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Chief Witness

It is no longer safe for the spirits of Sakaby

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Legend states that a sacred snake keeps the village of Sakaby from growing too large. During the night, the snake makes sure that he can encircle the village; if he cannot, some villagers must die.

Sakaby is on the outskirts of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, where my wife and I serve as C&MA missionaries. The village is renowned among the Bobo Madare ethnic group as a center for fetish worship. The villagers participate in traditional ceremonies and secret rituals, some of which include sacrifice. There are sacred trees where the spirits gather each night and powerful fetish poles that are hidden from outsiders. The “elders” even have a secret language. The men of Sakaby use secret fetishes during some ceremonies. Women, children or dogs that see these fetishes are cursed to die.

There is much more that happens in this village—but much is hidden in secrecy.

Only One Believer

Alliance missionaries have spent years working among the Bobo, who are animistic in their beliefs and practices. Today, we praise God that there are numerous believers and churches among them, although there are still many Bobo villages that are unreached with the gospel. Sakaby was one.

Some national Christians tried to present the gospel there but were chased away. Because of this, the villagers were considered “unreachable,” and no one wanted to work there.

However, one national C&MA pastor and his church felt called to reach out to this village. Although they knew the history and practices of Sakaby, the members of this church began praying and seeking ways to reach the village. Confident of God’s power, the pastor started talking with Sakaby villagers near the road and under mango trees. If they sat on the ground, he sat with them. He tried to become like them.

Eventually the pastor became acquainted with more and more people until one day he met the chief, Timothy Sanou. It is well known that the chief of Sakaby makes many of the annual sacrifices to appease the spirits, plays an important role in each ceremony and governs many of the animistic events.

The chief was very cordial to this “stranger” in his village, and over the months, their relationship deepened. The pastor then dared to ask permission to take a team from his church door to door to share the gospel. Miraculously, the chief agreed.

When the day arrived, the pastor felt compelled to stay with Chief Sanou in his courtyard rather than go door to door with the church members. That day, the team was unable to win anyone to the Lord. But, by the grace of God, the chief accepted Jesus as his Savior after spending the entire afternoon with the pastor.

A Family Transformed

Timothy met with the pastor for discipleship and started attending the nearest C&MA church. He was changed radically. Drinking and smoking were no longer a part of his life. Appeasing the spirits by giving money to the fetish practitioners and making sacrifices was what Timothy lived for in the past, but not anymore. He began following Christ with his whole life and proclaimed his faith before the believers with baptism.

Timothy’s wife, Elise, had often become drunk on the locally made beer. She was often dazed and almost despondent, not responding when people spoke to her and seeming to pay no attention to anything.

Through her husband’s testimony, Elise also trusted in Christ and was baptized. Now, Elise is an active member of Alliance Women Ministries. She listens attentively at Bible study and is learning to read the Jula language. Elise helps lead the congregation in singing in Bobo and is an encouragement to all who speak to her. Some of Timothy’s children also trusted in Christ.

Wishing to proclaim his faith to his village, Timothy allowed the church and the Alliance mission to use his home for events. Preaching, evangelistic films, Bible studies and prayer groups became regular activities in Timothy’s courtyard. Soon the group of believers began to grow; more than 15 people from Sakaby have been baptized, and many more have expressed interest in following Jesus.

Everyone is Watching

Soon everyone in Sakaby realized their chief had forsaken all the traditions—the spirits, the rituals, the fetish worship—to follow Jesus. Something had to be done. The village fetish leaders and elders put a curse on Timothy’s life—he was to die within the week. That was several years ago. Villagers have placed fetish poles in his fields only for Timothy to remove them with no harm done. Other village leaders have threatened him, but he continues to live for Christ. Eventually, Timothy was forced to leave his position as chief because he could no longer perform the required functions. Timothy gladly gave it up for the sake of Christ.

But the people of Sakaby watched Timothy closely. Would he continue to follow Jesus? What would the evil spirits do?

Last year, Timothy and Elise’s youngest son, Marc, died at the age of 14. Many in the village saw this as an attack of the spirits and believed that Timothy would turn away from Jesus. He and Elise were sorrowful but not as the world sorrows. They had hope.

In his courtyard, Timothy held a Christian funeral service, which became the biggest evangelistic event this village has seen. Those in attendance knew the power of the gospel, and all saw Timothy’s faith in Jesus. Just before Marc died, we had started holding Sunday morning worship services in Sakaby in hopes of organizing a church. In the months following the funeral, more people came to Christ than ever before. Villagers began attending our weekly Bible studies in order to hear about this unshakable faith.

Within a few weeks, something else happened. One of the large spirit trees close to Timothy’s house withered and mysteriously died. Is the death of the tree where the spirits congregate directly related to the presence of this group that worships in Timothy’s courtyard? Of course—just as light cannot have fellowship with darkness, the evil spirits of Sakaby no longer find safe haven near Timothy’s house. The light of salvation is coming to the village of Sakaby, just as it came to the former chief who now follows the Lord Jesus Christ.

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