by Levi Keidel
Pages from God
Months passed, one following another. I continued to show my evil face toward those close to me, and my good face to those in authority over me. From time to time I would join a small group of prisoners to hear something of Kimbangu's teaching. Only after many months did my heart begin to accept it as true. I could not continue blaming those around me for my evil. The wisdom of my ancestors rebuked me: "Don't say that bad odor is because you've just eaten bean leaves; it has been with you for a long time." My problem was within myself.
What had the white judge said? "There is only one path out of your trouble: you must accept the evil you have done, and understand what pushed you to do it." By now, these forces which I could not understand had pushed me into doing all kinds of evil. They ruled me like demon spirits. Our village people used blood of a chicken sacrifice to cleanse a person from transgression of their laws; our sorcerer used it to drive out evil spirits. But me being here in prison, how would I ever find blood with power to cleanse me from my sinfulness, and to drive out my demons?
One night during my fifth year in prison, we were preparing to lie down to sleep. I noticed a new prisoner sitting quietly on his low platform with his head bowed and his eyes closed. I watched him follow this custom every night before sleeping. My heart kept prodding me to learn why. One night while he was doing it, I walked to his platform.
"What are you doing?"
He started, looked up at me, and said, "I'm praying to my God."
"The God you have there, do you think He would take a person like me?"
"He will take the worst person on earth, even a murderer."
"Are you Iying to me?"
"I am not Iying. His promise says that the person who covers his sins will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find mercy."6
The lights went out.
"My name is Maweja; what is yours?"
"When will you tell me more of this affair?"
"Come in good time tomorrow night; we will talk."
I pondered these things a long time before sleep finally caught me. The next evening I entered the sleeping house early to see Mutombo.
"How do you know your God will accept me?"
"In His book we read of a man named Saul. He was a champion at causing people to suffer. He had tied his heart to destroy the people of God. One day when he was on a journey doing this work, an exceedingly bright light struck him. He fell to the ground blind. Then he heard someone say, 'Saul, Saul, why are you tormenting me? I am Jesus.' What he saw and heard turned his life around. He became a champion of God, to bless people instead of tormenting them."
I did not tell him how these words affected me. Whenever my mind was not busy, they were like thorns which kept pricking me. One does not despise the bougainvillea because of its thorns; he endures its thorns to enjoy its flowers. And so I endured the pricking of these words because I felt the drawing of their goodness. As this person Saul, I tormented others. I mocked Jesus. In doing these things, was I tormenting Him? Did these words mean that, in spite of all my evil, He was willing to forgive me?
Mutombo finished his prison term and left. More months passed. Then one day I received a magazine called News of Kasai Peoples. It was from Mutombo. It was printed at the mission station at his home town of Luebo, in the province of Kasai. I began receiving a copy from month to month. In it person after person told how he found power from Jesus to turn his life around: a chief who had ruled with cruelty...a store clerk who was the slave of drink...a man with lust for harlots ....a sorcerer who had killed people with witchcraft. Often they quoted sayings which had helped them, from books whose names were strange to me. The more I read, the more my insides became parched with thirst. Then one day I met a prisoner named Kayembe. He had finished his studies at a mission station. I showed him one of the magazines.
"Have you seen one of these before?" I asked him.
"Yes. I know about that paper."
"These stories about people; are they true, or are they imagined?"
"Don't you see the addresses? Would the writer give persons' addresses if their stories were false?"
"Look at these sayings here. Where do they come from?"
"They come from the Book of God. They call it the Bible. Those names show what part of that book they come from."
"I heard about this book years ago. For a long time I've been wanting to read it. Where can I find one?"
"Here in prison they have a hard rule against reading it. Anyone caught with it is punished."
"Because it teaches about freedom. It tells how to become delivered from oppression. The Belgians over us do not want us to read it; they fear it will stir us up to revolt against them. Have you not heard why Kimbangu is here? That is where he got his teaching. "
I swore to myself that I would lay hold onto that book.
"You have none of this book with you?"
He looked at me, not wanting to answer, wondering if he could trust me.
"I have only a few pages which I keep hidden."
"Believe me; a hard affair has caught me. Would you let me see just one page?"
He stared at me, thinking. Then he led me to one end of the sleeping room. We faced into a corner. He looked around to see that no one was watching. Then he removed from beneath his trouser belt a tiny package of folded papers. He gave me one, refolded the others, and slipped them beneath his belt. I did the same with mine.
I began reading it in secret. I lapped up its words. I craved more. I devised a plan.
I was going to the market for meat every Friday. When I went, I had the habit of meeting my friends there. They were my helpers in evil; they brought me what I needed for my pleasures. When I went the next time, two of them were waiting for me. They had a bottle of liquor. We drank. Before leaving I told them what I desired.
"When I come next time, please bring me a sheet from the Book of God."
"From the Book of God. They call it the Bible. Ask some missionaries; they study it."
My friends looked at each other in puzzlement, then replied, "We will try."
And so I began a new custom. Every Friday I got a new sheet from the Bible. One week I would get a sheet from a part called Matthew; another week from Luke. I did not want to keep more than four or five at a time; they would be difficult to hide. If those over me discovered what I was doing, they might learn the hypocrisy of my way of life, and all would be ruined. The fear of my iron collar and of the terror cell were always with me.
I kept reading. My one question was this: Would God take notice of me, rotten as I was, and change me into a new person like He had changed Saul? This question agitated my thinking day and night. If He would, He would break the chains of cruelty and lust and pride and anger which bound me. His doing this to me would be proof that He held me to be a person of value. And if God, in spite of all my sinfulness, put such a price on me, how could I ever again doubt my own value? Perhaps this is where Kimbangu had found his self-respect. If I could seize this truth for myself, then men of earthly wisdom could put on me whatever price they desired; it would mean nothing to me. I devoured these pages; they entered into my blood and bones. I would discard older sheets in the toilet pit, and go to the market for more.
This continued for many months. From time to time a prisoner would catch me reading. Many of them were seeking means of taking vengeance on me. Perhaps they thought I was looking at any useless piece of paper. Perhaps they had learned the truth and were plotting against me. I kept on reading. Bit by bit my mind put together a picture of Jesus. Suddenly I began to recognize that many parts of the picture were matching themselves with words of my forefathers of long ago...words I have already related to you.
Jesus had the same heart toward all people. He loved the wicked and the good equally. He forgave people their sins. He helped the suffering. He fed the hungry. He welcomed strangers. He never turned His back on someone who asked Him for something. He had a heart of peace and goodness toward everyone. Then I remembered. This is the kind of life my father had lived. I supposed he was still living it right up to now.
But more than that, when bad men wanted to kill Jesus, He did not threaten, or fight, or balk; He let them do what they wished, keeping His dignity even to His death. The Bible calls Him the Lamb of God; and as the sheep is king of animals, God took Jesus out of the grave, gave Him life again, and put Him over all of earth's kings. Now I began to understand Kimbangu and his strange way of acting. Jesus was the Child of the Great Elder Spirit my ancestors had taught me about. His death had darkened and shaken the earth; His spirit was still walking about among us.
Long ago, when fighting wanted to destroy the founders of our tribe, innocent blood was drained onto the ground, and Tshiyamba gave her life, that sinful acts be forgotten, and that a new covenant of peace be established. Why was the innocent blood of Jesus drained upon the ground? Was it not to make appeasement so that our sinful acts might be forgotten?
Why did Jesus give His life? Was it not that we stop fighting, swear ourselves to a new covenant, be reconciled to one another, and live in peace? Katombe had asked the earth to rise up and take vengeance upon the one breaking the covenant; and to destroy him and curse his seed. Without knowing it, I had ridiculed and despised the covenant Jesus had died to make for my peace. If I did not change my ways, what kind of curse would befall me?
Reading pages from the Bible and thinking these thoughts began to change me. On Fridays when I went to the market, my heart no longer craved pleasures my friends had brought me; it craved for a new sheet. What power was there in these words that they began disturbing my lusts? My insides began to tremble for joy.
In our way of thinking, a palm tree gives a person all his needs for life: it gives him nuts to eat, raphia fiber to make his cloth, and fronds to build him a place to sleep. Its wealth does not all appear in a day. The seed does not sprout a trunk, it sprouts a tiny soft pointed leaf. In sufficient time, the other things follow.
I knew that the words of this new affair were sprouting. If I persevered in reading them, would not all their treasure follow? Their power to change me showed that they were true. God really loved me. He would accept me. It remained for me to find how to give myself to Him.
One day a guard came and said, "The prison director is calling for you."
Fear caught me. I had been in prison for six years. Had someone told on me? These good affairs which I was beginning to discover, were they all to be for nothing? My fingers felt along the edges of my belt. I was taken to the office, and stood before the Belgian director.
"Maweja, how are your affairs these days?"
"I have no problem."
"We are interested in you. For many months we have been watching you. We have asked guards to bring reports. Their reports have been good. We would like to give you the authority of watching over others; this will show us if anger still rules you, or if you have learned to master it. The prison foreman has finished his sentence. He showed the maturity and strength of a wise man. He has been released. We would like for you to replace him."---
6. Proverbs 28:13
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