Aristote's pastor and a so-called prophetess held him and three other children over the flames of a fire. It was a ritual to exorcise them of the ‘demons of witchcraft’. The pastor took each child’s arms and the prophetess their legs, purposely turning them over the flames. Having burnt the flesh off the children’s stomachs and buttocks, the perpetrators then immersed them in a river before locking them up in a church for four months and starving them of food, all in an attempt to get the children to confess to being ‘witches’.
|Aristote and his mother|
Aristote is just an ordinary 9 year old boy who lives in Kinshasa in DRC. He was freed after his mother discovered where he was being held captive and demanded his release. An impoverished woman with eight other children, she had given Aristote into the care of her sister and her husband. Aristote’s aunt and uncle accused him of being a witch when the family suffered a run of bad luck, and they took him to be ‘treated’ by the pastor and prophetess. Aristote’s rescuers found ten other children imprisoned in the church with him.
Tragically, since I heard Aristote's story ten years ago, I have come across dozens and dozens of similar cases. Multiple thousands of children in African nations and many other parts of the world suffer in similar ways, because they are perceived to be ‘child witches’.
We may not understand how anyone could accuse a child of being a ‘witch’. We may find it even harder to understand how some churches and church leaders are complicit in this abuse – all in the name of Jesus Christ. However, in many parts of the world today, worldviews and cultures exist in which misfortune is attributed to the work of ‘witches’ – children and adults who are seen as having inherent occult powers which they use in secret, often at night, to bring harm to others. Sadly, many church leaders and Christian communities blend their Christian beliefs with some of these harmful beliefs prevailing in their local cultures. This syncretism leads to distorted theology, harmful practices and a diseased Church whose leaders are capable of holding children over fires.
As Christians, we are not to be swayed by harmful philosophies but rather by Christ. Colossians 2:8-10 says: ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.’
May we, as members of the worldwide Church, be a distinctive group of people who are no longer primarily influenced by local culture and beliefs – particularly where they bring harm and contradict God’s law of love and Christ’s example. Rather, let us reflect the character of Christ and his kingdom ways. By doing so, we will bring life, light and kingdom restoration to the societies in which we live.