Zounchémé [Zoon-CHEH-may] never wore shoes. Not in the fields, not at home, not when he walked to the nearby village. It was not poverty that made him go barefoot. He had make a deal with the devil and the evil spirits that if they made him powerful, he would not wear shoes, for he received his power from the devil through his feet.
And Zounchémé was very powerful. He would place some chicken bones, small stones, and a piece of string into a pile in front of him. Then, chanting a secret fetish phrase, he would pour chicken blood over this pile of gris-gris* [gree-gree], and read the spirits’ directions on how to place a curse on someone or how to remove a curse and make a sick person appear to get well.
If someone wanted an enemy killed, he or she asked Zounchémé to perform a ceremony to call the spirits to punish the person named. And even if that person was far away, he or she often became sick, and even died.
Zounchémé could curse a woman and make her unable to have children. In fact, when his own wife left him to marry a wealthier man, Zounchémé cursed her, and she never bore children.
Zounchémé could perform some gris-gris over his fetishes, and suddenly a pot would float in midair. He could speak to his fetishes, and suddenly a wind would carry him to another place without being seen, as if he rode a mighty wind.
This man held sickness and death in his hands to distribute as he wished—and as others were willing to pay him for his powers. He laughed at anyone who believed in Christianity, even his boss at the local bakery, known as Papa Basile. Papa Basile was a new Adventist, and when Zounchémé learned that his boss had become a Christian, he shouted, “Oh, baker, what new foolishness have you come up with? Can you now survive the evil spells that I can cast on you?”
Then one day Zounchémé’s power seemed to slip away. After his first wife had left him, he had married another woman, and eventually had several children. Then without warning his wife and children became very sick. He called on the spirits to heal them, but his family did not get better. He tried everything he knew, but the spirits did not respond. He began to wonder who had neutralized his powers with the spirits, and was losing hope of making his family well again.
In desperation Zounchémé sent for his boss. Papa Basile came quickly, and brought some members of the Adventist church with him. Zounchémé begged them to make his family well again.
The small band of Christians looked around the filthy hut of this fetish priest. “We will have to remove all of your gris-gris and sweep your hut clean before we invite our God to come here,” Papa Basile said. Silently Zounchémé nodded. What good would it do to object? His gris-gris seemed powerless now anyway.
The Christians removed the man’s bowls of herbs, his string, stones, and other gris-gris. They burned everything they could and buried the rest while villagers watched in amazement from a safe distance. Few people in the village liked the witch doctor, and no one objected to destroying Zounchémé’s tools of evil.
When the hut was clean, the Christians gathered around the sick family and read from the Bible. Then they prayed earnestly that God would heal this man’s family and show them that true power comes from the true God in heaven. Immediately the sick family began to feel better.
Zounchémé was convinced. He renounced the evil spirits and turned to the true and all-powerful God, the one who could heal his family and change his life. He and his wife invited Papa Basile and his friends to tell them about God and the Bible. They began attending the little Adventist church.
Zounchémé grew to love God and began to share the faith in Jesus. One day he confessed how he had sent a poisonous snake to strike at the heels of Papa Basile. He told how he had persecuted his boss for his Christian faith. Now these two have become brothers.
When Zounchémé was baptized, he changed his name, which meant “food for the devil.” Now he is known as Brother Mathias. And the man who went barefoot because he had made a deal with the devil is now wearing shoes.
But the devil does not release his hold on people easily. During church service one Sabbath one of his children suddenly lost consciousness. His eyes rolled back, and he went limp. Members quickly gathered around and prayed for this child. Jesus brought the child back from the brink of death. This powerful miracle impressed all those present that God’s love and power are mightier than all the devil’s forces.
Brother Mathias and his wife testify of the love of God wherever they go, even though neither can read or write. Brother Mathias preaches the truths of the “Black Book,” as he calls the Bible. He gives the Bible to listeners and asks them to look up passages as he tells of God’s love.
Today the work of God is progressing in all of Benin as people turn their backs on evil and accept the love of God. Your mission offerings help to spread the good news of Christ in this land of fetish priests and voodoo curses.
Djossou Simon was a theology student at the Adventist Seminary of West Africa in Nigeria at the time he wrote this story. Today he and his wife and children live in Parakou, Benin, where he is the pastor of the church.