It’s been awhile. So you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. But no, you don’t need to forgive me a typo. What I meant to write was milacle, not miracle. Somehow, that´s what more than a few Beninese make of the word, even if they speak quite reasonable French. Dieu a fait ses milacles, God has wrought his miracles.
Last Saturday night, for instance. Excitement all
over. There was a miracle in Dogbo last
night! A burning tree in the schoolyard, which wasn´t consumed! In the
telling, the miracle grew. The fire was like that of a Roman candle, but it
wasn´t hot! One could put one´s hand right into the flames and not be harmed!
It started spontaneously, and no-one was able to put it out! Look at this photo
which I made with my portable: do you
see what I see?
Well, putting aside all scepticism for a moment, and
rorschaching furiously: there seems to be what could be a human figure just
above and to the right of centre. And is that a crown he’s wearing? A second milacle: the figure wasn’t to be seen in
the light of the burning tree, but everyone I showed the photo to sees the same
No, this is not me talking; this is the witness to the
miracle of Dogbo. Convinced beyond doubt, reasonable or otherwise. It’s Jesus,
King of kings, come to remind Dogbo that he is really there, and that he isn’t
going to take backseat to a charlatan.
And for that, we have to go back a few days. Since the
Thursday before, Dogbo has been in the spell of a ressuscitée. As it happens, she has taken up residence in the house
across the street from ours. We didn’t notice her arrival, since we were in
Cotonou, arranging for the removal of our goods at the end of November. (Yes,
it’s true: just a month from today, our time here will be up, and we’ll be
returning home!) But when we got here on Friday, her vehicle was parked behind
the gate, and there comings and goings, which continued all hours of the day
and night. The vehicle was unusually luxurious for Benin: a gold-coloured Rav 4,
with custom wheels and in mint condition. The ressuscitée herself was like her vehicle: in good shape, elegantly coiffured,
robed in the best Vlisco Holland Wax, and garlanded with expensive rings and colliers
and bangles. She can’t have been more than in her late twenties, but the way
her entourage genuflected, you’d think she was three times that. Imperiously
she received the flow of visitors at the gate, allowed someone behind her to
take the offerings in hand, and led the way into the house, from which loud song
and prayers then issued. Whatever it was the people came for, she apparently had
the gift of making them feel they had received it; I saw no disappointment on
the faces of any of the supplicants as they left.
Who is she? Said Francois, our guardian for the night:
she died, and after six days came back from
heaven with messages from God. And now she’s touring around West Africa organising
meetings for the faithful. He was a bit ambivalent about the truth of these
things, it seemed. Yes, she had really died. Everybody said so. But no, he didn’t
really think she had divine messages for mankind. One thing was sure: her
mission to the world was making her prosper. From Thursday to Saturday night, twice
a day, she packed them in under the huge tents at the arrondissement: up to a thousand people at a time, all more than
willing to offer generously when time came for the collection. No doubts about
how she managed to afford the shining Rav 4, between the proceeds of the meetings
and the steady flow of visitors who came to be prayed for in the house across
Not everyone was as credulous. Joseph said: prayer is supposed to be free. Mariette
argued with one of the pasteurs in the
ressuscitée’s train: have you ever been near someone who has been
dead for more than a couple of days, here in Africa’s tropical heat? If she was
really dead, the smell would have driven everyone mad. And in the end,
Francois dismissed the claims as well. But something had been loosed in Dogbo.
For or against this charlatan: everyone was talking, everyone was alert for
signs of the supernatural.
And then, Saturday night, the milacle. Like Moses and the burning bush. Fire and smoke and a tree
which stood untouched. Or so the story went, for a while. In the end, the fire
died down. And the tree with it. We drive by the schoolyard and there it lies
on the ground. Well and truly consumed.
What was the case? This tree had been worrying the
principal at the school for some time now. Hollow, it had started rotting as it
stood, and branches were in danger of breaking off, to the peril of children
playing in the schoolyard. Said he to the caretaker: at the close of school on
Friday, set fire to the tree, so that we can get rid of it. Which the caretaker
did. But this is the rainy season in Dogbo. The fire had gone out. However, by
some fluke, some coals had apparently continued to smoulder in the hollow
interior. And early Saturday evening some children had discovered that. They
had started playing, as children will do. Poking into the coals with straws and
sticks and palm fronds, blowing the embers into flame. The hollow in the tree
had acted as a natural chimney, drawing the flames upwards and out through the
openings at the top. A spectacular sight, of course, and the hotter the fire
inside became, the harder the draft carried the sparks upwards. But on the
outside, the trunk remained barely warm to the touch. And so it was: the milacle of Dogbo, fuelled by the
hysteria caused by our lady across the street.
Sunday morning I preached on eternal life, based on John 3.12-21. No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven - the Son of man. He alone has messages from God. He alone is our Ressuscité, with words about eternity worth believing. And everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. Call that a milacle. Beats a Rav 4 any day.