In a dimly lit wooden home, a paralyzed man shares the story of his paralysis, his time with a witchdoctor, and finally, his vision of heaven.
IMB missionary Nancy Potter* translates his testimony for a visiting volunteer team from Oklahoma. As Seo* shares his story, he uses a white rope, strung like a hammock, to keep himself upright.
The volunteers came on a short-term mission trip to partner with Nancy and her husband William.* The Potters and their national partners travel throughout a remote Southeast Asian region to share the gospel and disciple believers.
Many inhabitants of the region believe evil spirits roam like unseen crusaders. Villagers say the spirits are looking for open windows in houses in order to ravage their health and peace of mind. Witchdoctors demand blood money – the sacrifice of animals – for their services. The Potters say they act like feudal lords who tax the vassals in their territory.
Seo and his friends were traveling through the jungle and decided to stop for lunch. Seo scaled a tree to collect orchids to sell in the local market. The branch snapped and he fell, landing on his back and breaking it. Seo couldn’t catch his breath at first, and then, when his lungs recovered, he started screaming for help.
His brother and friends finally came to his aid. They lit part of his body on fire, following a belief, held among their people group, that fire purges one of evil spirits.
He lay on the ground, with the scent of his burning flesh, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. It took two hours to transport him home. When he arrived in his village, his neighbors lit incense and sacrificed the family’s pig and five other pigs from the village. They poured the blood from the animals over Seo’s body. This macabre act was believed to wash his sins away.
In this Southeast Asia nation, when animal sacrifices are made, the meat cannot be eaten. The carcasses are discarded, and the remaining blood is spread on an archway in the village – fixture of every village in the area – and those making sacrifices must walk under the archway.
Seo went to a local hospital and was then referred to a hospital in the capital city, some distance away. His wife was pregnant and due to go into labor that week, so he chose not to go.
Villagers told him about a powerful witchdoctor who would heal him if he took part in his ceremonies.
Seo sold his cow, worth $1,000, for the witchdoctor’s services, which consisted of the witchdoctor spitting on his back and placing random objects on his bed sores.
One of the witchdoctor’s rules was that he had to lie on his side until his wound festered. Seo begged to leave the witchdoctor’s home.
He returned home, feeling helpless. He heard about Christians in the area who were teaching the Bible.
“Please, tell the Christians to come and share Christ,” he told his neighbors.
Nancy and her national partner had just finished teaching for the evening. They followed friends of Seo to his home and found the whole village waiting.
“We want to believe in Jesus. Can Jesus heal us?” the villagers asked.
Nancy said they couldn’t promise God would heal them, but they could share the hope that Jesus provides. Seo’s family committed their lives to Christ that night.
That night, Seo had a dream about heaven. He dreamed about God and angels in a beautiful garden. He woke up and said, “This is God. I found God.”
“I put my past behind at that point,” Seo said. “I’m not going to give incense anymore. I’m not going to do any of the sacrifices anymore. I’m going to follow Christ. I felt peace in my heart that I never had before.”
The Potters continue to disciple Seo and his family and share the gospel with the rest of the village. Members of the community come and share prayer requests but are hesitant to abandon their belief in animism, the dominant religion in the area. Nancy says fear of retribution from spirits keeps them from committing.
The Seos consistently share the source of their hope and freedom.
Seo was paralyzed from the waist down, but he’s slowly regained some feeling. Though his body became bound by the trauma of the fall, his heart found freedom from the bondage that kept him and his family enslaved without hope and respite.
Before the Oklahoma volunteers left, Seo, his wife and children, the Potters, and their national partners sang a hymn that gives testament to their newfound freedom.
“I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
Tho’ none go with me; I still will follow.”
For Seo, the decision to follow Jesus was an obvious one. Once he found freedom in Christ, there was no turning back, for who would choose fear and spiritual bondage over freedom and peace? Even if no one else in his village decides to follow Jesus, he said he’ll still daily decide to follow.
*Names changed for security
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is a writer for the IMB.)