When Missionaries Fight Crocs.

This is the last installment of my Missionary Friend’s Stories, and then I’ll be back soon to tell of the adventures that have befallen our family in the past two weeks. To read the whole Missionary series, click here. I am eternally appreciative to my friend for covering for me while I was out – she’s been a delight to host.


My husband is a nutcase.

Certifiable really.

Let me explain:

Last year, two children were killed by crocodiles in our area. Both were young boys on their way home from school. One had been taken while he was cooling off in a calm pool by the water’s edge, and another while checking his fishing line for a catch. The crocodiles in our area are not huge – usually about 7-8 feet long. Thankfully, our river can’t support the monster-sized ones you see on National Geographic shows. But no matter how big, a crocodile in his own territory, especially in water, is a force to be reckoned with.

The local community was in an uproar – something needed to be done. But in a culture where witch doctors are believed to control the crocodiles who do evil work for them, not a single one of the locals was willing to go croc hunting – at least not on their own.

Here is where my husband enters the picture.

My hubby is known for being a bit of a “cowboy” missionary. He does the crazy things no one else is willing to do – either because they cant MacGyver a way to a solution or they are not out of their minds enough to do it. He is often called upon to get everyone out of sticky situations – with snakes, with complicated construction problems requiring creative solutions, and yes, with crocodiles. He also hunts with a bow and arrow (albeit a compound bow with snazzy broadheads), which makes him somewhat of a local legend in these parts.

The local community knew just who to call to help bring some peace of mind – my hunter hero hubby. Within days, he had come up with a float, line, and bait system that included a massive hook homemade out of rebar along with a deal with our local butchery (friends of ours) who donated as many cow hearts as they had every week to the cause.

For weeks we tromped down to the river, across the river (yes I know that seems risky but hey – we had to get to the “right” place apparently) setting baits and hoping the croc would come and take them. Several times the local guy who was helping us would call excitedly to say a croc had come, but it was always gone by the time we got there. (I went along quite often just to witness the adventures and make sure my husband came home in one piece.)

Then one morning we got the call. The float was going back and forth across the river, and had been for a while. There was a croc. We loaded up our little kayak canoe combo and headed out. When we arrived, the float was halfway under the water (meaning something pretty strong had pulled it down as it was a big float), and everyone was convinced the croc was down there. My hubby paddled out, attached a rope to the float and then came back to shore. Everyone wanted to help pull – even the little kids – but not even the whole group could pull it free. My hubby decided he would just cut the line, leave the hook and set a new trap. The locals were not convinced.

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“No Pastor- we have to get the croc out of there- if you leave it, it will get strong again and kill more people!”

“Pastor, just swim under and pull it out, then we will be safe!”

Right. Just swim under the murky brown water into the croc-infested river where you are certain a croc is now dead (hopefully dead!) and pull it out. It seems so easy, but none of them were volunteering for the job.

Although they are afraid of crocodiles, it is for the most part because they think the crocodiles only attack when the witch doctor tells them to. They are more scared of the “evil” in the crocodile than of the crocodile’s natural dangerousness as a result of its massive crushing jaws and insane amounts of razor sharp teeth, coupled with a powerful “death roll” capability when in water. Of course my husband is more concerned with the teeth/jaws/death roll than any perceived “evil”- but try to convince the locals of that! All they knew was the missionary was scared to go in the water with the witch doctor’s crocodile – just like them.

“Pastor, let us call the witch doctor, he lives right over there, he will tell the crocodile not to attack and then it will be safe for you.”

Now here is a missionary moral dilemma. He obviously can’t condone calling the witch doctor, but by not going in, they would assume he was scared of the evil spirits. And so, my hubby came to the only logical conclusion that a creative cowboy hunter could come to: In order to prove he was not scared of the spirits and demonstrate God’s power, he would jump in and try to get the hook – and possibly the crocodile – out.

(I sat on a rock in the middle of the river and held my iPad up at just the right angle to get cell service so I could Google how long crocodiles could survive under water. According to Google, we were in the clear. So I gave the “it’s up to you, honey” okay.)

He swam down, nearly had a heart attack when he touched flesh, but then realized it was the cow heart. The croc had wrapped the hook around a fallen tree and gotten away. Again. Which meant my husband was now swimming in a river with a potentially injured croc who was FREE.

Back in the boat he went and that was the end of croc hunting for that day.

(Side note- I took a picture just moments after he paddled off, and when I looked at it later, saw a croc about 30 feet behind where he had been – AAAAAHH!)

The next week, we were called again- this time a croc had badly injured its tail on the cable attached to the bait and hook and could not swim. It was holed up in a cave near the river, and they were ready to catch it.

Or rather, ready for my hubby to come get it.

This is one of the times in my life that I look back and realize that God does hand out a certain amount of peace and an ability to deal with things just when we need it. I don’t think I could deal with this sort of thing today as calmly or casually as I did last year. For some reason it seemed fine to me to watch my hubby crawl into a cave no more than a foot and a half tall armed with nothing but a flashlight and his camera to try and get a look at a badly injured and cornered croc.

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And for some reason, my hubby thought that was a smart idea.

It wasn’t.

As the crocodile glared and hissed at him, he thought better of it and made a hasty retreat to make a plan. First, they tried smoking the croc out by shoving in large bundles of burning green grass. He just closed his nostrils and eyes and waited it out. Crocs can stay under water without needing air for over an hour, so our little smoke bundles were not really a bother.

Then the creative MacGyver side of my husband came out. He got a 16 foot piece of steel rebar, used a hacksaw to sharpen it into a point, and crawled back in. (I think I should get extra brownie points for putting up with this sort of thing, right? Like, if there was a gold star chart for “women who have husbands who do crazy stupid things”, surely I’d be near the top of the list of sticker winners for sure!)

Once he was about 6 feet from the now panicked croc, he fed the rebar up to the croc’s side and poked him – hard. An angry crocodile makes a noise very similar to a roaring lion. The loud roar started emanating from the cave and I watched as the locals started panicking – all they could see was my husband’s kicking feet (trying to get traction to hold the croc back with the homemade spear), and they were certain evil spirits were making the noise as not a single one of them had ever heard a croc make a noise like that before.

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After a few seconds of panic and chaos, one of the local guys finally heard my husband yelling for someone to PLEASE hit the end of the “spear” with the large mallet we had brought. He jumped in and hit the spear through the croc while my husband held it in place against the tough skin of the struggling and now VERY angry reptile.

They dragged the injured croc out, and my husband was able to put the croc out of his misery – screaming like a terrified schoolgirl as he did it.

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The people were ecstatic and carried the dead crocodile to the community leader like a trophy. We have no idea what became of it – we only know that now every time we show up to the community, my husband is regarded as a brave and wise man, and his word means something – he gets a level of respect usually only shown to elders. My hubby was able to use his skills and (stupid) courage to demonstrate Christ’s love to a community in mourning.

We sometimes forget as missionaries that it is not always our teaching and preaching that will impact the most – it is our actions and our willingness to serve in the craziest of circumstances that makes the most difference. Whether it be helping to treat a severe and embarrassing medical need despite the awkwardness, or putting one’s own safety on the line and trusting in God’s protection to help a community feel that “justice” had been served. Many in our area are now convinced that even if the witch doctor does have power over the crocodiles, God has more power – all because a crazy missionary was willing to swim with and get up close with a couple of angry crocodiles!

And, to ease your mind, last year we were able to build a fantastically safe and sturdy bridge that now allows the children and the community to safely get across the river – even during the rainy season! This year, not a single person was hurt by crocodiles in our river.

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The Baptism.

This is the fourth fantastic story in a series from my friend The Missionary. To read the whole collection so far, click here.


Shortly after our arrival in the far far far away place we now call home, one of our staff members approached us and asked if he could take an hour off that afternoon. He wanted to go down to the river that our mission base borders, because his church was having a baptism and he wanted to be baptized. Well, no self-respecting missionary is going to say “NO, you cannot go get baptized”, so of course, we let him go. Then he invited us to come along and watch.

Just after we got there, a group of about twenty adults and a bunch of babies and children arrived, singing and dancing as they came. I chose to watch from the river’s edge, on a rock outcrop that allowed me an elevated view of the proceedings. But my hubby, never one to shy away from the action, scrambled across the river with our worker to get to the small pool at the base of the rapids where the baptisms were to take place.

As the church members waded into the water, the guy in charge* started waving his arms around and shaking his fists and contorting his face like the devil himself was trying to escape out of his body – either that or he was realllllly badly constipated.

(* I have no clue what to call this guy.. he was surely not “just” a pastor, often times guys from these churches are referred to as prophets or apostles or some such name that denotes their absolute authority and power and allows them to pretty much say whatever the heck they want.)

To make it more visual for you, he was wearing a long white billowing tunic made from a sheet, with long, wide sleeves that flapped about wildly every time he shook his arms because they were now of course wet and flinging water everywhere and in everyone’s faces.

As my hubby and I watched from our respective vantage points, the singing intensified, and one by one, people came down to the river to be baptized.

Now, for those of you who are churchgoers – whatever variety- you know baptism usually happens in one of two methods; full on dunking (otherwise referred to as immersion), or sprinkling. I’m not here to debate either of those. I am here, however, to tell you that what we witnessed that day more closely resembled a W.W.F. Wrestlemania event mixed with a modern musical on demon possession.

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The guy in the white billowy tunic sheet outfit would grab each individual (most of them women) by the back of the head and push their heads forward under the water rapidly and forcefully, shaking and chanting as he did so. Anyone who “fought back” or was somehow not happy to have their head repeatedly slammed under the water – perhaps gasping for air or trying to pull his hand off their head when they started panicking – received more dunkings than the rest. The leader would get almost angry with them as he fought to drown the demons out of them.

He would pause at times to grab at their heads and fling spirits over the rocks and into the farthest edge of the river, cursing them as he did. (I’m assuming that is what he was doing.. he could have been flinging small fish, but I don’t think that would have required the shaking, head flopping, eye-rolling and general appearance of epileptic seizures that he kept demonstrating.)

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My husband kept looking up at me and mouthing “Should I do something?” as we watched woman after woman forced under the water, gasping for air, clawing for something solid to hold onto. And then, with each woman, as quickly as he had begun, the leader would stop, declare them clean, and they would emerge, singing, dancing, smiling and thrilled to have taken part in the church’s annual Wrestlemania Down at The River.

It was extraordinarily hard to sit there and “respect the culture” when I truly was worried for each woman’s safety, even if they didn’t seem concerned before or after their turns. But we did. We watched and respected.

BUT THEN.

BUT THEN they started baptizing the babies.

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I just about leapt off my rock cliff, into the shallow river below and grabbed those children myself. My hubby and I had an eye conversation because talking was out of the question with the noise of the river and the frantic singing going on below. It was one of those eye conversations, mixed with a few mouthed words and a lot of hand waving. To the best of my recollection it went something along the lines of this.

Me: “Oh my stars he is going to kill them.”

Husband: “I’m sure he won’t kill them.”

Me: “DO NOT LET HIM KILL THEM. I REPEAT. DO NOT LET HIM KILL THEM.”

Husband: “What should I do?”

Me: “If that kid stops moving, I don’t care if it ruins every relationship we have in this community you will not under any circumstances allow that man in a sheet to kill that baby because he thinks it’s got the devil in it. I WILL NOT BE ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN ON MY WATCH. I WON’T.”

Husband: “Right but what should I do?”

Me: “I DON’T KNOW BUT DO NOT LET HIM KILL THE BABY!!!”

As each baby was pried from its mothers arms by a crazed looking very wet man, they started to cry. Of course. What kid doesn’t cry under those circumstances? But to this guy, that was an obvious sign of rebellion and resistance (one would assume being brought out by the demons inside.)

The louder or harder the baby cried, the more he dunked them, until they stopped screaming and kicking and instead held on to him as the only solid thing in their little worlds, even though he was the reason for the insanity. He would “grab” the demons and fling them around, often times wrestling them himself and having an all-out screaming fit before throwing the offending spirit off into space and grabbing the next kid.

At the time it scared the bejeebers out of me. I stopped taking pictures because I was worried that I would accidentally take a picture of someone’s death and that just seemed wrong. Now that I have been here a few years, understand the culture a bit better, and know more about this particular church, I am not as frightened of the baptism ritual.

This is the reason we are here. To train pastors to study God’s word and teach them to read all of the scriptures, not a tiny portion. From what we gathered from our worker that day, a few years ago this denomination had a special speaker at their annual conference – a foreigner with little understanding of the culture and the people he was speaking to. He talked about the importance of casting out demons and that demons can be strong. He failed to mention that not every human being is possessed. Our host country’s culture is full of traditional beliefs regarding spirits and ghosts that inhabit and possess people. Many believe that if their ancestor did bad things to a neighbor, that neighbor will haunt the family – attacking, causing sickness, pain, suffering and death – forever. This church decided that they would combine traditional beliefs with what this speaker taught and it evolved into this bizarre display.

Just a few weeks ago we again witnessed this same church baptizing in our little river. We were better prepared for the spectacle this time around, but still – it is breathtaking (and not in a good sort of way) to watch. This time, the church members waved up at us as we sat on our rock to watch, and the leader, seemingly spurred on by the viewing gallery consisting of us and about ten ladies who had been washing their laundry, put on a show of epic proportions. There was shaking, eye-rolling, arm flapping, screaming, hopping, jumping, dunking, and all sorts of flinging of spirits. But at least this time he seemed much calmer with the babies – woot!

The Stories Missionaries Can’t Tell You: Broken.

This is a series of stories featuring very real things that happen to missionaries that just don’t fit in on the Sunday School slideshows. See the first post for an introduction to my anonymous missionary friend, along with the whole story behind missionaries and boobs.

But this one is The Ultimate Story. Although I am still going to share one, maybe two more of her excellent stories next week (I’m STILL recovering from my tonsillectomy, guys – it’s the worst), I couldn’t wait any longer to put this story up. Enjoy.


Let me preface with this: I understand that this is a serious and sad subject, but please understand how on earth it would have felt to be confronted with this situation, which is why I need someone to share it with.

This is the story we really can’t tell – this is not only not acceptable for Sunday Mornings, but it’s barely acceptable to type. (You’ve been warned.)

But. Tell you I will. Because I told Rachel once and she said I NEEDED to tell you. (So blame her if the warning wasn’t sufficient to make you quit reading.)

We had a volunteer group of medical professionals at our farm several years ago. Despite the fact that we run several medical clinics, it seems whenever groups of foreign doctors/nurses/paramedics show up, we have a plethora of people requesting home visits and assistance daily.

This is never more true than when said medical professionals are a bubbly group of young, attractive, recently graduated, female nursing students.

All sorts of illnesses start popping up – old tuberculosis cases that have long since been treated, common colds over exaggerated and described as if they were causing near death, and mystery illnesses that cause our local people to suffer greatly.

On this particular day one of our staff asked for care for his Father-in-Law. Here is the conversation:

Worker – “Can the nurses come visit my father-in-law? He is broken.”

Me – “Sure, no problem. What bone is broken? We will bring a splint so he can get to the hospital.”

Worker – “No…HE is broken.”

Me – “I don’t understand, his leg, his arm?”

Worker – (Holding up his arm and bending his hand to the side) “HE is BROKEN!”

Me – “Okay, we will bring a small splint for his arm then…”

Worker – “No! HE (points to his crotch) is BROKEN.” (repeats arm held up with hand to the side motion)

Me – “Wha-ah? You mean….UHHHHHH…(insert very shocked face)…OHHHHH!”

(If you haven’t caught on yet let me lay it out for you. His father-in-law had broken his penis. There. I said it. This feels so unmissionaryish.)

When we arrived to do our evaluation of the father-in-law, he was lying in the shade wrapped in a piece of cloth traditionally worn by women in this culture – that should have been our first warning. He very carefully got up and moved to a small hut, and we explained that we needed to see the uhh…err…injured area.broken 1

Now I am not a nurse and I live here – I might see these people again! I had no desire to see any bit of this, but since our visitors don’t speak our country’s official language and neither did the father-in-law, both myself and our worker were required in order to complete a rather long chain of translations. Nurses spoke to me, I translated to our worker, who translated to his father-in-law and then back again. I chose to stand outside the door while several of the nurses and their instructor, my friend who is an experienced ER nurse, went inside. The first thing I heard was my friend gasp loudly followed by the sort of noise that one makes when one smells something so awful that they cannot contain the reaction. {Think middle of a heat wave in Texas, and someone left a whole boatload of rotten shrimp in the middle of your non-air-conditioned living room while you were on vacation and you just walked in.}

It was at that point I knew we were in trouble.

If the ER nurse can’t handle it, nobody can.

After much translation it was discovered that the father-in-law had been diagnosed with and treated for a severe sexually transmitted infection. He had been advised to stay on heavy doses of antibiotics for an extended period of time, and most importantly, not to have sex for an entire year.

He had not listened to any of the advice.

AT ALL.

The nurses decided that they needed some outside input and asked if they could take a photo to get an STD Specialist from home to take a look. But of course, none of them had a camera. Or a phone. So they asked for mine.

Then the problem became that not a one of them knew how to use my DSLR camera.

And so I was called in.

I protested greatly. I said surely there was another way. Maybe we could wait for my husband to arrive?

NOPE.

So in I went. I am not exaggerating when I say that his penis was so swollen it was about as big around as a two liter coke. (Perhaps just a TAD smaller.) It was cracked, seeping and oozing, and bent at a right angle. From what we understood, when he urinated, because the “inside plumbing” was also broken, a good portion of the urine would leak back into his body, which had created a septic environment, an unreal odor, and a raging infection.

And the nurses needed a picture of this. So I snapped one from the door.

Oh no, they said, we need a close-up.

You know the bad thing about DSLR cameras? They don’t have any fancy digital zoom. If you don’t have a honkin’ huge zoom lens with you, your only option for “zooming” is moving your feet.

In my case, moving to stand beside, and at the nurse’s direction, BEND OVER this guy and take a photo of his quite infected nether regions.

I have never ever in my whole life been more mortified.

EVER.

After snapping the photos from various angles (because of course they needed ALL the angles), I composed myself and gave him our standard “after medical care” talk.

We encourage patients to take all the medicine we give, to not take any other medications and most importantly, to not go to the witch doctor or take any of their medications while they are taking the ones we gave them, because they could mix together and cause even greater problems. Also, we explain about God and how much He loves us, that His power and Spirit are more powerful than any spirit the witch doctor has, and then we pray with them if they want us to.

The entire time I was giving this speech, my translator kept giggling. I was NOT impressed. When we left, I spoke to him.

Me – “When I am speaking about serious things like that and you are translating, you need to be serious too and just say the words I’m saying!”

Worker – “But Ma’am – I’m so sorry, but you told him not to go to the witch doctor or take any of the witch doctor’s medication. You told him the witch doctor’s spirits have no power. But Ma’am – he IS the witch doctor. He is the head witch doctor in charge of the others for this WHOLE area!

Me – “Are you kidding me? That would have been helpful information BEFORE going in there!”

Once again I was mortified beyond belief. I had broken one of every cross-cultural worker’s major rules: Don’t alienate the people. Or insult their lifestyle. I had assumed since he asked for the mission’s help he was most likely attending a church somewhere (which is usually the case.) Even if they aren’t attending a church, they most certainly are not powerful traditional religious witch doctors! Fortunately the witch doctor in question was so desperate that he was not at all offended.

Upon further investigation, we found out that this man had eight wives. Clearly, he had no intention of following the doctor’s orders. He also had three young girls to whom he was “married”, but they were not yet old enough for him to sleep with. In our host culture it is not acceptable to do this, but there is a group of people so entrenched in traditional beliefs and terrified to bring curses upon themselves that they will actually give their daughters as payment to keep the witch doctor happy.

The man eventually passed away as a result of the sepsis and infection that was raging through his body – there was nothing that could be done for him. While we feel bad for his family, those young girls were returned to their families and hopefully have a chance at an education and a future now.

So if you’re praying about becoming a missionary and are thinking through what exactly that will look like, don’t forget to ask yourself, “Am I willing to photograph a witch doctor’s yankee doodle, if that’s what God calls me to?” If the answer is yes, then I think you’re ready to go.