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Descendants of African slaves find freedom from power of evil

PARMARIBO, Suriname (BP)–A downpour pelts Tim McClard as he floats down the Suriname River in a dugout canoe. The night is so dark that McClard, a Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary from Farmington, Mo., can hardly see who’s in front of him, let alone the river ahead. But he’s not worried. He knows who’s steering the canoe.
It’s 39-year-old George Eduard, an evangelical Christian who grew up in the bush country of Suriname, a South American nation that’s a former Dutch colony. Eduard, like many men from a tribe called the Saramaccans, knows every rock in this river. He knows them so well he often guides the boat at night without alight.
Tonight when Eduard nears Dang (pronounced DAHNG) Village, he stops the outboard motor and drifts toward the bank. He and his passengers — McClard and some visiting Baptists — get out and slosh toward the village school. There they join a crowd of Saramaccans for worship.
During the service Eduard tells a story about Satan and stresses Jesus’ power to overcome evil. That’s an intriguing topic for Saramaccans, descendants of African slaves who escaped from Dutch plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today Saramaccans retain many African traditions, including voodoo and animism. Their religion — called “Kunu” — revolves around evil spirits.
“The evil is real — and you can feel it here, but we’re trying to show them that the creator of everything loves them and is much more powerful than evil,” says McClard’s wife, Judy, from Ironton, Mo.
One Saramaccan who has discovered that truth is a woman who calls herself Maria (Mary) Magdala. Villagers used to pay her to consult a demon they believed spoke through her. But when several of her relatives died, people began rejecting her.
“She felt that even the devil didn’t like her,” recalls Eduard.
But when she heard Eduard preach about Jesus’ love, she accepted Christ. “When I prayed with her, the spiritual battle was so intense,” Eduard recalls.
The Lord gave her the power to renounce her Kunu practices. “I just call upon my Jesus, and he gives me the strength to do what I need to do,” Magdala says. “Prayer keeps me going.”
After tonight’s service, she asks McClard and Eduard to pray for her and her 15-year-old daughter, who has accepted Christ, too. The two will soon take the public stand of baptism in front of a village that’s long been a Kunu stronghold. Eduard knows well the pressures that decision might bring them.
He became a Christian as a youth and recalls as a teen going with his grandfather to preach in a nearby village. After a witch doctor accepted Christ there, villagers stoned them. They escaped, but that night the persecutors dragged Eduard’s grandfather from his hut, beat him with a chain and poured tar on him. Eduard, hiding in the darkness, watched in horror.
After he grew up and left home, Eduard strayed from his faith. But one night Jesus appeared to him in a dream. “I’m getting ready to do a great work on the Suriname River,” the Lord told Eduard. “I need you to help.”
Meanwhile, the Lord began to call the McClards to that work, too. After they heard about the Saramaccans through some missionary pilots, the McClards began to pray for the tribe. They asked Southern Baptist prayer supporters to pray, too. Soon they met Eduard, who then worked at the school their children attend in Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital.
Eduard paved the way for McClard and IMB missionary Chip Collins, from Houston, to visit some Saramaccan villages and meet with the tribal chief. The chief gave them permission to bring in Southern Baptist volunteers to do human needs ministries in the area.
“Many groups have promised to help us, but they haven’t kept those promises,” the chief said. “We’ll be watching you to see if you keep yours.”
Since that conversation almost three years ago, volunteers have conducted medical and dental clinics, construction and water well projects and Vacation Bible Schools in several villages. “Their work has opened many doors for us to spread the gospel,” says McClard.
The door to Dang Village opened in 1997 when volunteers from First Baptist Church, Palatka, Fla., renovated a school. During the project, about 175 Saramaccans accepted Christ after viewing the “Jesus” film.
Volunteer Steve Nettles witnessed their commitments in amazement. “Other than my own conversion, it was the most spiritually overwhelming moment of my life,” he says.
He had a similar response when he saw Magdala’s baptism during another volunteer project this summer. “That makes everything worthwhile,” said Nettles, just after Magdala was baptized with four believers she helped lead to Christ.
The baptisms were the first ones resulting from work of an evangelical church-planting team that includes Eduard, the McClards and several other missionaries. Saramaccans from five villages gathered to see the event, which village leaders allowed to happen in the river in front of Dang Village.
“We’re seeing God moving along this river like we’ve never seen before,” McClard says. “The power of Satan is being broken here.”

    About the Author

  • Mary E. Speidel