Elka of the Wai Wai

Ten-year-old Elka watched from his hiding place as Mafolio, the feared and respected witchdoctor, called on the all-powerful and capricious Kworokyam to heal his stepfather. To the Wai Wai, Kworokyam was the sum of all of the spirits in their world. He was mostly evil and caused illness, but he was also the one whom the witchdoctor could petition for a cure.  

Elka was fascinated by Mafolio’s rituals, and soon after began to sing and hum the songs he had heard which had stuck in his mind. The spirit world drew him in. In time, Elka went to live with Mafolio in his big house near the river. One night, a wild pig spoke to him in his dream and commanded him to sing the songs of Kworokyam. Elka told his dream to Mafolio. The witchdoctor, surprised, confirmed that Kworokyam had revealed himself to Elka through the wild pig.

The years passed. Elka grew in stature, and strength, and he learned the ways of the forest and the cunning of his people. He also grew in sensitivity to the spirits and became a full-fledged witchdoctor, revered for his ability to heal the sick. The people recognized him for his wisdom, and followed his advice and leadership. He was collaborative, decisive, and kind. Before long, the people made Elka their chief and he became the most powerful man in the region.

Elka grew in sensitivity to the spirits and became a full-fledged witchdoctor. The people recognized him for his wisdom, and followed his advice and leadership.

But still the lives of the Wai Wai were dominated by fear. Even Elka, with all of his power, feared the jungle’s vastness and spiritual terrors. He feared the flaring of old animosities between the Wai Wai and neighboring tribes. But the greatest fear was that of the unknown beyond that waited after death.

A Foreign Kind of Love

When White men came into their territory, the Wai Wai greeted the strangers with smiles, yet poisoned their drinks and clubbed them to death. No more came for a long time. But one day, news came that another group of White men were coming. Fear gripped the hearts of the people, thinking these men were murderers. But to the surprise of the Wai Wai, the Hawkins brothers, Neill and Bob, were kind and brought gifts: fish hooks, knives, and steel axes.

At first the missionaries from UFM (now Crossworld) didn’t speak Wai Wai, but little by little they learned the language. They began to talk about God, the Creator, who made the trees, the rocks, the sun—the entire world. He had a son—Chisusu (Jesus)—who died to take away all men’s badness, because he loved everyone, including the Wai Wai.

This kind of love was foreign to the Wai Wai, who loved only for what they would get in return.

Elka pondered the White man’s message. He knew he lived in the midst of badness: hate was covered with smiles, they killed by deception, unwanted babies were murdered, wives could be traded or stolen. He felt trapped, but didn’t know how to escape.

Bob Hawkins settled down to live among the Wai Wai with his wife Florine. A nurse also joined them. Bob explained that he had “God’s Paper” in which God revealed himself and told the people how they should live. Bob worked carefully translating the New Testament into Wai Wai, a project that would take him years. At first Elka and others laughed at his attempt to pronounce their words, but then became fascinated by the project and began to assist him and correct his efforts.

As Elka participated in the translation of God’s Paper, he came to understand what the Lord expected of him: to turn from his badness and “invite Jesus into the pit of his stomach.” He and others began to attend the weekly teaching meetings Bob held for them. They enjoyed the songs Bob taught and sang boisterously. They eagerly accepted the effective medical attention that the nurse gave them, with her pills and shiny needle. But little change was seen in their behavior.

Casting Out Fear

While no one really responded to the missionaries’ message, something was stirring in Elka’s heart and mind. One day he helped to translate the following verse: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18)

This struck a chord within Elka. All of his life he had lived in fear of Kworokyam. But the love of Jesus offered freedom and life that Elka hadn’t known could exist. He was faced with a choice: live life according to Kworokyam and the rest of the mostly evil world of spirits, or live life according to Jesus. Either stay with the spiritual world he knew from his youth, or surrender to the eternal God who reigned over the dark power of death.

When Elka shared with his wife and close friends about his interest in responding to the gospel, they laughed at him. They warned him that Kworokyam would not like it.

Elka struggled. He had a dream in which someone like Bob appeared before him and said: “Let go of your sins. Say to Jesus, ‘Come in.’ If you do, he will come in.” Early that morning, Elka went to an abandoned field to pray. He looked up at the sky and said, “Father, I want to know you. So make yourself known to me forever. What do you think about that? Old Elka wants you to come into the pit of his stomach, Father, and make his spirit strong.” He confessed his sins, and asked God to take out his old being with all of the badness. “Fix me to be like Jesus.”

“Father, I want to know you. So make yourself known to me forever. What do you think about that? Old Elka wants you to come into the pit of his stomach, Father, and make his spirit strong. Fix me to be like Jesus.”

God heard his simple prayer and entered his life. As Elka grew in his faith, he recognized that he had to take another step: to give up practicing witchcraft. The prospect was terrifying for his people, but Elka’s time had come. At a communal celebration, Elka handed his basket of charms to the missionary and told his people he had decided to trust in God instead. Everyone was convinced he would die immediately or within the week.

The Community Turns

Though the village disapproved that day, Elka’s total conversion proved to be the turning point in the life of the community. As time went by and he didn’t die, individuals began to take the same step he had. A church was born. As God began to transform their community, they had to learn what it meant to live for God. They had to learn forgiveness, forbearance, mercy, patience, honesty, purity, and many other things. They could no longer live for themselves.

The missionaries encouraged them to select their own elders and apply the principles they were learning from Scripture. The foreigners had not brought modern conveniences with them, to avoid creating material expectations. They laid down no rules about dress, polygamy, marriage ceremonies, or social organization. They were convinced that God would show the people how to live and make any needed changes in his own time.

The Wai Wai elders began to do the preaching. Sunday became the day of rest and worship and Wednesday morning was the teaching time for the believers. Men stopped stealing wives. They even began to help their women with the heavy chores, something they had never done before. They stopped killing their babies. From being a dying tribe, they began to grow in size.

Elka and the elders felt a great burden from the Lord to reach other tribes with the message they had found. In their sermons, they stressed how the other tribes lived as they used to—fearful of evil spirits, suspicious, killing by club or sorcery. Elka stressed how missionaries had come so far to reach them, and that Jesus himself had come from his home to save them. “Jesus came far. So let us go far, too. He died for us. We haven’t yet died for him. Let us die for Jesus.”

Sources: Dowdy, Homer. Christ’s Witchdoctor. Vision House, Gresham, OR, 1994. Dowdy, Homer. Christ’s Jungle. Vision House, Gresham, OR, 1995.

Photo © c. 1960 UFM International, Inc., DBA Crossworld. Used with permission



These blogs are the words of the writers and do not represent InterVarsity or Urbana. The same is true of any comments which may be posted about any blog entries. Submitted comments may or may not be posted within the blog, at the blogger's discretion.