Kissing the Witch Doctor

By Nations Media

I don’t think anyone aims to be typical, really. Most people even vow to themselves some time in high school or college not to be typical. But still, they just kind of loop back to it somehow. Like the circular rails of a train at an amusement park, the scripts we know offer a brand of security, of predictability, of safety for us. But the problem is, they only take us where we’ve already been. They loop us back to places where everyone can easily go, not necessarily where we were made to go. Living a different kind of life takes some guts and grit and a new way of seeing things.
– Bob Goff, Love Does

Every Wednesday, Bob Goff—Point Loma Nazarene University adjunct professor of business, author of New York Times bestselling book Love Does, and founder of nonprofit human rights organization Love Does—goes to Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland. He is a lawyer, and though it has not been identified as such to the Disneyland staff, the island is his office.

Restrictions, normality, and the impossible are foreign concepts to Goff. He follows God with the understanding that Christ calls us not only into a life without borders or limitations, but perhaps more importantly, into a life of adventure—a life beyond our imaginations and inhibitions—and a life of action with others.

This whimsical and atypical way of following after Christ has led Goff on countless adventures, many times to Uganda. There he learned of a common practice of local Ugandan healers—or witch doctors—who abducted, mutilated, and killed young children for ritual religious sacrifices. Goff’s horrified reaction was not uncommon, but his response was. As the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Uganda and an attorney, Goff was the first in Ugandan history to bring a witch doctor to trial for attempted murder. And he won. The guilty verdict set a precedent in Uganda through which justice and change could be enacted.

“As the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Uganda and an attorney, Goff was the first in Ugandan history to bring a witch doctor to trial for attempted murder.”

Goff did not stop there. He began to hold meetings with witch doctors throughout Uganda, not only to stop their brutal and atrocious acts but also to find out what they needed. Their response was almost unanimous: “an education.”

With several graduates from Love Does’ Restore Leadership Academy, a primary and secondary school established in Northern Uganda, Goff launched an in-class educational program for witch doctors. Both feared and respected in their communities, witch doctors live largely in isolation. This program gives them access, often for the first time, to lessons in reading, writing, and employable skills. Today witch doctors who have participated in the program are finding new work and even reporting crimes of child trafficking and sacrifice.

“One of my favorite images is when I get to see them write their ABCs for the first time on a piece of paper, when they used to be out there killing kids,” Goff said.

In November 2014, he and his team also started a mobile school in Gulu, Uganda, through which they travel into “the bush” to gather and educate witch doctors they otherwise would not meet. As part of the class, Goff takes the witch doctors up into the trees and together they complete a fun yet frightening ropes course. While 80 feet up in the air, Goff asks them to stop the violent acts they have committed. Sometimes, his requests come with a few harmless pushes.

Goff understands that to make significant change people must experience the transformational love of Christ. Standing in a room with a class of graduates from the academy, Goff expresses love in a way most would deem unfathomable—he shakes the hands of each witch doctor, cups their faces in his hands, and kisses their foreheads. He then warns them that there will be ramifications if they choose to hurt any more children.

“Standing in a room with a class of graduates from the academy, Goff shakes the hands of each witch doctor, cups their faces in his hands, and kisses their foreheads.”

 Goff frequently enters into situations of conflict to love those labeled unlovable, untouchable, and even enemies. Although this love can be tough, he is adamant in his attempts to validate and encourage others, always seeking to know and call them by their names as Christ did. Every chance he gets, he also takes off his shoes while in conversation.

“It reminds me to be humble,” Goff said. “There’s something so beautiful about that. It’s an acknowledgement that He is here and that this is holy ground. It also makes it so we can literally go toe-to-toe with each other!”

Goff believes that if we make situations about being on a specific side, we aren’t going to get anywhere. As a way to express his servanthood to the Ugandan witch doctors, he asks to wash their feet after every meeting filled with tension and potential danger. Goff’s love for his enemies is evident through his actions and through his continual attempts to lay himself down before them.

“There’s a bunch of people trying to be right,” Goff said. “I am, too! I’m prideful and I’m aiming for right most of the time, and Jesus is aiming for righteous. We’re trying to win all these battles, and Jesus already won! We need to quit trying to be right and start being humble. If we’re captivated by this other stuff, we miss our purpose, which is to love God, love others, and do something about it!”

“I’m prideful and I’m aiming for right most of the time, and Jesus is aiming for righteous.”

On the cover of Love Does is an image of balloons, intended to remind others of the adventure open to all. This illustration is indicative of Goff’s commitment to launching people of all backgrounds–witch doctors included—into a wild and joyful future with Christ. 

“Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving,” he writes in Love Does. “It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about—full of abandon, whimsy, and in love.”

 

A version of this story written by Wendy Cloherty originally appeared in Point Loma Nazarene University’s Viewpoint magazine.