by Levi Keidel
God Keeps His Word
“The director wants to see you,” a prison soldier-guard said.
“What is the matter?”
“They caught a youth reading from part of a book. He says it belongs to you.”
I turned and slowly walked ahead of the guard toward the director's office. I had loaned this young man my part of the Bible; I had wanted to help him. He was new in prison, sentenced for stealing.
When my mind thought about covering up the whole affair with a lie, I heard a voice in my heart: “Whoever denies me before the eyes of men, for my part, I will deny him before my Father in heaven.” I arrived in front of the director's desk and stood straight, waiting.
“Do you know this young man?”
“Is this your book?”
“How did you get it?”
I was silent.
He looked at his two secretaries.
“Did you give Maweja this book?”
The secretaries knew that I was as a dead person with no hope of ever being released; they didn't want to increase my suffering.
“It must have accidentally slipped into the prison mixed up with all the papers and magazines that go in and out of here.”
He looked at me.
“Maweja, this matter saddens me greatly. We had thought you might someday get out of your chains. If we ever catch you with a book like this again, you'll never be released; you'll waste away in here forever.”
They kept the book and burned it.
I had heard the words from the director's mouth. “We had thought you might someday get out of your chains,” he had said. These words stuck in my mind, and wiped out everything else he said. I went to my friend and borrowed another part of the Bible. That night I found words that made my heart leap for joy: “Let his place be empty; let no one else take it” (Acts 1:20).
Then I remembered what God did for the people of Israel in Egypt. It was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart, and it was God who softened it. But before all of this, God had already decided that when the time was sufficient, He would deliver them from their slavery.
The big thing was not that I'd been caught with the Bible. The big thing was that the director had revealed to me the hope that I might someday be set free. This was God's sign to me. I now had the feeling in my heart that when the time was sufficient, God would soften the director's heart, and I would be delivered.
When morning came I gathered the prisoners and told them “God has answered me. I'll get out of these chains in the few days that are ahead.”
Three months passed. I was beginning my ninth year in prison. I became discouraged. I began to feel again that God had deserted me. Every day sorrow grated my stomach like gravel. I covenanted with God, “If the time comes when You have pity on me and break of these chains, whatever appears before me in all of my days ahead that You want to take, it is Yours.”
It appears that the heart of that director could not be changed. God removed him and brought us a new one. Every two years each prisoner's report was sent to a court to be studied. When the new director sent in my report, I heard them saying that he had spoken well of me. Some weeks passed.
It was the second month of my ninth year. One night, just after we had been locked inside our sleeping room, we heard the voice of one calling at the door.
It was the voice of the director.
“Arrange your affairs. Tomorrow you leave.”
Ayiiiiiiiiiiiii, what joy! Guards opened the cell doors. Prisoners packed themselves around me. They fought to throw their arms around me and to shake my hand. We rejoiced. We prayed. We sang songs. Then some of them began to worry.
“Your going is our sorrow. Who will replace you as our foreman? If his heart is not like yours, we'll begin suffering again.”
“You see what this new director did to help me. His heart is good. You will not suffer as you once did, so long as he is here. I'm asking Samalenge to take my place as leader of the Christians; he was one of those who divided the Bible with me when reading it had the penalty of flogging or the torture cell.”
“What are you going to do when you get outside?”
“I am going to the town of Luebo, where they print the News of the Kasai Peoples magazine; I hear they have a school to help you learn the Bible. I'm going to study that book until I'm ripe in it; then I'm going to work for God for all the remaining days of my life.”
We kept on rejoicing. Morning caught us. I got my travel papers. I thanked the director and told him he'd never see me again.
On that day, the 13th of August, 1953, I walked out of the prison door. I went straight to the church of the Methodist Mission on the main street of Lubumbashi. There on my knees I worshipped and thanked and praised my God.
“Here I am. I'm keeping my covenant. Put me into your work,” I told Him.
I got onto the train to begin my journey. I was going to Likasi, where they had first judged me and sentenced me to prison for life. I wanted to pick up a metal chest of my clothing and other things which I'd left with relatives when I was first imprisoned there. Only when the train began to move did my mind begin to comprehend what was happening. It was really removing me from this place. There was no guard with a gun watching me. I was truly a person with freedom. I began to feel like a bird, free and high, fluttering its wings with happiness, with only the open sky around it.
While journeying, my mind began to recall all that had happened to me. Hard affairs had broken my life into pieces. Could I put them together again? What were the lessons all these things could teach me? Pictures passing the windows reminded me of my childhood, and led my mind to a fable I had heard long ago.
Once there was a young crocodile. He detested the way of living of his clan. Every day there was the same manner of acting: they caught and ate fish until they were full; then they laid on the sandbank in the sun until they were hungry. He came to loathe it. He married a wife. Even this did not give him joy. Finally, he vowed in his heart that he must wander in the world and find something better. He left his home on the river sandbank to search for real wealth and happiness.
One day in the forest he met the lion. “I am king of the river,” he said to himself, “and he is king of the jungle. If I am clever enough to steal from him his wisdom, I'll steal from him his kingdom also, and will rule everything.”
The crocodile made friends with the lion. He learned that the secret of the lion's authority was his great strength. He watched the lion hide behind a high boulder, pounce upon an antelope, kill it, and roar to the shaking of the tree leaves. His heart trembled with excitement. He would learn to do this himself.
After some days the crocodile returned to the boulder and waited. When an antelope came, he leaped with all his strength. But because of his short legs, he dropped helplessly into the path. The antelope hooked him with its horns; it poked his eye; it turned him upside down and trampled on his soft stomach. Then it fled.
The crocodile crawled into the deep forest, His stomach hurt. His eye swelled shut. He was terribly humiliated. He decided that friendship with the lion was not good; he would search elsewhere for wealth and happiness. After some days, the strength of his hunger exceeded the strength of his shame, and he began his journey again.
One day his good eye showed him what looked like a great black vine slowly crawling up a tree. It was a boa constrictor. He looked at its long tail and slender nose. “It is clear to me now that the lion and I are no relation,” the crocodile told himself. “But look at this big snake. Surely it and I are sons of the same ancestor.” The snake wound his body around a low limb and waited. After a time, a squirrel came playing among the branches. Quick as lightning, the snake caught it and swallowed it. After a time a forest rat ran beneath the limb; the snake quietly stretched himself out, snatched it and ate it.
The crocodile made friends with the boa constrictor. “Help me learn the joy of catching food this way,” he said. The snake got a vine, and with it pulled the crocodile up into the tree. The crocodile laid quietly on the limb, watching with his good eye. When time passed, a chipmunk came running along its path. The crocodile tried to stick out his head quick as lightning; he fell off the limb and hit the ground. One leg hit a rock; it was pulled from its socket. Slowly he dragged himself off into the jungle, saying nothing.
Days passed. Mr. Crocodile was no longer yearning for happiness and wealth. His body was maimed and weak. He just wanted something to eat. One day he saw a baboon sitting in a tree.
“Please, sir,” he said, “could you help me find something to eat?”
“Do you eat land turtles?” the baboon replied. “Follow this path, and you will leave the forest and enter tall prairie grass. There, if you hunt well, you will see the great round backs of prairie turtles. They move slowly; with your sick body, you should be able to catch them.”
The crocodile left the forest and entered the grass. Soon his eye showed him the black forms of turtles under their shells. A huge one was close to him. It was not moving. The crocodile slowly crawled close to it, opened his jaws wide, and bit it with all his strength. His teeth broke. His jaw hurt. His mouth was full of dirt. He had bitten an ant hill.
Mr. Crocodile was sick of traveling. Strangers had deceived him. His body was wasted and maimed. He started back toward his sandbank home. When he got near, he saw an amazing thing. Outside his home was a line of 12 young crocodiles. Each had a pile of different kinds of wealth: goats, pigs, shining cooking pans, bolts of new cloth. Never since he was born had he seen so many good things. Two brothers came out to greet him.
“Where have you been?” they asked. “We've been waiting for you a long time. After you left, the eggs your wife laid in the sand hatched 12 daughters. These young men waiting here have brought their bride-price wealth to marry them.”
Like Mr. Crocodile, I had wasted myself looking for wealth and happiness elsewhere; but both had been in the things I had once despised. Now I was going back home to find them. I journeyed with a light and happy heart.
But ahead of me was also war; the kind of war that every strong Christian must keep fighting within himself until the body dies.
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