My grandparents Bob and Lela Jackson were missionaries to Argentina (1944-46) and Swaziland (1946-51). A few years ago, G’pa wrote an autobiography about their experiences. The following is an account of something that happened to them while in Swaziland.
Note: the other family referred to is the Schmelzenbachs (Harmon, Beverly, Dennis, and Elmer).
After the service a feast was prepared for the 250 people, tea, sugar and sweet rolls. We ate the lunch, which we had brought along in the church sitting on the plain wooden benches. Then it was time to return to Acornhoek for the evening service. Winding our way around the tall flat topped trees, stones and huge ant hills we cautiously made our way over the dirt trail worn in the grass of the veld. Off in the distance we could hear the beating of the drums and saw a large kraal with many huts in it. Thinking it was a big weekend beer drink Harmon asked me if I would like to go over and try to get some pictures. As I did not have any of a beer drink I told him I would like to go. However, when we got there we found that it was the closing ceremony of a school for witch doctors. It had been going on all day with the students demonstrating before the old Witch doctor what they could do through the power of the demons.
Some of the missionaries had gone on ahead and did not stop. However, Harmon, Beverly, Dennis, Lela and I went over to see what we could. When Elmer came up he would not even get out of his car when he found out what it was for he had some experiences with witch doctors and demons. Jackson and Janie Philips who were riding with him did come over. Harmon asked the headman of the kraal for permission to take some pictures, which was granted.
The instructor, an old woman with the red mud of her profession done up in her hair and the gourds, bones and rattles tied around her waist and ankles was sitting on one side in front of her hut. She was observing and over seeing everything that was going on. The students were dancing around a circle to the beating of the drums and tambourines, the swishing of the vildabeast tails and the chanting as they invoked the aid of the spirits. They were dressed in all of the paraphernalia of the Ngomas or witch doctors with the same red mud in their hair. Dennis who was fifteen went around to the other side of the large group of about 75 students and observers to get some pictures from a different angle. But as he sensed the heathen darkness and felt the power of the demons he soon came running back to the rest of us.
All of us realized that we were no longer onlookers but we were now participants in a great battle between the Lord and the forces of evil. We found out later that we were all praying in almost the same words for the Lord in the name of Christ to stop the evil forces and bring the ceremony to an end.
As we prayed they began having all kinds of difficulties. As the drums beat out their steady rhythm we could tell from their chanting that they were beginning to understand their problem, “Raise us, spirits, raise us. Why is it so hard for us to work today? Help us to overcome the power that opposes us. O spirits, why are we being defeated? Help us to have the power to show to the people.”
We knew that we could not leave at that time. God was interfering in the ceremony and if we were to leave they would have claimed that the power of the demons had driven us and the power of God away. So we stayed and redoubled our prayers.
A dog which had been sleeping at the side of the circle in which the students were dancing around and chanting, suddenly got up, went over and bit one of them on the ankle. The gourd rattle tied around the ankle of another one fell off. They knew where their problems were coming from and one of the dancers came over and knelt at my feet, another at Harmon’s feet with the old head witch doctor backing them up. They were all praying to the demons to overcome us with their power. I was praying, watching and taking pictures at the same time.
Harmon said to the group of us, “Bob will pray and you will see that they will not be able to do anything more.” I was shocked for I immediately realized what a formidable task I had been given. I began to call on God in the name of Jesus Christ with all the ability I had. Dennis checked his watch for he wanted to know just how long it would take.
As I prayed, Harmon interpreted the prayer of the witch doctor who was praying at my feet. “Help us, spirits! May the age-old customs of our people overcome the power of these people that is opposing us today. I can find no opening. I can find no crack in the wall of their defense. Give me the help to show them your power. O demons, there is no way to reach them.”
The power of the Holy Spirit was our defense and we needed it desperately. Greater difficulties arose in their demonstration. They could not locate the hidden coins they were supposed to find. The drumbeaters kept loosing the beat, which they had been keeping up all day. The dancers could no longer dance to the beat of the drums. The dancers had their gourd rattles come loose and the sash and bead belt of another one fell off. As one dancer made a high jump he came down and sprained his ankle and had to limp away. Another one had the red wig he was wearing slip and almost fall off before he could grab it and put it back in place. They called for different drummers who tried different beats but all to no avail and their frustration deepened.
As they were having their difficulties I was having mine as well. The muscles in my right arm began to jerk in rhythm with the wild beating of the drums. Then my right thumb began to jerk also. I grabbed my right hand with my left and said, “I will not allow my hand and arm to jerk.” Then I cried out to the Lord in desperation, “Lord, I’ve got to have your help right now! Make these witch doctors get up and leave right now!”
Immediately the witch doctors gave up, dropped their heads in exhaustion, got up and left in utter defeat. My arm was now still. My heart was filled with praise to the Lord who was greater than all of the forces of evil. All of the witch doctors gathered in the hut for a conference, then came out and said that the Ngoma was over and politely asked us to leave, saying that they could not do anything while we were there. Dennis checked his watch again and said it had just taken five minutes for God to bring everything to a standstill although it had seemed much longer to me when I was in the midst of the battle.
Harmon Schmelzenbach asked for permission to say a word before we left, which was granted. He thanked them for allowing us to be there and take pictures. Then he told them about Jesus, the Light of the world, who came to die for us on the cross of Calvary, to give us the forgiveness of sins and the joy of salvation in our hearts. He told them that Jesus could free us from the power of the demons and the darkness they bring.
Then we all left rejoicing in the power of God which we had seen demonstrated that day as we had prayed and trusted in Him. There was no question in our minds and in theirs that the power of God was greater than the power of the demons, for “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” That night, back in the home of Elmer and Mary Schmelzenbach, we rejoiced as each one recalled his impressions of the occasion. We realized that we had participated in the moving of the power of God in a way we would never forget and which would always affect our lives. We did have the European service afterward in which Lela sang and Harmon preached.