From Chief Priest to Follower of Jesus
As the Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) program continues to expand and gain momentum, many lives are touched and transformed. At the beginning of 2005, this program was extended to the Vagla area in Ghana, to a village called Grupe.
According to Paul Deleka, the program supervisor for the area, the village has no church presently. One of the first people to respond to the ministry of Faith Comes By Hearing was Sunwialei Kponkpogri. This man was well known in the village, and for them his presence with the other ten people listening to God’s message was a surprise. He has been a priest for many years and had been chosen to succeed the incumbent chief priest when he died. Sunwialei had undergone some spiritual preparation and fortification to ascend to the powerful office, which is usually occupied by old people who readily command a high degree of respect. Normally a man like Sunwialei, who was younger than many of his predecessors, would not have been welcomed, but surprisingly the entire village saw him as a spiritual giant and approved of his election.
This is what Sunwialei has to say in explaining why he joined the FCBH program:
“I was to inherit the office of chief priest of the village and I was very happy about that. I had undergone some rituals towards that. One night something strange happened. The spirits took me out of my house and I found myself wandering out in the bush. I went so far that I did not remember in which direction I had started. The spirits gave me all sorts of instructions in the bush. I could not see them but could hear them. It was all like a dream and I did not know how long I had been dreaming.
“Then one day I heard another voice talking to me. It was warning me about an imminent danger. I did not know what sort of danger it was but there was a certainty that all was not well and there was danger ahead. Fear gripped me and I got so confused. I kept wandering in the bush not knowing which way would lead me home till I met a man from Sonyor, a village over 16 kilometers away from Grupe. He was very much surprised to see me near their village. As soon as he asked me what I was doing in the bush and told me how my village people had been looking for me, the scales fell from my eyes and I knew where I was. The man told me I had been missing for three days! I had not eaten any food for those three days.
“The man accompanied me home. When I got home, I was given food and water. I also took my first bath in three days and then I rested. When I woke up they all were asking many questions for which I had no answers. They took it that the gods were preparing me for my ministry.
“Although I was aware of my calling, this particular experience set me thinking and I was really disturbed. Each day I would sit wondering what was in store for me. I started wondering whether I should accept the responsibility of chief priest. For days I was very much disturbed. Being a priest might have prestige, but in effect you are enslaved, not free to do what you want and living in constant fear of wronging the gods and them visiting their anger on you.
“Then one day as I was sleeping, I was awakened by some noise that was coming from a tape player and there were a number of people there. To satisfy my curiosity and also to while away time, I decided to stroll to the place. The tape player was playing a cassette in our language. If I had had any reason to think that it was a church program, I would not have gone there because I thought the problem I was facing had nothing to do with the church.
“When I got close enough to hear them, the tape was playing a message. The speaker was saying that whoever wanted to be great should be like a child, be humble and obedient. My mind began to wander but I brought it back to listen. It went on to talk about a lost sheep and how that single sheep was important to the owner. The speaker was speaking with authority. In the discussion that followed, we were told that the speaker was Jesus. At this point I knew this was church business but something in the message made me to wait. Is it not likely that it was this Jesus who was speaking to me in the bush and warning me? We were told that each one of us was the lost sheep and Jesus had come to deliver us. I felt as if a weight were being lifted off my shoulders. I got more interested as the discussion went on and when it ended I asked if there would be another session. The more I attended these listening sessions the more I became convinced that it was meeting my need.
“One day I stepped forward and told Paul that I wanted to accept this Jesus and have the joy and assurance of salvation. He asked me if I was ready to renounce the gods I was serving. I told him that I had come to realize that Jesus was greater than those gods and I would prefer to serve the greater power. In fact, when I said this I realized a certain boldness and joy captured me and after he prayed with me, I told all the people gathered that even if I should die I would die a happy man and would not care even if I were to die that very day.
“After this I went to the elders of the village and told them that I would not serve in the shrine again. I handed over all the gods and religious objects I inherited to the elders because they belong to the village. As for those that were mine, I threw them away and have nothing more to do with them. Initially they thought I was joking but when they heard of what happened at our meeting ground, they were both concerned and afraid for my life. They expect the gods to take revenge on me for betraying them but I am not the least worried because they cannot do any harm to me. We meet every Sunday to listen to God’s message and I wish it would be a daily affair. I am now the leader of the group and I help organize the meetings. When I hear God speak in my language, Vagla, it makes me realize that God is aware of me.
“All along I had taken the story of Jesus as one of the several stories in school children’s books that were made up. Now I am convinced that he is a real man who came to offer me life in its fullness. There is no possibility of me going back to gods that will only compound my problems. I regret all the things I did as a worshipper of these things. I am very happy that I had the opportunity to be saved.”