John Holbrook

The Shaman’s Dream

That’s the place that I saw in my dream last night!” Barilion almost shouted. “The real thing is so much better than the picture, though. You have to tell me how to get there!”

Barilion was the grand old man of the village and a powerful shaman. I still remember that day when, as a kid, I overheard him talking to my dad. He had come to our hut, where we held church services every Sabbath. He wanted to know what these strange new missionaries were teaching his people. To his shock, however, the first thing he saw was a picture roll hanging on the wall showing a painting of heaven, the very place God had shown him the night before.

The next day Barilion and his wife came to learn more about God and to ask for baptism. At the time, a young intern working with us noticed a copper ring that Barilion’s wife was wearing. “This is not jewelry,” she replied in answer to his question. “This is medicine in our culture. If I get poisoned in the jungle, I scrape some copper into the water and drink it. However, if this will stand in the way of my going to where God lives, I will get rid of it.” With that, she started to tug and twist her finger until she dislodged the ring. Hurling it into the weeds, she declared, “If my husband is going to heaven, I’m going too.”

I was impressed at the determination of Barilion and his wife to follow God no matter the cost. This encounter was the first time I realized that what one culture calls jewelry might be medicine, clothing, or even a form of identification for another. The intern, too, did not understand this at the time.

It was only about a week after the couple’s baptism when we heard a gentle cough at our back door. It was Barilion. “Pastor,” he said. “For many years, two bright white spirits came to me, gave me good advice and warned of dangers to come. They never did or said anything bad like the other spirits I worked with as a shaman. I wasn’t sure if they were demons or if maybe they were actually angels. After my baptism, though, they came back one more time. ‘You have to choose between us and the God the missionaries teach about,’ they said. I told them that I chose God, and they left.”

And the spirits never came back. Today, almost 30 years later, Barilion still loves Jesus. He doesn’t understand the subtleties of theology, but he knows that God loves him, so he waits patiently until the day that Jesus will take him to the heaven that God showed him in that dream so many years ago.

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