PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–The Haitian witch doctor stepped into the hot, open air of his yard, his arms filled with the paraphernalia of his dark practice. That caught the attention of his neighbors, who were still living among earthquake-ravaged ruins of their homes in Port-au-Prince. The man dropped his voodoo tools and fetishes on the ground, dug a hole and pushed his things into it. Then, to his neighbors’ astonishment, he poured kerosene into the hole and set it on fire.
“That was my way of saying, ‘Down with Satan and up with the cross,'” said the former witch doctor, who now goes by the name Montfort. His conversion occurred months before a rash of voodoo priest killings started in Haiti, spurred by a fear their black magic was spreading cholera.
Montfort had given his life to Jesus, and he wanted to let others know publicly that he was repenting of his old ways. God had given him a new life, and he was anxious to start living it.
“A lot of his neighbors have said he truly is a new man now,” says Delores York, an International Mission Board missionary. “A lot of people … don’t recognize him as the same person. They say, ‘That really isn’t the same man, is it?'”
York met Montfort when she visited his neighborhood with a team of Southern Baptist volunteers after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. As part of Southern Baptists’ ongoing relief efforts in the area, York — a nurse from Texas — and a team of volunteers from Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., were leading a medical clinic.
At that time, Montfort was going by a different name and still making his living practicing voodoo. Ingleside volunteer Art Barry III pointed out Montfort to York because the volunteer saw a voodoo peristyle — a “temple” where voodoo rituals are conducted — in the man’s backyard. Sensing his spiritual need, York shared the Gospel with him in Haitian Creole.
“God sent Sister Delores [York],” Montfort said through a translator. “She told me to put down my old way of life and pick up a way of life in God.”
Montfort told York he wanted to turn his life over to Christ. He said he realized Satan had stolen a lot of things from him, and he didn’t want to ever go back to that life.
“He finds joy in Christ now,” York said. “And he finds joy in sharing Christ.”
Montfort’s transition from witch doctor to Christian witness was immediate. In addition to burning his voodoo equipment, he started going by the name Montfort to differentiate himself from his dark past.
“He said he wanted to change like Saul changed to Paul,” York said. To mark that change, York started calling him by the new name.
Montfort asked York to start a Bible study in the very place he once operated his voodoo business. They started a small group in another neighborhood where Montfort had property. Finally, he even opened up his own home for a Bible study.
York started leading weekly Bible studies in these three different communities of Port-au-Prince. Montfort attended each one, hearing each Bible story three times.
“He was pretty well getting them memorized,” York said. “He was leading the songs. He learned to pray. He learned to lead the people in learning memory verses. And he was doing a great job.”
But the transition hasn’t been easy. Changing both professional and social circles is a tough challenge in the best of times. But to do so in post-earthquake Haiti is a more difficult thing all together. Plus, Montfort has a family to support.
“I need a lot of strength and courage,” Montfort said. “I need your prayers so I can get started.”
York asked Southern Baptists to pray for Montfort’s spiritual growth and for Haitian believers to provide him with the spiritual support he needs. Pray he will also find another way to earn a living.
Recently, Montfort struggled to stay on track when York and her husband Sam went on a short trip out of the country. While they were away, no one was available to continue the Bible studies she and Montfort had started.
“Montfort couldn’t get work, rent was due and the spirit world was tormenting him,” York said. He didn’t feel close to other believers so “he felt rather alone.”
But Montfort has faith. The change God has brought about in his heart is real, and he wants his life to be about sharing God with others.
“I believe God is going to give me work that I can do,” Montfort said. “God is going to take care of me because He has a plan for me.”
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas. Information on the Baptist initiatives Rebuild Haiti can be accessed at www.gobgr.org or www.flbaptist.org. To view a video of Montfort burning his possessions, go to http://vimeo.com/18704809.