Rev Hendrik du Plessis
An old Bushman once said to me: “Moruti (pastor), if you want to bring us to our senses, you must throw a large stone into the water so that the turbid water comes to the top. Everyone will clearly express their displeasure, then leave them until the water calms down again and returns to normal before throwing in the next stone. In this way, you will eventually persuade us to your point of view. ”
I have experienced this with Sunday’s worship service. The elders have been on home visits for the past month and from time to time problem cases are discussed with me and then also requests: “Reverend, do you not want to preach to us about this or that. This issue is still very unclear to some, or there is still uncertainty about that.” One of the elders went to visit a member and saw that strings were tied around her wrists and ankles. When he asked her about it, she admitted that she had visited a faith healer in D’kar and that it was he who had tied the strings around her wrists. She did not feel too well and decided to visit him. We all know of the specific faith healer and his “church” here in D’kar. He belongs to the Saint Hebrew Apostelic Church. Many of the Bushmen who have some mental or health problem will go to see him. I have seen people standing in a line to drink vinegar water and firmly believe that it will free them from their problems.
So it happened that I preached from Jeremiah 13 on Sunday. Jeremiah 13 is precisely the excuse amongt these faith healers as to why they bind people with strings around their wrists and ankles. With the recent burial at Tchabo, in my previous report, Jeremiah 13 was the excuse. Whether they ever read Jeremiah 13 I do not know, but they stand by Jeremiah 13. Jeremiah did it, and therefore they do it too, is their defense. Before the service, one of the elders asked me to speak straight. Jeremiah 13 was on the menu and with Jeremiah 13 you have to talk straight.
1Thus saith the LORD unto me, Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water.
2So I got a girdle according to the word of the LORD, and put it on my loins.
3And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying,
4Take the girdle that thou hast got, which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole of the rock.
5So I went, and hid it by Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me.
6And it came to pass after many days, that the LORD said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there.
7Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing.
8Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
9Thus saith the LORD, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem.
10This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing.
11For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the LORD; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.
In my explanation, it was clear that this linen belt around Jeremiah’s hips depicted anything but prosperity or blessing. It is a picture of the Lord’s wrath against Israel and Judah. The first command to Jeremiah was that the linen garment should not come into water. The people in D’kar take baths with their strings on. They do not take it off when they bath. At this point they have already deviated from the command in Jeremiah 13. After that, Jeremiah had to take off the linen belt around his hips and hide it in a ravine near the Euphrates, according to the command of the Lord. After many days the command came again to Jeremiah: “Arise, go to Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there.“ Then Jeremiah went to fetch the linen girdle and noticed that the girdle was corrupt and worthless. You can do nothing about it now. If you touch it, it crumbles. Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah with the disturbing words: 9Thus saith the LORD, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing. 11For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the LORD; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.” What makes the faith healers sound like a blessing is actually a curse.
The church fell silent after these words. Specifically it is said of Israel and Judah: “10This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing.” Today we are bound to God by the merits of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, but if I want to add anything to it with faith healing or with the superstitions of my culture, I make the bond between me and God in Christ Jesus worthless. If there are certain rituals in my culture that I have to follow in order to earn the favor of God or the ancestors or whoever, it amounts to a breaking of the covenant or bond that exists between me and God, because there is only one who can bind us to God and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him we are destined for eternal damnation. A simple image I used is: If you make coffee and you deviate from the recipe, you are no longer making coffee. Should you add salt, pepper, tea, soil or what-ever, you will no longer make coffee, this is your own brew. Nor should we try to change God’s recipe for our salvation. If we do, it is at best a curse and not a blessing. Next week we will experience and confess our unity with God through the sacrament of communion. Do not come with your strings, because then you will drink judgment on yourself.
After the service, I heared someone very impatiently calling me: “You must come and see me, you must come and see me. I want to see you at my home.” It was the woman the elder told me about, whom he visited at home — the woman with the faith healer’s strings. The elder and I went to visit her after the service. We saw that she was clearly upset. It felt to her like I was just preaching to her, she said. Who told me about her? We made her understand that she is not the only person with strings who were at church and secondly it is a problem in D’kar but also in Tchabo, yes, wherever these faith healers are, this is a problem .
We told her about the experience we had with the burial at Tchabo when the faith healers used Jeremiah 13 to justify their strings. The faith healer there mentioned Jeremiah 13 without explaining the chapter. It was then that I decided to preach about it at some point so that Scripture itself could speak. On the way back from Tchabo we had enough time in the vehicle to talk about and discuss the chapter. She is not the reason I preached about it this morning, but part of the reason.
She then wanted to know if she could keep the strings on and see it as mere decoration. I replied that she should immediately cut the strings if they were put on by a faith healer. If it is just decoration, take it off because it is bad taste. Who bathes and walks around year in and year out with the same decoration, and besides who except a fool will see it as decoration. Everyone here in D’kar knows the origin of such strings, and when we want to celebrate and confess the unity in and through our Lord Jesus Christ on Sunday, it is very definitely not the place where we want to see those strings, and if she does not want to take it off, we have no choice but to believe that she still believes in it. The elder and I left and he was very grateful for our visit to her. This is one of his problem members in his ward. We were convinced that she now has a lot to think about.
To conclude, it was definitely a large rock that stirred the water in our congregation. We ask the intercession of each and every one for our congregation, but also that the Lord will break the work of evil here and open a way for us for the Gospel. There are still so many people who believe in a “Christ plus gospel”. Christ yes, but you still have to do this or that. It was Paul’s struggle in the New Testament, Christ plus circumcision. If you study his letter to the Galatians it is Christ plus all kinds of rituals. It is not that they reject Christ, but that they add something. Galatians 4:10: “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” In verse 11 he says, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” In verse 9 he calls it “the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage”. In our case here, but also all around Botswana, many people have no problem with Christ, but you should not give up your cultural ceremonies such as sacrifices and strings. We can rightly call it a vain Christianity.
Your brother in Christ,
Hendrik du Plessis