AKPOME, Benin (BP)–A man in khaki shorts leads the safari as it slowly winds through steamy, overgrown jungle paths. The porters, carrying heavy equipment on their heads, sludge through the muck and twisted vines.
This scene from old Tarzan movies recently came to life for missionary Jeff Singerman while traveling to a remote village in Benin, West Africa. Singerman, from Dayton, Ohio, trudged along narrow, heavily wooded paths while a team of Christian African men followed him, carrying on their heads a generator, projector and film equipment.
After nearly an hour’s trek, villagers ferried them across a swollen river in dugout canoes. Singerman, a missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, and his companions were headed to the village of Akpome to share the gospel and visit a Christian named Paul.
In 1997 Benin’s government had sent Paul, a young man from the city of Cotonou, to teach in Akpome. Right after he arrived, members of the area’s voodoo groups — called “Zangbetos” and “Oros” — confronted Paul and demanded he join them in their satanic rituals. Paul courageously refused and boldly proclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ.
“Every teacher who comes here either joins us or flees the village in terror,” they threatened.
“I will not join you,” Paul repeated emphatically.
That night as darkness enveloped the village, Paul lay down to sleep. Suddenly he was startled awake by the menacing, whirling noise of the Oros, who had surrounded his thatch house.
Falling to his knees, Paul sought comfort from the Lord. While a spiritual battle raged outside his door, peace flooded his heart. Although besieged by messengers of evil, he crawled back into bed and fell soundly asleep.
Early the next morning, men from the voodoo groups urgently confronted Paul. “What power do you have?” they demanded.
“I have no power but Jesus,” he answered.
“No. What power do you have?” they asked again. “Last night when we came to curse you, not one of us could remember your name to pronounce a curse against you.”
“I have no power but Jesus Christ,” Paul repeated.
Three days later the men approached Paul again, fearfully pressing the same question. “What power do you have? Last night the chief priest of the Oros died. You must have some power.”
“Jesus Christ is my only source of power,” Paul said again.
“We need to know more about this Jesus,” the men told him.
They called a meeting among the village elders, who decided to give Paul land to build a church in Akpome. Later two other villages invited him to share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ with them. Because of Paul’s faithfulness, two more churches were started in those villages.
During Singerman’s recent visit to the area, he stayed with Paul for several days, encouraging him, leading Bible studies and showing evangelistic films in the villages. These isolated people had never seen a film before.
Their bamboo houses rest on tall stilts to avoid the river’s yearly flooding. They bathe, wash clothes and drink from that single water source. Food is scarce. But instead of returning to the city during a much-needed break from school, Paul decided to stay in the area — despite the harsh conditions — so he could train the new Christians.
Meanwhile, the three churches in the region continue to grow, despite some opposition from voodoo followers.
Christians in Akpome discovered that village leaders apparently had an ulterior motive when they gave them the land for a church. The believers found that fierce voodoo idols dotted the property, intended to scare away anyone trying to build there. In fact, other people had tried earlier to build on the land, but each attempt strangely ended in disaster.
But this time around, things turned out differently. Taking courage in the power of Christ, the believers in Akpome broke down the idols. They cleared the land and began construction. Today — as evidence of Christ’s power — they worship together in a thatch-roofed, dirt-floored church building on that land.
The voodoo worshipers are “in awe,” Singerman reported.
Barbara Singerman, from Port Huron, Mich., and her husband, Jeff, are Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries in Benin.