By Michael Ashcraft —
Nestor Kouassi had seen the voodoo priests and witches do unutterable things: make statues move, bury people alive who later come out of the jungle, send bird spirits to kill enemies.
So when he accepted Jesus in 1997 and started what became a high-stakes spiritual battle with them in his town of Houndjohoundji, Benin, it was a fearful thing.
“A lot of people didn’t like it that we were calling with fire and praying all night,” Nestor says. “They threatened us that they would kill us. They made false accusations. Anything to get us in trouble.”
Nestor got introduced to the gospel even when there wasn’t a single Christian church in his village of 1,400 people. His nation, Benin, holds the dubious distinction of being the worldwide birthplace of voodoo. Even the name of his village was a satanic incantation.
People feared the voodoo lords, and Christianity couldn’t crack the town.
But then one Christian, a certain Mr. Lawson, when he came to visit his mom in town from time to time, would preach and share the gospel with anyone who wished to listen.
“We would mock him,” Nestor remembers. “People would insult him.”
Then his best friend, Cyrille, accepted Jesus to get cured of a nasty, prolonged stomach pain. Cyrille was a “rough man” who would steal and fight for nothing, so when Nestor saw an authentic change in him after two weeks, he became convinced.
“He completely changed,” he says. “I said, ‘If this guy can change, there must be a God. I want to get to know that God.’”
But Cyrille didn’t remember the “sinner’s prayer.” So they just read the Bible together 4-5 hours a day. After one week, Nestor was born again.
“Something happened in my life, and I knew that I knew that I knew that I had met the man Jesus,” Nestor recalls. “It felt like a liquid fire going through my soul, and all of my fears of witchcraft and voodoo disappeared and the river flowed from the inside.”
The nearest church was seven miles away. When they couldn’t attend service there, they devoured the Bible together. After two weeks, they were inspired to share their faith.
“We could not hide it anymore. We took to the streets and wanted to share with people our new discovery: Jesus of Nazareth, woo!” he recounts, relishing the memory.
The power of Jesus began to be proclaimed and demonstrated with healing miracles in town, and the town chief and ruling class — all priests and witches of satanic magic — didn’t like the competition.
“Our preaching was met with hostility like you’ve never seen before,” Nestor says. “What made them furious is that we would pray for people and they would get healed. People would say, ‘If you’re sick, go to the Jesus guys.’”
Another friend, Valentin, converted and the three friends read the word and ministered in the streets together. But nobody else dared cross the powers of the town and join their group, even though they viewed them favorably.
The prayers of Nestor and his friends began to disrupt the voodoo power, he says. So the witches attacked them.
“They didn’t want real Christianity. It disturbed them,” Nestor says. “They wouldn’t be able to operate anymore. If we’re calling upon Jesus, there is a power struggle. The witches cannot operate when we are calling upon Jesus.”
The witches had a technique they called a “spiritual gun,” and the victim target of their incantations would writhe in pain from what felt like shards of glass cutting his insides. But the gun didn’t work on Nestor and his buddies, he says.
The priests had a special “founder drum” that when they beat it and pronounced their incantations, lightning would strike the targeted victim even when there was no thunderstorm. Again, it didn’t work.
For six or seven years, the arm-wrestling match continued. Nestor was going to high school in the biggest town in the area nearby, Grand-popo. He would face off with the voodoo priests on weekends and vacations.
The voodoo festivals began to misfire. Things didn’t work. The supernatural tricks fizzled. The town was abuzz with the goings-on.
“People began to question the witches’ power,” he says. “They said, ‘These Jesus guys must have something.’ They were scared. They listened to us, they admired us, but joining us was a real problem.”
Tensions were rising and the threats were increasing. When the chief witch threatened Nestor’s mother with her son’s death, Nestor went to confront him. He found all the witches together in their afternoon gathering in the public place.
“They told us they would reduce us to nothing. I told them nothing would happen,” Nestor remembers.
“In this battle, you will definitely see Jesus,” he responded to their threats.
That night, Nestor did indeed confront demon spirits, but ultimately they could do him no harm.
“I saw the power of witchcraft. I was in my room at midnight. I closed my eyes. All of a sudden, I heard hundreds of birds flapping in the room. They were talking in human voices. They said, ‘Take him.’ I could feel people’s hands. They tried to lift me off my bed. But I became so heavy, they couldn’t. They tried and tried and they left,” Nestor says.
It was worse than Alfred Hitchcock’s famous horror movie, The Birds.
“I opened my eyes, got up, and said, ‘Whoa, what is going on? What is this?” Then they came back with the chief priest who said, ‘Who is this little boy that you can’t get him?’ The same birds flapping, the voices, they couldn’t take me,” he says.
“In the morning I felt like I was sick for weeks. I couldn’t eat. I went at 11:30 to my mom’s. On the way over, I met this witch. When he saw me, he was afraid. I just laughed.”
The next day at midnight, there was a great commotion in the village. The chief voodoo priest lost consciousness in his house.
Thirteen hours later, he was pronounced dead in the nearest hospital.
“That’s how the hostility finished,” Nestor says. “They called us ‘witches of Jesus.’ They said don’t try anything against them.”
Since those times, Nestor and his wife immigrated to America with student visas. Cyrille lives in Grand-popo and farms. Valentin is an accountant in a big company.
Twenty years later, two churches were planted in Houndjohoundji in 2018. “People were begging for a church to open.”
May God receive the glory for all He has done!
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Michael Ashcraft was a missionary for 15 years during which he founded the Liceo Bilingue La Puerta Christian school in Guatemala. It was long enough for him to see firsthand enough witchcraft to believe his friend, Nestor, when he recounted his conflict with the voodoo lords.