by Stephanie Cooper | Staff Writer
The JESUS film is the most widely watched, most translated film in human history. Viewed by nearly 7.7 billion people worldwide and presented in over 1,600 different languages, more than 530 million people have indicated decisions for Christ since its creation in 1979.*
The following account is based on true events of one such decision. Names have been changed for privacy.
Sickness coiled through Zenia. Demons seared her insides, their claws ripping her stomach and driving her mad. In her darkest moments, she ran naked, screaming and cursing at the villagers in her town in Ethiopia. While the rest of the community whispered about her outbursts, she remembered none of it.
Like previous generations of her family, Zenia practiced witchcraft and worshipped spirits. Every morning, she would try to speak with demons and obey their orders. She never expected them to turn on her.
Her torment left her unable to care for herself or her family. Her mother and father remembered the sweet child she once was and were grieved and ashamed. They resolved in their family that she could not be healed.
Desperate to be free from the demons’ anger, Zenia sought out the village witch doctor. Heart pounding, she knocked on his door.
“Please heal me,” she begged.
He paused to consider her request, then said, “The spirits choose who will and will not be healed. Give them an offering to gain their favour.” He pointed out the door to his fields, and continued, “Bury money in my field for seven nights. The more you bury, the faster you will be healed.”
Zenia was sure the spirits wouldn’t be impressed by her small offering, but perhaps they would have pity and spare her from this torment. She buried her money by moonlight, feeling the witch doctor’s eyes on her as she worked. The sickness tightened inside her, and she could hear the spirits laughing while she wept.
“I have amulets to protect you,” said the witch doctor when she returned.
She bought the amulets, the prayers, and the spells until she had no money left. The witch doctor burned roots and recited incantations over her, filling his hut with smoke until Zenia could hardly breathe. She begged the spirits to free her, to have mercy and remember how she worshipped and served them.
In the morning, she still felt the demons’ claws piercing her stomach.
She skirted through the village on her way back to the witch doctor’s hut, careful not to be seen by those who were drilling a water well. She would only bring her family shame if they or anyone from her village saw her.
The witch doctor’s eyes gleamed when she returned. “You must bring me a goat to sacrifice to the devil,” he said. “Only he can heal you now.”
Her family’s lone goat provided them with milk and would give them meat when the time came to butcher it. She hesitated at the thought of stealing it, but if the animal would heal her, she had to take it. She was desperate for relief.
Darkness fell as Zenia led the goat to the witch doctor. She couldn’t watch as he bound the creature to his altar and called on the devil. The hut darkened.
“Please leave me,” she begged. “Take this curse away.”
She heard the demons laughing as the witch doctor’s knife sliced through the goat’s throat. Its blood drained into a bowl that he then pushed towards Zenia. Her hands shook as she lifted it to her lips.
The next morning, Zenia woke in the middle of the village with bruises all over her body. The blood had done nothing except wake the demons that made her run wild. She returned to the witch doctor’s hut, where there was no sign of the slain goat.
“You want another spell?” he asked. “Bring me another goat.”
Zenia’s memory began to return. She left his house in a daze, stumbling into his field as she realized what she’d done, yet another shame she had brought to her family. They now had no goat. They might even starve, and it would be all her fault.
She fell to her knees, rocking back and forth as regret crashed down on her. The sacrifice hadn’t worked. She had nothing left—she couldn’t go home, where they surely hated her. She had done too many terrible things to be redeemed. Was there anything she could do to help them survive?
Suddenly, it hit her. The field! She sat up a little, considering the idea. If she was already cursed, taking back the money she’d buried couldn’t make her situation any worse.
So she waited until dark to return to the dig site. It was difficult to see in the faint moonlight, and the ground was surprisingly rougher than she last remembered.
After several minutes of digging, she still hadn’t found the money.
“There were no spells left for her to buy, no more sacrifices she could make. She closed her eyes and wished for death.”
She dug deeper, and searched the surrounding area, but there was nothing. The spirits couldn’t have taken it—she still felt the claws in her stomach.
Her eyes drifted up to the hut near the edge of the forest. It must have been the witch doctor. No one else knew the money was buried here except him. He’d taken her family’s goat, stolen all her money, and left her to suffer. Wild anger rose inside of her, but she didn’t have the strength to fight it back.
She got up and ran through the village as she screamed wildly in the night. She couldn’t stop herself from scratching her own body, desperate to rid herself of the demons. When her outburst finally passed, she found herself naked at the other end of the village.
Zenia cried as she lay on the ground, covered in dirt. No one wanted anything to do with her. She had nothing left. She’d betrayed her own family and disgraced her village. There were no spells left for her to buy, no more sacrifices she could make. She closed her eyes and wished for death.
A different sacrifice
“They’re finished! It’s time!” a voice cried out near the village market.
It was near dusk when Zenia opened her eyes. She saw several people walk towards a growing gathering. She got to her feet and retrieved some of her clothes laying nearby. Keeping her distance, she made her way to the market to see what was happening.
As she got closer, she saw clean water flowing from the newly completed well. People were celebrating and collecting the water in buckets and pans and filling cisterns.
However, something else was going on as well. Some men were stretching a large, white cloth between two posts. They said in her language that they were going to show a “film” and explained that the people they would see on the sheet weren’t really there, but had an important and true story for everyone in the village.
When darkness fell and many people gathered, the film started. Zenia watched in amazement as she heard the people on the sheet speak her language. They followed a man who was more powerful than the spirits that haunted her. He could command demons to obey Him. His name was Jesus, and He freed people like her, people who couldn’t control their madness. He was far stronger than the witch doctor. This Jesus could cure her!
A nearby movement caught her attention. The witch doctor circled the crowd, waving his arms and calling on dark spirits to disperse the people. She waited to see if the villagers would leave, but no one moved. No one even looked at him. He finally backed away, pulling at the amulets around his neck and muttering under his breath.
Zenia looked back at the crowd and saw her family sitting near the front. Perhaps they were hoping that the man in the film would visit them and cure Zenia, but maybe they were cursing her for stealing their goat. She turned away, but the man in the film looked like He was staring at her. She saw that His eyes were kind. If He had healed so many people already, perhaps He would heal her as well.
“Jesus was stronger than the spirits. He was more powerful than the witch doctor and healed her when nothing else could.”
After the film concluded, many stayed behind to speak to the people who had brought the film, including Zenia.
When it was her turn, she said, “I want to be healed like the people in the film. Where is this Jesus? What do I have to do to please Him?”
They smiled, and replied in her language. “Nothing. Jesus already made the only sacrifice you need. All you have to do is accept His gift.”
She knew if there was a chance He could help her—any chance at all that He might free her from this sickness and her shame—she would take it. She wanted to be with Jesus and in His peace.
Zenia let the men lay their hands on her shoulders and speak over her. As they prayed for her, she felt the claws in her stomach lose their grip. A warmth flowed through her. The darkness in her heart gave way to a gentle light, and she felt the evil depart.
She was finally free! Stunned, Zenia fell to her knees. She took her first deep breath in years, with no demons in her stomach to pain her. Jesus was stronger than the spirits. He was more powerful than the witch doctor and healed her when nothing else could. Tears flowed as she laughed with joy and relief. It was a new sound, full of the love that could only come from Jesus.
Never again did the demons return. They knew better.
With the completion of the new well, Zenia and the others in her village had easy access to clean water for the first time in their lives. At the new church in her village, Zenia worshipped and prayed to Jesus daily. Her family was encouraged by the change they saw in her, and they also came to accept Christ into their hearts. It was a joyous time for (almost) everyone.
The witch doctor, seeing his influence significantly diminished, left the village. Of course, the new Jesus followers made numerous invitations for him to receive Christ, but these words only seemed to irritate him more. They committed to praying for him and anyone else in the village that had yet to accept the faith. Perhaps one day, their hearts would soften.
Even though life in the village still had its daily struggles, many people now had a hope they never experienced before. In an amazing act of generosity, one wealthy villager who witnessed so much positive change gave a goat to Zenia’s family. It meant so much to all of them.
Together, they praised Jesus in their village as their greatest blessing.