by Levi Keidel
I Recall Pieces of Wisdom
There was no doubt about it; a new heart was creating itself within me. As my mind began to lay hold on this truth, I began to think more about my father. With the passing of these years, he could not fail to have heard of my manner of living. He knew that I had renounced the things he had taught me; I had broken all my vows to him; I had killed a person in anger; I was in prison. That thought now brought much suffering to my heart.
I had no hope of ever being released; I could never fulfill the hopes my father had for me. But if somehow news could now reach him that I had changed my life; that I was again walking in the ways he had taught me; then his heart would know some comfort.
There was one thing I could do to strengthen my feet in walking this new path; that was to fill my mind with wisdom from the Bible. If reading these few sheets helped me this much, what help might I find if I read all of them? Kayembe, the first person to give me a page, and another prisoner named Samalenge also wanted to learn more about Jesus. As I was over them now, they kept begging me to arrange a way for them to receive the Words of God. Soldier guards saw how my heart had been turned around. Now some of them were my good friends. One day I spoke to one of them.
“When you go outside tonight, I want you to get me a Book of God, and a box of candles.”
“If I am caught bringing such things into prison, I will be punished.”
“Stop being afraid. I'm foreman of the prison. You have already seen with your eyes how I have taken punishment for others. I'll suffer in your place. Here is money. Keep what remains for yourself.”
He brought candles and a Bible. Kayembe, Samalenge and I met in secret. We tore off the Bible's cover and discarded it in the toilet pit. Then we tore the book into three parts: Kayembe took the books of Genesis through Second Samuel; Samalenge took the books from First Kings through Malachi; and I took the part of Matthew through Revelation. We swore ourselves to a covenant that if they caught one of us with his part, he would accept whatever punishment came, even death, rather than expose the others.
That night when lights were turned out, I tucked the edges of my blanket into the sides of the platform above me to make it a curtain enclosing me. I tucked it around beneath me. Then I lit a candle and read. Every night I read. I finished my part and exchanged it for another.
My heart drove me to eat up the Book of God like a wind-driven fire eats up dry prairie grass. I chewed what I ate until no taste was left; then swallowed it. I studied this way night after night for three years. Words of the Bible did not strike me hard at once, like a rainstorm. They fell upon me slowly and quietly, for a long time, like the wetness of a heavy fog. This book led me to great treasure which still causes me to marvel, and which I have never exhausted.
What I read took me back to my childhood. Pieces of knowledge from the Bible caught fire like torches and began lighting up the cave of my darkness. So many of the customs of Jesus' tribe and of my tribe were the same that I came to believe that, surely, the Bible must have been written by my ancestors. I had tied myself to Jesus by my faith in Him; now on top of this, I came to feel that truly I was linked to the people of Jesus in my flesh and blood. I was once believing that my tribe and race were matters of shame; and that their customs were to be scorned.
Look at my foolishness. How wrong I had been. Matter of joyous surprise reaching from earth to heaven, these things were sources of great wealth! How can I explain this to you? I will try to gather this harvest of thoughts into three different bundles: affairs of a tribe, affairs within the family, and affairs of the Great Elder Spirit.
Affairs of a Tribe
The forefathers of Jesus were of the tribe of Israel. Like my people in the days of grandfather, the people of Israel lived as a tribe separate from others; their kingdom was made up of villages; sometimes a village was begun by a family.9 There was much fighting between the people of Israel and people of other tribes living near them. They could not go on long journeys to trade with others. Only by great cunning and great strength, they stayed alive.
The tribe of Israel was ruled by a chief. He was chosen by members of the tribe. He was anointed with oil, as our people had anointed Chief Katombe!10 When a chief died, he was replaced by his firstborn son.”11
As it was with my ancestors, circumcision was a mark which kept the forefathers of Jesus different from people surrounding them; they refused to give a daughter to one uncircumcised; they refused to eat with him; they called such an one “unclean.”12 This custom guarded the purity of the tribe. A man married more than one wife, and thus replenished the numbers of people in his tribe.
I pondered our understanding of spilling blood upon the ground beneath us. The wisdom of my forefathers and that of the people of Israel was the same. The earth was like a living person who mourns when innocent blood is spilt upon it; such blood pollutes it.13
My tribal fathers believed that the spirits of their dead remained to live in the ground; if they had died wrongly, their blood cried out from the ground for vengeance. If the anger of earth was not appeased, it would rise up and destroy the guilty one and would curse his seed. Only the blood of an innocent sacrifice could quiet it.
After Cain killed Abel, God said to him, “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from out of the earth.” A curse was declared upon him.14 A chief of Israel named Ahab killed Naboth to steal his field. The ground of that field took vengeance. Having soaked up the blood of Naboth, it then soaked up the blood of Chief Ahab and his seed.15 A man named Zophar said the wicked will never find a path of escape, because “heaven will reveal his iniquity, and earth will rise up against him.”16 How did the people of Israel escape the anger of the slaying angel? By draining upon their thresholds the blood of a lamb.17
Like my ancestors, they felt great responsibility to settle crimes justly. When the evildoer was exposed, they recompensed eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound.18 When a wife was accused of adultery, the priest would prepare a medicine cup to establish the truth.19 Among the people of Tshiyamba and the people of Israel, one guilty of adultery was often slain; one fornicating with a virgin girl was forced to marry her, or to recompense her parents the part of the bride price lost when he ruined her virginity.20 When a child rebelled against the authority of his father, our laws were the same: “Everyone who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death.”21 If our tribal judges failed to complete justice upon an evil doer, God would complete it by bringing calamity upon him.22
Affairs Within the Family
The important affairs in any family are three: marriage, birth and death.
The law of Israel said, “If a husband dies without a child, let not his wife be married to an outsider; her husband's brother will take her to wife ...”26 The law of Tshiyamba was the same. Long ago a man did not thus perform his duty, and the widow gave herself to harlotry.27 This is a problem that troubles our people up to today. Sarah, the first wife of Abraham, was ruler of the compound, no one disputing her authority.28
Even the private affairs of our women and of the women of Israel harmonize. When the women of Tshiyamba come from the period of menstrual uncleanness, they offer their husbands white meat for their purification; the women of Israel offered the priest two pigeons.33 To allure their husbands, our women use tshipambu medicine; the women of Israel used mandrakes.34 As was the affair with Israel, offending for barrenness and joy for childbirth are inside us like the air we breathe.35
I have already related the strong punishment for adultery and fornication. On top of this, no child is to see the nakedness of a parent or close relative; to do so may lock up the child's own birth powers. Children are not to play with one another's nakedness; those guilty of such sin could bring a curse upon the tribe. When I read the laws of the tribe of Israel which refuse the viewing of nakedness within a family, my mind showed me a picture of the elders of Tshiyamba sitting in council and answering with one heart, “Let it be thus forever.“36
A woman bearing a child had to live alone until she fulfilled her days of purification. It was the same in the tribe of Israel.37 Babies were given names with special meanings. This custom began with the Creator Himself. He named Abram “Abraham” meaning “the father of many nations.”38 He named Jacob “Israel” meaning “he who strived with God.”39 The people of Israel continued the custom.40 When the Son of the Great Elder Spirit appeared upon the earth, the angel ordered Mary to name him “Jesus” meaning “savior,” because His work was to save people from their sins.41
Our people composed songs, and sang them on births and other important occasions. After God delivered the people of Israel from slavery, they prepared a song, and while singing it, danced for joy.42 Moses prepared for them a song to help them remember the affairs of their fathers.43 When they defeated their enemies in war, they sang.44 When Hannah bore her first child, she prepared her own song and sang.45
Affairs of the Great Elder Spirit
Our fathers had many beautiful names with which to describe the Creator; and all of them harmonize with what the Book reveals Him to be. He is the only One who has been alive forever. He is the Knower of all affairs. His pureness is brighter than the sun. The only thing that has power to clean a man from his sins before the Creator is the drained blood of a living creature offered in sacrifice.50 To cleanse a cursed house, our tribal diviner used two white chickens; the priest of Israel used two birds.51 While our diviner believed a chicken had power to carry sins away into the high grass, the priest of Israel put the same faith in a goat.52
God showed us things through dreams. He did the same to Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Daniel and others. Israel gave the firstfruits of their harvests to God, and were careful not to neglect widows and orphans.53
The Bible now taught me more adequately great events tribal fathers had related to us: how the first man and woman sinned; how men built a tower to reach the sky; and how darkness covered the earth the day that the Son of the Great Elder Spirit was killed.
You who read these words, perhaps I have wearied you; perhaps the customs of your ancestors likewise fit those of the ancestors of Jesus, and so in all that I have said, there is nothing remarkable. But I was as a man born blind who now began to see.
Every custom of my people which I found in the tribe of Israel told me that I was a person of value. Outsiders had not first brought to us the affair of God; it appeared to have come straight to us from the far north, carried on the lips of generations of my tribal ancestors. I saw that my journey bag which I'd thought could be scorned, was a thing of value which surpassed me to measure. My tribe and my heritage were not my shame; they were my treasure.
I also came to see how far my manner of living had led me astray from what my Creator wanted, what my tribe taught me, and what my heart had been craving. My tribe had laws which curbed pride and lust and anger. These laws had not been established for nothing. Even my ancestors recognized that evil, if it were not restrained, would destroy their life of community; any person living in such a manner had to be removed from among them.
Everyone must be proud of his value as a person. He needs to have dignity; he needs to understand his self-worth. It is not wrong to desire these things; it is not wrong to seek them. But when pride made me want to be the master of others, then all kinds of evil followed. These evils enslaved me, and destroyed the self-worth I longed for. Now it seemed that the lesson I was being taught by my forefathers, and the Bible, and the example of Kimbangu was one:
Evils which war within us, if not controlled, destroy our self-worth. Mastering these evils will bring back to us our self-worth. And the measure that I was able to tame these evils which wanted to rule me, to that measure I would find self-worth. This was the affair I now wanted to wrestle with: how to tame my sins, and thereby truly come to be master of myself.
As foreman, I no longer went to the meat market. If people wanted to see me, they had to come hunt me at prison. One day three of my friends came looking for me.
“Bad news from your home village has reached us.”
“What kind of news?”
“Your father has died.”
“How did you find out?”
“Travelers; they were at your village when the people were in mourning.”
“Why did he die?”
They looked at one another. One of them shrugged.
“As God willed it.”
“Was he sick?”
“They said he had been troubled with sickness for a long time.”
My father had always been strong and healthy. I could not understand this.
“What kind of sickness was it?”
“Well, they said it was sickness of sorrow.”
“Sorrow about what?”
One sighed and spoke.
“They said it started when he learned you were put into prison. Then when he heard you would be in prison for all of your life, his sorrow surpassed him in strength. He could not accept it. He fasted. He made offerings to the spirits. He paid witch doctors to make strong medicines that would liberate you; he followed all their rituals and abstinences. When all these things failed, sorrow overwhelmed him and, finally he died.”
My insides became empty with sadness. News that my life had been turned around never reached him. My broken vows had saddened him. And now, my evil way of living had killed him. Just as the forefathers say: “It's the child you love too much who will break your only gourd of drinking water.”
“Oh my Lord,” I prayed, “something very good happened; you showed me that I am a person of great worth. Now something very bad has happened; my evil conduct has brought my father to his death. If I am a person of such great value in Your eyes, how can You want me to stay locked inside this prison for all of my remaining days? Will you never allow me to do any other kind of work for You forever? Is there no way for me ever to repay my people and to repay my father for what I have done?”
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