Tuesday, May 1, 2018

False Accusations of Witchcraft

When we arrived in Enga in late March, we heard a disturbing report that two women who live across the river from our house had been accused of practicing witchcraft and were then burned with hot iron rods. After asking around, we discovered that one of the women was killed, while the other was still alive.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time we had heard of such activity. For the past few years, reports of men accusing women of witchcraft and then burning them with hot iron rods has been on the rise. Such accusations usually arise when a person unexpectedly becomes sick or dies. Ignorant of the underlying medical causes, some Papua New Guineans seek out what is called a “glass man” (something like a witch doctor who claims to be able to use magic to discern who has caused the sickness or death). The “glass man” performs his “magic” and then accuses one or more people of taking the sick or dead person’s heart and eating it. In Enga, the accused are almost always women, and we have heard reports that the accused women are often divorced, which means that they have no husband to protect them.

While we have been praying about this problem for a while now, the fact that it happened in the neighboring tribe, just across the river from where we live, brought home the reality of just how terrible this practice is.

Jenny showing us the burn marks on her back

A few days after hearing these reports, I heard that Jenny (not her real name), the woman who is still alive, was in Wabag town. I was able to track her down and speak with her. As soon as I met her, I told her, “I know that you have done nothing wrong. My wife and I want to pray for you and help you, so please come to our house this afternoon.” She agreed, and later that day she came to our house. We prayed for her and then listened as she shared her story. With her permission, I took a video of her telling her story, which I am posting online for you to see. It is difficult to watch because of the terrible things that were done to her. But at the same time it is a powerful testimony of God rescuing her when all hope seemed to be lost.

Out of respect for the Jenny's privacy and safety, please do not repost the video online or share it. As you watch, please know that Jenny's young daughter is safe and sound. Also please be aware that she tells her story in typical Papua New Guinean fashion, which means that she repeats the story a couple of times, adding additional details each time. You can view the video at (https://vimeo.com/263589097). You will need a password to watch the video, so if you would like to watch the video, please send me an email to request the password. (Please note that I will not release the password to anyone living in Papua New Guinea because I want to protect Jenny's privacy.)

After praying with Jenny and listening to her story, we gave her some assistance and walked her back to her village. Although she did nothing wrong and there is absolutely no evidence that she has done anything wrong, most of the people in her tribe have decided that she is a witch or “poison woman.” As a result, they don’t want to have anything to do with her. Our hope was that, by walking her back to her village, the people in her tribe would know that we do not think that she is a witch. As we arrived in her village, I made a short speech in the market area. I told the people that Jenny was not a witch and that she had done nothing wrong. I then told the people that they needed to have compassion on her and help her since she was still too weak and injured to work her garden.

In light of what has happened to Jenny, I have decided to begin preaching in various churches in Enga to encourage the Christians to stand against this terrible practice of falsely accusing women of witchcraft and then burning and torturing them. Sadly, many Christians are afraid that these women truly are practicing witchcraft. They are also afraid that, if they stand up for these women, they too will be accused of witchcraft. It is eerily similar to the Salem Witch Trials that happened in America in the late 17th century.

Please pray for Jenny as she recovers from the terrible ordeal she has had to endure, and please pray for her ongoing safety as she is still living in her village, where many think that she is a witch. Please also pray for the Christians of Enga that they will know that such accusations are false and that they will firmly stand up in opposition to the torture of innocent women. Please also pray for us as we do all we can to raise awareness and encourage people to oppose this terrible practice. Thankfully, the government of Papua New Guinea is opposed to this practice and is taking action to curtail such killings and torture.