This morning, with the shrill sound of my phone alarm and the utter darkness of 4:30 AM EST, I woke up longing for my mornings in Africa. Being temporarily on US soil has been a rough adjustment in so many ways. Today I longed for that glorious sunrise over Mt. Meru that used to greet me faithfully each morning as I would grope my way to our propane stove to make Kimemo coffee.
When I was living in Tanzania, I was in a time zone ahead of most of our team, which made calls like this one today much easier. Internet reception in Africa, when you can get it, is always better in the morning. But being on the US East Coast for the moment has shifted my wake up to a far earlier time.
The last conversation I had with our team in Cote D’Ivoire, I had lovingly ‘challenged’ the team about the number of children attending CIC Clubs. Compared to the rest of the 20 CIC countries, with the exception of those having been deeply affected by Ebola, the attendance numbers in Ivory Coast were down – in this case by about -5%. It was unusual.
I prodded and probed. The team didn’t give a clear explanation of why, which left me a bit puzzled and wanting me to persist with questions and some gentle suggestions that the children attendance numbers could be better as we seek to reach even more children. But I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to stop – that I was in danger of ‘crushing a bruised reed.’ (Isaiah 42: 3) They said they hoped it would be better in 2016. So I finally dropped it and we moved on.
Still perplexed, but feeling counseled by the Lord to retreat, I tried to end the call on an encouraging note, thanked them for all that they were doing, read Ephesians 3:20 together, prayed and ended our call.
This morning we would continue the conversation. I was looking forward to spending more time with them. Our leader was a pastor who had a reverence for the Word and was a humble leader.
He spoke in his thick French accent and we had others on hand who could translate if there were any gaps in understanding. We discussed initiatives into unreached people groups, the mobilization of local pastors and how much has multiplied in local church involvement with even more volunteers than before. This was all good and encouraging.
But the question of the child attendance continued to nag at my heart.
I had to ask – again.
“It will be better in 2016,” he said.
“But why? What will they do differently in 2016 that they did not do in 2015?” I had to ask.
It took a lot of bandwidth, internet connectivity, and sheer patience to finally get more clarity.
Finally he spoke.
“Most of the child killings and sacrifices will go down now that the elections are over,” Antoine offered.
“What???” I thought I hadn’t heard properly.
Antoine’s guttural French spurted out matter-of-factly, “You know. The children. The political candidates and businessmen have been abducting children and taking them to be sacrificed so that they will prosper in the elections. Local radio has told the mothers and fathers to keep their children locked up in their houses. Many have decided to not even come to Club.”
“Sacrificed? Antoine, what do you MEAN, sacrificed? Explain this please. . . .”
I was hoping I had heard wrong, though my heart started pounding loudly and I knew there was more.
“Oui, oui, sacrificed. They are taken, kidnapped off the roads and in places. They are taken and killed as a sacrifice, with body parts to please gods and for good election results.”
I choked back my emotion. I couldn’t respond for a few minutes and had to ask the Lord – what do I say? And then pangs of guilt hit me. Not only had I not understood, but in our last call I had challenged the team and given them a bit of a hard time. No wonder the Lord had told me to stop. “Lord, please forgive me!” I begged inaudibly as I held back tears.
I remembered the Ivory Coast team had sent in that prayer request – that there were massive killings and abductions. That was back many, many months ago. It hadn’t been clear it was child ritual killings. And why hadn’t they reminded me and us that it was still on-going?
The reality of the darkness was frightening.
It took me a while to regain composure. Sadness turned to boldness. “Tell me. Why is this still going on? What hasn’t it been stopped? How can they get away with this? How can this continue to happen?”
“C’est normal, sister Jeanne. Every time election comes, we have this increase in sacrifices. There are always sacrifices of children for the dark things. But in election years it is always worse.”
Festus piped in, “You know, Jeanne, it happens too in Togo and other West Africa countries. Just last month even right next to one of our clubs in Togo, a village child, who some of our club children knew, was taken for ritual killing. ” Festus serves as one of our regional leaders and had been serving in Togo to build up the indigenous network of volunteers and pastors.
He continued, “Jeanne, you know this – some politicians and businessmen, they even say they are Christian, but they go to church on Sunday and go to the witchdoctor on Monday. Many churches and pastors – they do not know any different. In those churches children don’t matter to them. They do not know the Truth.”
Yes, I quietly and soberly thought. I knew.
Even in Tanzania, just miles from me, there were always hushed whispered news reports of child body parts found, children disappearing, a woman caught with 20 children’s heads selling them for witchcraft. All of this just a mile from the epicenter of Africa’s safari tourism trade. And the base town and region around Kilimanjaro was one of the worst. Americans came and went without much mention of the dark things.
Under the clouds that surrounded Mt. Meru, a quiet secret that everyone there knew, but most had either accepted as normal or had been instructed, “Don’t tell the westerners, the Americans. They don’t understand.” And even NGO’s, western ministries I co-labored with in Africa, when I persistently asked them, “Why isn’t anyone reporting all of this?” —they shrugged and said it was not right to share it. Westerners like pictures of happy children, not dark stories. While I know that we all like happy pictures, I don’t believe Americans don’t care. I believe most Americans simply don’t know.
Just as salvation by grace doesn’t seem as profoundly needed unless you contrast it the depths and darkness of sin, so also the depths of darkness in Africa contrasts the urgency of sharing the Heavenly Father’s love and Word to these children.
My African brothers call it the ‘dark world’ and while they have been victimized by it and they revile it, they also hold fast to the verse in Ephesians 5:12 that we Christians must be aware but we should not publish many details about it. “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says,
‘Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
The only thing that truly transforms is God’s love, mercy, Light, and Truth. If leaders in authority and governmental places, and nominal Christian-in-name-only local churches perpetrate these crimes against their God and Creator, and they and we hush it up, what are we doing?
There are millions of children who need the hope of Christ. They are held in bondage to wicked, evil, dark practices. And they need to be freed of the deceptive teachings in their midst.
Real transformation begins with the heart. And hearts cannot be sustainably transformed without the renewing of the mind through His Word (Romans 12:1-2).
This morning the words seemed to speak even more deeply in my heart.
“Arise, O sleeper.’
The local churches and pastors need to know that the Lord loves these children. They are precious in His sight and the church needs to be taught deeply in His Word so they are not tossed to and fro by every deceptive teaching and practice. Ephesians 4:11-16
Will you prayerfully consider partnering with CIC’s 18,000+ African-indigenous ministry volunteers and CIC field ministry coordinators to inspire and vision-cast our Heavenly Father’s love and value of these children? And reach the unreached with His love and Truth?
It is the only true, transforming answer to the darkness.
Everything else is just a cover-up.
Editor’s Note: Sifting carefully through search engines, you might find some news articles about the ritual killings in Ivory Coast. Be forewarned – some of these articles are gruesome (The Daily Mail for one). After January 2015 the news was quieted down and not much was reported leading up to the election in October, 2015.