An excerpt from my unpublished memoir Walking with the God of Miracles
Now the week before Easter, when raucous voodooists celebrate Christ’s death and deny His resurrection by worshiping Satan with frenzy and frequency we came upon a voodoo ceremony. Fresh darkness fell as we found a a foot path shortcut through the ravine.
Illuminated by a blazing fire, gleaming, shirtless, sweaty men beat a cacophony on tall, wooden, goatskin covered drums. Their elongated shadows loomed foreboding on the backdrop of a mud hut as spectators fixated on a leathery woman standing in the flames.
Another man, his open shirt framing a boney mahogany chest, walked from spectator to spectator collecting wadded grimy bills – payment for the show, two gourdes, forty cents, for a display of demon power. The man plucked loosely held bills from spellbound viewers’ fingers as flames licked the woman’s thighs.
The witchdoctor, her black skirt tucked beneath the elastic of her underwear, pranced barefoot on red embers. Crimson strips banded her sinewy biceps, signifying demon possession and a scarlet scarf, the badge of a voodooist, swathed her hair. Her wiry form bent forward with the drums rhythm and she punctuated each frenetic crescendo by arching back in spiritual ecstasy.
Endless, furious, staccatos drilled the night demanding spirit manifestation and the blaze encompassed the woman to her waist. This was not a cruise ship excursion of ankle high flames or ashen embers for tourists. This was a full-blown demon possessed Mambo with the power to withstand burns as she invited fallen angels to demonstrate their power in her body.
The crowd parted easily as Joel dropped my hand, pushed through the circled audience, and reached into the fire’s midst. He grabbed the wiry, raven clad woman and pulled her from the flames. The drums stopped. She stood uneasy beside him as he preached. In Creole, he hurled a thunderous rebuke at the gathered voodooists.
I recognized the impromptu text, Deuteronomy 28, the covenant curses. “Because you will not obey the Lord or do his commandments, these curses have come upon you.”
Joel’s use of the biblical word needed no explanation; voodooists understand a curse and pay to have one put on enemies.
“You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the field. Your basket will be cursed.”
Basket also translated with no exposition for primitive Haiti wove them to gather the fields and deliver produce to open air markets.
Joel continued, “You will have children and someone else will raise them.”
I winced at my recent memory of a San Rafael orphanage of huddled starving children.
“The harvest, your animals and their offspring will be cursed and less than it should be.”
I remembered the emaciated cows and goats, lone stragglers, a quarter the size of my Father’s Holsteins and Nubians, and Madame Francine’s mangy horse the size of a malnourished pony limping to town.
“The Lord sends curses on all that you do, until the day that you die because you choose evil.”
Joel denounced blood sacrifices, chickens and goats, offerings of produce and money by poor people who could not feed their children and then he recounted Haitian history.
“Two hundred years of voodoo sacrifices culminated when Boukman drank blood and dedicated Haiti to Satan.”
Joel searched the downcast faces and flashed the fire’s light. “What good have you gained from this?”
No one answered. Joel shouted the demeaning truth louder than the voodoo drums that sounded before he pulled the witchdoctor from her bogey thrall.
“You are the poorest, the most oppressed, and the most despised nation on earth because Satan is your god.”
It was true; desperate Haitians who braved the Caribbean in hand hewn boats were shunned in America for their primitive ways by other immigrants, Jamaicans and Bahamians.
“Your children die young.” Infant mortality in the capitol’s slums was double digits for children under five.
“Your fields are fruitless. Your cities are hopeless. The finest rice, sugar and coffee are exported for someone else to consume; you never taste the harvest you produce.”
My chest ached with the weight of Haitian suffering.
“You love sin, stealing, lying, murder, adultery. For this you pay with a cursed life and if you do not turn from your worship of Satan, you will pay with eternal damnation!”
To me curses were a new refrain, not something learned in twelve years of Catholic school and only recently had I read Deuteronomy; it described Haiti’s despair.
Joel leaned into his audience and spread his hands at the blaze, “You may be able to resist the flames of this fire.”
He warned. “But you will not resist the flames of hell unless you forsake Satan worship and ask God to forgive you for rejecting the gift of His son Jesus Christ.”
Joel’s spontaneous physical response and verbal tirade against devil worship, went unchallenged. No drummer, nor the money collector, not even the witchdoctor spoke; Christ in Joel dominated the spirits in the voodooists.
This, my first exposure to witchcraft and my husband’s righteous indignation, would be a template for my ministry. I clasped my hands, partly in fear and partly in urgent need, and prayed as fast as the sounds formed in my mouth and audibly tumbled out.
A man in a Fedora mumbled to the group. “She is praying.”
Spectators stared at the ground; some turned their backs to us. We had spoiled their party; the Spirit of God in us stifled the voodoo ghouls as long as we stood there.
Joel finished his sermon with the sacrifice Christ made at Calvary, once and for all, the only sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and break the Satanic clutch on Haiti and then we continued on the foot path.
I whispered prayers the rest of the short walk home as Joel sputtered with indignation. He clutched my hand tighter and hastened his pace to Ruelle Lily where we lived. But by the time, we climbed the tiled steps, showered off the clammy dust and lay down, the voodoo service in the ravine beneath our back wall resumed.
The three drums pulsed through the valley into our open windows and demon tongues silently taunted me with each thump, “You cannot take what is mine. They are mine. They are mine. They are mine.”