by Levi Keidel
Guilt Brings Deliverance
My new work made me a mediator between prisoners and prison authorities. I watched over those calling prison roll every morning; I took their reports to the director. During meals, I was to pass among the tables to make sure everyone ate quietly. During daytime I was to talk with prisoners to understand their feelings; if I found a group of them grumbling and discontented and wanting to defy authority, I was to report it to the director.
This new responsibility made me weigh the value of the kind of life I was living. Could I wear two faces forever? When in the copper mine, the rules of those over us made us wear two faces, and I said I couldn't live with it. Was it right that I now be content with it? Truly, my custom of reading the Bible sheets was reducing my desire for evil; but a cooking pot long neglected does not clean easily. I now felt in my heart that God was willing to forgive me; but would He keep wanting to forgive me while I kept doing evil? Would He wait until all my sins fell off one by one like leaves from a dying tree, and then still forgive me?
I was a person with mistakes; but I was not unintelligent. With my good sense, I had chosen to follow this path. What had I hoped to find in it? I had to break the lid off the box they had locked me in. I had to see that I was growing; that I was progressing; that I was becoming a person in my own right. By this means I would become a person of dignity, a person of worth, as the Creator wants each of us to be. By this means, I would expose the falsehood of ideas other people held about us; I would lift from my tribe and from my race the humiliation which burdened them; they would be respected as people of value equal to that of all people everywhere.
Since choosing that path, many years had passed. What had I found?
In a way I did not understand, demons of evil had taken possession of me; they had made me such a champion of wickedness that what self-respect I once had was wiped out; and I was now left only with shame.
How could I bring respect to my tribe when I flouted its teachings? As the wind bends the stem of a flower and turns its face away from the sun; so these powers had turned my back on all the teachings of my forefathers. They taught me to respect my superiors; now, unless respecting them would help me, I held them in contempt. They taught me to be kindhearted to those in need; it now pleased my heart to be cruel to them. My tribal fathers once taught me that a man and woman Iying together was a sacred matter for husband and wife; I scorned such thinking. They were known as people of peace; people knew me for my violence. They believed that the spirits of their dead took vengeance on those who transgressed their laws; I had no such fear.“
These thoughts began to crush me with sorrow. By my way of living, I was defying all that my forebears had taught me; I had forsaken the journey bag they had woven for me. I knew my relatives outside prison had carried news of me to my father. I had broken all my vows to him; I had destroyed his hopes for me. I had brought my family and tribe and race no honor; only shame. As I now was, they would disown me.
In the tribal system, everybody cared for everybody; each person had whatever he needed. Here nobody cared for anybody; I had nothing. It was just as I had learned when a child: I was disloyal to my tribe; and so I was destroying myself. These were the things I had found in pursuing this path; and I could not yet see its end.
But had I not begun to see glimmers of light in my darkness? Because of reading the Bible sheets, I was now coming to believe that God wanted to forgive me. The prison director showed faith in me; he wanted to count me as a person of value. Were these affairs not good? Were they not as hands reaching out to help me? Was there a single happy good thing I could hope to get from continuing in this path which had brought me only sadness and evil?
Then, one after another, I began to recall pieces of wisdom from my childhood. They rebuked me for my foolishness.
“The antelope died on the prairie because it forgot where the forest was.”
“Greedy crow, if you keep scratching in the garbage pit, one day you'll not know a worm from a scorpion.”
“It is your own tool that is slitting your throat.”
“Leopard, stop your rapaciousness; it is good conduct which will win you esteem.”
“Will you not stop chasing the forest parrot even when it flees to the marshes to hide? You're a murderer. Now in prison, you still torment and terrorize people. How will you ever be saved?”
“You'll not wake up until you die; you'll not begin to listen until you hear the munching of maggots.”
These words of my fathers, coming from the happiness of my childhood, heaped upon me guilt. Night came. My guilt allowed me no rest. I lay on my platform in the darkness. Those around me were making the sounds of heavy sleep. My badness hung itself upon a curtain, and began to pass before my eyes. I could not carry this burden. I sought deliverance from it. I wanted to die.
While my mind was suffering thus, a light began to appear above me. I fastened my eyes upon it. This light was so pure that all other light I had ever seen seemed dirty. It grew until its brightness wanted to burn into every corner of me. Then I recalled that shining face which had appeared to me three times when I was Iying on the floor of my cell years ago. Affair of wonder that outreaches the mind to believe...that Person was still pursuing me! When I understood who it was, that moment the words came to me:
“...why are you tormenting me? I am Jesus....”
Then before my eyes began to pass slowly, one by one, every person I had ever tormented...every white person...every soldier...every woman...every prisoner. In passing, each one looked at me. In their faces I saw their pain. It was plain to me now. I had tormented each one as just a human body; but I had been tormenting Jesus. The light kept burning me; and with it, I burned in shame. I could not keep watching these people. I closed my eyes to shut them out. My heart melted into hot oil. My bitterness was washed from me. My pride burned up like a blade of dry grass. My strength was broken. All desire to fight was finished. I wept and wept, like a lost child being found. Finally, that light shined upon me a love and pity for those around me. Then it slowly went away.
What was this affair which had overcome me? Who could explain it to me? How was I to answer to it? That Jesus was really accepting me surpassed my mind to understand. I ate nothing for three days.
I could not rid myself of guilt for the evil things I had done; but one thing gave me great joy: I wanted to only love those around me. How could I show them that my heart had been turned around, and that now I really loved them? They would not believe me. “Another one of his deceitful plots to hurt us,” they would say.
Finally, I thought of a plan. I would turn things around. They were accustomed to suffering for the sake of my happiness. Now I would suffer for their happiness. I would serve them.
True, I was their foreman; but I must do things which would show them that I counted myself to be the lowest person among them. By being their servant, perhaps with the passing of days I could recompense them for all the evil I had done them; then Jesus might have mercy on me, and lift my burden of guilt.
You may find it hard to understand the things this way of thinking compelled me to do. If this is true, perhaps it is because you have never felt in your body and mind the burden of such wickedness as mine.
I refused to eat good food with all the other prisoners. When they were done, I ate the remaining scraps. From time to time when a guard came into the sleeping room at night to ask who was making noise, I would take responsibility for it so that I would be whipped in the place of others.
At the end of our sleeping room was a large half-drum which men used as a toilet during the night; I put my second pair of short trousers beside it for men to use as a wiping cloth; every morning I asked men to put the drum on my head; I carried it to the toilet pit along the far wall and dumped it. I washed and dried my trousers for them to use again.
I asked the white man director to unlock the cell of prisoners whose minds were broken. When he hesitated, I asked him, “Don't you want me to do my work of looking after other prisoners?” Their clothing was tattered; their hair was full of lice; their bodies stank. I took them to the water pit along the right-hand wall; I soaped and bathed their bodies, and put fresh clothes upon them. Then I sat with them in their cell, put my arm around them and comforted them. I thanked Jesus that I could serve Him in these ways.
No one understood. The director would look at me, shake his head and say, “Maweja, Maweja, what has happened to you?” Prisoners said, “The one who was a lion is now carrying our excrement. Has he gone completely crazy?”
With the passing of days my load of guilt began to lighten. I continued reading my sheets from the Bible. One day I read a verse which said that the blood of Jesus Christ washes us from all sin.7 So that is why Jesus promised us that if we come to Him, He will take our burden and give us rest.8 From that day on I trusted in the power of Jesus' blood to cleanse me; I hoped it would overpower my demons; I left the burden of all my sins with Him; and I received rest in my heart which has stayed with me clear up to this moment when I write you these words.
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