returned to normal. There were no scars and no brain damage.
The tribe of Mr. Number One Witch Doctor, to a man, with the exception of the witch doctor and his nearest relatives -- I think it involved three or four people -- they were the only ones who did not, but everyone else in the tribe became a Christian about six months later. And they were baptized.And it wasn't until then that I realized the full extent of the miracle involved.
Pastor Jim Herzog