The little group of believers sang a song as they walked toward the river just outside the small village in western Cameroon. As they neared the river, a wild-eyed woman ran toward them brandishing a cutlass. “Get out of here!” she shouted. “This place belongs to my ancestors, and you’ll not practice your witchcraft here!” She waved the cutlass above her head for emphasis.
The group of Adventists stopped, fearing what the woman might do. I stepped in front of the believers and walked toward the woman. “The river doesn’t belong to one person,” I told her gently. “And we aren’t practicing witchcraft. We’re here to baptize some new believers.”
I realized that this woman must have been the one who had destroyed the baptismal area that I had arranged the day before. I had piled rocks in the swift-flowing river to provide a quiet pond in which to perform the baptism. Then I’d covered the path with palm fronds and flowers to make it look festive. How disappointed I was when I returned to the river just before sundown the evening before to find the stones knocked over and the palm fronds and flowers pulled out of the ground.
The woman’s shouts brought me back to the present. Was it safe to go ahead with the baptism? Or would this woman injure someone as she was threatening to do? I wondered. I scanned the faces of those who had come to be baptized into the Adventist Church. I knew that they would be disappointed if we had to postpone the baptism.
A crowd was forming to see who was shrieking. In spite of the woman’s threats I decided that we must go ahead with the baptism. I prayed and then stepped to the water’s edge. The baptismal candidates lined up on the shore just out of reach of the woman’s cutlass. The singing resumed as the woman continued shouting insults at us.
Then she splashed into the water and raised the cutlass above her head. Once more I spoke to her. “Your ancestors did not make this river,” I said. “God made it when He created the world. And He has commanded His children to share His love with everyone.”
The woman stopped shouting and looked at me. I felt God’s power urging me to continue with the baptism. As I stepped into the water, the woman dropped her cutlass. I picked it up and gave it to an elder standing on the shore. The woman stood silent in the water as if she was frozen in place.
One by one I baptized the new believers as the woman and the villagers watched. When the last one was baptized, we all walked up the hill a short way. A church elder saw that the woman who had threatened us seemed to be rooted in the water, so he carefully helped her out of the river.
When the church members knelt to pray, the troublemaker knelt too. “Please be with this woman and change her heart,” I prayed, not knowing how she would react to my prayer. When the prayer ended, we stood, and the pastor holding the woman’s cutlass gave it back to her. An uneasy silence spread through the crowd. Would the woman again become agitated? Would she try to attack us?
“Please forgive me for what I have done,” she said quietly.
Surprised at her response, I asked, “May I visit you?”
“Yes,” she said.
I learned that the woman’s name was Hada. A local elder and I began visiting Hada, and soon she began attending the church. One day not too long after we first met at the river, Hada walked into the same river to celebrate her own baptism.
Hada didn’t go alone that day. Others with whom she had shared her new faith walked with her. They, too, wanted to join God’s family by baptism. Hada had found God’s love and shared it freely with everyone she met.
The church in that little village has grown to more than 40 members. They have shared God’s love with people in a nearby village, where now another company has been started.
God turned a threat into a blessing and a woman’s hard heart into one softened by His love. Our mission offerings help establish new congregations of believers in difficult places in Africa and around the world. Thank you for giving so others can see God’s hand in their lives. ⎭
Desirè Ndibi is studying theology at Cosendai Adventist University in Cameroon.