This week’s elder blog post is an excerpt from chapter 9 of God With Us: Ortiz Missions Journey. Gami and Cathi Ortiz compiled several stories of God’s faithfulness to them in Haiti and turned them into a book to share with their supporters. The book is available for purchase on Amazon and will help to support the Ortiz family as they transition from Haiti to Lafayette. Gami will begin his new role as Kossuth’s Pastor of Worship and Connections next month.
As I was preparing to teach one weekend, a friend of mine stopped by the house. Herbie appeared to have been crying and was clearly shaken up. I followed him out to the porch to talk. A few days before, he had stopped by with his little girl, Spendie, to show us some sores that had developed on her body, particularly on her backside. At that point, he'd been to a clinic, which had given him an ointment and sent him to a hospital that could do further testing. He told me that after that day, he'd taken Spendie to two hospitals and they both told him the same thing: "This isn't a sickness medicine can fix. If you're a Christian, pray. If you're not, take her to a witch doctor." He continued to tell me about heightened voodoo activity in our area (he was one of our neighbors) but that he didn’t know who would put a curse on his little girl. In tears, he told me he didn't want to take her to the voodoo temple, because he didn’t believe in that stuff. He was a Christian and went to the same church we did. At the same time, he was at wit's end and desperate to help his little girl.
I told Herbie I wanted to go pray for her, so we left my house and walked down the street to his house. There she was, lying on a mat on the floor, visibly uncomfortable. After greeting his wife and others in the house, I talked with them, sympathizing with their situation of watching their child suffer without being able to truly help. I assured them that God sympathized with them too, as he had watched Jesus suffer for us. We prayed together, for Spendie, for the family, over the house. When I left, their spirits seemed to have been lifted in our time of prayer. After calling them the following morning, they were still holding on and doing better as a family, so I praised God for that.
Unfortunately, this kind of situation is not all that uncommon. When a sickness or misfortune can't be explained, the default assumption is that it was a witch doctor that cast a curse or one of the lwa (spirits) were upset with the individual or family. The Western concept of free will is almost non-existent in this context. People strive to appease the spirits around them so that no harm or sickness will befall them. Some refuse medical treatment in the belief that what is going on is purely spiritual.
Here is where two worlds collide: The Western tendency is to deny the reality of the spiritual realm. In doing so, everything is reduced to purely materialistic explanations - science. The other extreme, as exemplified by animistic cultures, is to explain everything through spirits and magic. The spirits dominate reality and humans must constantly fight to appease them in order to survive. Or through magic, people can control supernatural powers in order to achieve their desires. In the Western world, science deals with the empirical world and leaves religion to handle the other-worldly stuff. But as scientific knowledge expands, the need for religion decreases. There is a middle ground that recognizes both realities of the physical and the spiritual.
I was also reminded of Jesus’ words in Luke 14:26. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus’ use of extremes paints a picture of what I had just witnessed. Herbie’s cousin is an houngan – a witch doctor. He had already spoken with Herbie and told him that he could make her better. Herbie had refused, not wanting to forsake his trust in Jesus. To the rest of his family, it appeared that he hated his daughter. She was suffering; potentially dying! Yet he refused to act on an opportunity to make her better. Instead, he stood his ground as a believer. Though not all stories end this way, by the grace of God, Spendie did get better and two weeks later was back in school. Those that had placed their trust in the magic and mysticism of voodoo had to take a step back and acknowledge a higher power at work in this family’s life. And his name is Jesus.