Drawing on her experience as lecturer and head of the Mission department at West Africa Theological Seminary in Lagos, Nigeria, Chinyere Priest contributes to our Lent justice series with a reflection on pursuing justice as a Christian academic. She shares a story from a forthcoming paper, “Why Nigerian Christians Accuse People of Witchcraft,” then meditates on God’s justice as a theological scholar.
When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. – Isaiah 19:20b
Narrative from Chinyere’s forthcoming paper: Uche, a mother, was tormented and beaten severely by her husband due to her failure to bear a male child. So, she found an additional wife for him to marry with hope that this wife would give him a son to end the torture she experienced. In fact, the co-wife (Nkechi) also bore him female children. Ten years later, Uche bore a male child while Nkechi did not. Their husband experienced a poor harvest; within eight days, four young men died in that family via accidents and other means. Conflict ensued between the wives. Nkechi accused Uche of being a witch who is responsible for the poor harvest, Nkechi’s failure to bear male children, and for all the concurrent deaths in the family. The husband and some other family members believed her and tortured Uche in a very cruel manner.
Uche was taken to a native doctor who initially declared her innocent. The co-wife bribed him so he changed his proclamation saying Uche was guilty. According to local beliefs, the gods ought to have killed her if she was guilty, but the declaration was accepted. The husband divorced her, and the entire village gathered to humiliate her. She was banished from the village. Uche went into a coma for forty days and when she survived that she remained ill for five consecutive years. Her own children abandoned her because they believed the accusation due to difficulties they were experiencing. Twenty years later, the same native doctor who declared her a witch confessed to the entire village of Uche’s innocence. She was restored to the village with a huge celebration and pleas for forgiveness by her accusers. The Lord defended her.
Witchcraft accusation is a reality in African societies though some perceive it as superstitious and primitive. However, the social reality of these accusations is observed through the negative impact on those charged with being witches. Many children have been injured, tortured, abandoned or even killed while widows and elderly women equally faced rejection, banishment and death as well, the same people the Lord has asked us to defend and protect. These so-called witches are accused of using evil power to harm people, kill, cause accidents, barrenness, sudden death, infertility, misfortune, etc. The Lord said, “When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them”. (Isaiah 19:20)
Are you falsely accused? Are you declared guilty while innocent? Are you suffering for offences you never committed? Are you abandoned or rejected for no just cause? Are you even banished by your kinsmen? Weep no more, the Lord our Defender will vindicate you in due time. He is the Defender of the oppressed, accused, and powerless and will rescue you. His ears are attentive to your tears, they never go unnoticed.
- Do you cry unto the Lord when falsely accused or do you look to for help elsewhere?
- Do you lose hope when you are in a seemingly hard situation?
My heavenly Father, please look down and see the suffering of the accused and send them a savior. Lord, hasten and vindicate them, plead their case and grant them justice. Amen!
Update 3/12/2015, 10:45 pm
Update 3/19/15, 2:15 pm