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Better Yams
by Thom Mollohan
For Sale


Nicholas’ grandfather was a yam farmer and was known in the small west African village of Kpandai (pronounced "pond-eye") for the successful yield and quality of yams that he grew. The people of the village respected the old man but were silent on the matter of the farm itself and its owner’s methods of preparing the soil. Of course, he was good to the villagers also, knowing that they were neighbors and friends.

That’s why he was careful to hire only “outsiders” to work on his farm. There were always strangers from other tribes and villages in need of work in this secluded and impoverished part of Ghana.

Nicholas knew as well as any other villager from Kpandai of his grandfather’s adherence to the old religion, “Ju-ju”. Ju-ju had been a part of his family’s life as long as anyone could remember. This religion, descending from dark days in Africa’s long, long history, lingers still in vast areas of the “dark continent” with its roots buried deeply in the soil of savage tribal wars and the superstitious and brutal worship of evil spirits.

Nicholas knew the traditions and knew the faith that his grandfather placed in those traditions and beliefs. How many times had Nicholas observed the dark ritual conducted at night, his grandfather dressed in the traditional vestments with the fire and the “victim” before him?

The chanting would begin, at first a soft murmuring, as his grandfather would sharpen the blade. Then the old man's hand would rise while his eyes glazed over, fixed upon the stone in front of him, an especially chosen yam upon it.

The chanting would increase in volume, until the man’s hand was lifted up over his head, the long knife paused for striking. His grandfather would cry out the name of one of the workers currently on his farm and the blade would fall. Again the knife would rise and again it would fall until the “victim” was only a slashed up mass of yam bits in front of the old man. In the frenzy, small chunks sometimes would fly away and strike Nicholas who was forced to stand by and look on. His grandfather would then scatter the pieces of yam pulp both up into the sky and into the fire before him.

Nicholas knew what would come next: before the setting of the sun on the following day, the worker whose name had been called would be dead. His grandfather would then instruct the other workers in burying the body of the slain laborer on the farm, an offering to the spirits for the next year’s good yield. Each year was the same. His grandfather would repeat the ritual and another worker would mysteriously die, becoming spiritual fertilizer for the yam plantation.

For some reason, the workers never made a connection. But why should they? At the end of the each season they would move on to find other work and would never return to Kpandai. All they knew was that a fellow worker had met his end in either a freak accident or a tragic and sudden illness. Then, other strangers would come for the next season to take their place, ignorant of the intentions of their employer.

But the villagers knew. It had been this way as long as anyone in Kpandai could remember. So settled had they become with the relationship, “used to the idea”, that they were not willing to challenge it. Why fight it when the power at work was benefiting them and only claimed its victims from outside their village? Besides, fear ruled their world still. The dark power could not be challenged because the villagers had no weapon and no defense, no power of their own to face it.

So, when Nicholas’ grandfather died, everyone in the village assumed that he, the new owner of the yam plantation, would follow his grandfather’s ways and traditions. “After all,” people said, never knowing the grace that had been shown to them all these years by the one true God, “look how wealthy the spirits made his grandfather.”

Some said, “But he doesn’t follow the old ways anymore. He’s become a Christian.” They were answered with, “It won’t hold. Why lose the farm to follow the white man’s God, this Jesus?”

Nicholas had, in fact, heard some Christians in the village talking about Jesus. He had heard about the cross of Calvary; he had heard about the resurrection; he had even heard that the power that brought Jesus back from the dead could also give him freedom from the dark and terrible magical traditions that he had known all his life.

One night, he fell down on his knees, turned his back on the Old Ways, and received forgiveness and eternal life as he placed his faith in Jesus Christ.

Imagine, then, the raised eyebrows, the sheer astonishment when this young man, Nicholas, declared that he would not walk in the ways of his fathers but would now trust Jesus with the farm, his family, and his future.

The other Christians in Kpandai rejoiced. Those who did not know Christ as Savior, shook their heads. “Just wait," they whispered to each other. "When his farm begins to fail and his family begins to suffer, when the spirits become angry and bring their wrath down upon him, he’ll go back to Ju-ju.”

But the farm did not fail. Nicholas declared that he would grow the yams now in Jesus’ name, trusting that He would help him. And so Jesus did: the yam yield was more plentiful than ever with larger yams than had ever been grown there.

In time, Nicholas became the pastor of the Believers in his village. When asked about his life and his reasons for agreeing to become pastor, he smiled and explained simply, "I want men and women to know the forgiveness of sin that God gives to those who turn to Him. I want them to know His power to heal and forgive. He is real to me and I belong to Him now.”

Copyright © Thom Mollohan.

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