Jesus is better – A compelling transformation from a witch doctor to kingdom worker
On the evening of May 17th 2021, Nelson Presume came to the UCI campus to share his testimony with our Haiti mission team.
He was late.
Knowing Haitian culture, it was not surprising that people are not punctual; what was surprising was why he ran late. That afternoon, Nelson and Pastor Dabou were invited to share the gospel in a village where no one knew Jesus. The notice was short, the area was remote, and both of them had plans to visit our team in the evening, but they went without hesitation. After hearing their testimony and truth from the Bible, 48 people received Christ. Praise the Lord for His grace and glory, and for Nelson and Dabou’s passion for Christ and priority for kingdom work!
Nelson, 35, is married and has four children, ranging from twelve years old to a newborn baby. Seeing his passion for Christ while having heard of his past as a witch doctor, it is intriguing to dive into his journey of transformation.
Slave to the evil spirit
Chosen by the spirit
Haitian Vodou is an African diasporic animistic religion that gradually developed in Haiti between the 16th and 19th centuries. Adherents are known as Vodouists (French: vodouisants) or “servants of the spirits” (Haitian Creole: sèvitè). Vodou revolves around spirits known as Lwa and Vodouists usually meet to worship the Lwa. The Lwa are believed to offer help, protection, and counsel to humans, in return for ritual service. A central ritual involves practitioners drumming, singing, and dancing to encourage a Lwa to possess one of their members and thus communicate with them. A central ritual is led by oungans (priests) or manbos (priestesses) who are often referred to as “witch doctors”. When people have needs, they pay the witch doctor to call on the spirits to do things for them. Vodouists also believe that the Lwa are easily offended. When angered, the Lwa are believed to remove their protection from their devotees, or to inflict misfortune, illness, or madness on an individual.
Caïman is a small village located 5.1km south of Pignon in the Nord (North) Department of Haiti. As in many Haitian villages, Vodou beliefs and practices have been pervasive in the area. Growing up in this area, not only was Nelson familiar with the Vodou practices, but his grandmother was a witch doctor herself. She died when Nelson was 18 years old, and a successor in the family was needed to inherit the business. Nelson was chosen by the spirits to become his family’s next witch doctor.
The Nelson who kills
Soon after, Nelson became dissatisfied with the small size of his business. He wanted more people to come to worship so he could make more money. He paid a visit to Lucner, the master of local witch doctors, to see how he could make his business bigger and make more money. Nelson was able to negotiate a nine-year contract with a franchise granted from the master to expand his business. In return, Nelson would pay the master with his earnings. However, the master would own Nelson’s life and reserve the right to kill him during this period if Nelson did not obey the master. Furthermore, Nelson believed he would die at the end of the contract regardless. Possessed by a desire for greater power and bigger business, and under the influence of alcohol and demonic spirits, Nelson lost his inhibitions to signing such a warped contract despite the severe consequences.
Nelson’s business grew bigger, and he gained more power as he wished. At night when he started the drum, the drumbeat would reach people far away as the signal of gathering. People then came from the whole community, gathered in Nelson’s yard, and the worship began. Throughout the ritual of drumming, drinking, singing, and dancing, Papa Legba, one of the main Lwa spirits, often possessed Nelson while he was drunk. According to Nelson, he had all the “proper” tools to get his job done. Being controlled by the powerful and easily-angered spirits as well as by alcohol, Nelson did countless evil things in this state including beating and killing people — by a spirit of fear which manifested into actual physical harm from the psychological and spiritual force that he put into it as well as through poison, sneak attacks, and spells.
Gradually, Nelson earned quite a reputation in the area and was known as “The Killer”. His house was filled with human skulls. He even killed his own father. His mother and sister knew he killed his father and were secretly fearing for their own lives. Even his wives — he had three at the time — got beaten up badly when they did not cooperate with him.
Death is near
Bit by bit, nobody wanted to associate with Nelson anymore because they feared being killed. Even if they saw him smiling during the day, they never knew what was going to happen at night. Nobody even wanted to go outside because they feared for their lives. Nelson was the real-world incarnation of a boogeyman. He did make quite a bit of money as he wished, but the money was never his to spend. Some went to the master, some was used for the offering, and whatever was left he used on gambling or drinking. Every day he had to start from zero. He was still poor. His wives had no money to buy shoes or clothes for their children. The family had barely anything to eat. With all the dirty work done at night, Nelson was getting very little sleep. Besides, the spirit was in full control of his daily life commanding things like when to shower and what to wear. Moreover, the contract he signed with the master was close to the end. The master was going to kill him, but only the master knew when.
Despite all his power from being known as “the Nelson who kills”, Nelson’s life was miserable — no friends, no money, no sleep, no freedom, and no trust from anyone, not even from his own family. And his life was going to end. Nelson was a total slave to the spirits he was serving. His destiny was death.
Saved by the true God
Jesus is more powerful
If you talked to Nelson about God then, he would have laughed at you. He would tell you “The god I serve is more powerful because he kills.” The Christian preachers did not want to go to his house either, because he could kill them. But Jesus came to change people, on His own timing.
One night, right in the middle of a ritual in Nelson’s yard, JeanJean and Dabou, two UCI pastors, paid him a visit and wanted to SHARE THE GOSPEL with him. Fed up with the drumming at night and deeply concerned with the spiritual void in Nelson’s neighborhood, JeanJean and Dabou decided to put a stop to this. Led by the Holy Spirit, they were standing in Nelson’s yard. Nelson was astonished at their audacity. “Do you know who I am? I am the Nelson who kills! Why do you come?” “God sent us to share with you about Jesus,” JeanJean replied. Then they shared John 3:16 with Nelson and all the worshipers. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Then they went back home. Still in shock, Nelson told them not to come back. That night, the drum did not beat again, and the worshipers dispersed.
But JeanJean and Dabou came back again. Nelson was furious. “Why do you come back? I told you not to come back!” He called on those spirits who used to kill for him. But when he went back to check on them, astoundingly, they were not killed! They even came back to his home a third time! Madame Mèt, a governing, matriarchal spirit Nelson worshiped, ordered the other spirits to ”kill them.” But they couldn’t do it. Before Nelson’s eyes JeanJean and Dabou were protected. At the same time, the worshipers at Nelson’s house started to diminish. It seemed JeanJean and Dabou’s God was more powerful than Nelson’s.
Nelson was confused and mad. He could not stop thinking, “Did my spirit lose power? Is Jesus more powerful than the god in my world?” Perceiving this as the biggest persecution in his life, Nelson wanted them to be dead. “They want to bring me to Jesus, but I want them to be dead,” Nelson recalled thinking.
Jesus is calling
The third time JeanJean came, people from Iowa also came with him. They wanted to give a Bible to every witch doctor. They left a Bible in Nelson’s house. Nelson was adamant that he didn’t want it, but his wife begged, “leave the Bible.” The Bible was kept.
One Friday night, Nelson was very drunk, and he went to bed very late, around four o’clock in the morning. He had a strange dream. In the dream, a man said, “Nelson, wake up and read the Bible.” Nelson refused. The man said it again. But Nelson was exhausted, so he stayed in bed. Again, the same man said, “Nelson, Nelson, didn’t I tell you to read that book? Nelson, Nelson, I tell you again, read that book.” Nelson was too stubborn. He didn’t want to touch the book. So he got up and drank more, hoping the alcohol would drive the vision away.
It didn’t work. Even all the alcohol couldn’t get the voice out of his head.
Eventually, Nelson couldn’t fight with the voice anymore. He flipped open the Bible, and the Bible opened to Galatians 6:7-8. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” These words struck Nelson’s heart. He knew what he sowed in this life. He knew he had even killed his own father. Was he going to reap destruction?
Redeemed by the Christ
With the nine-year contract close to the end, Nelson had 3 months left to live, but only the master knew when he would die. Nelson couldn’t do anything but wait for death. But he did not want to die. He wanted to live. In desperation, Nelson was drawn near to God by His grace. He wanted access to Life.
Finally, he could not wait any longer. He called JeanJean to come over to pray for him. When JeanJean and a few other Christ followers laid hands on Nelson to pray, Nelson felt peace. “I never felt that peace before,” Nelson recalled. On that same day, Nelson accepted Jesus as his Savior and gave his life to Jesus.
After that Nelson went to see his Vodou master. He told the master “I am a Christian now; I can’t do your work anymore.” The master said, “you only have three months left, finish your work.” “No, I am a Christian now,” Nelson said. “I am done. I have nothing to do with you anymore. Jesus will protect me and save me.” Nelson prayed and prayed that Jesus would protect him from being killed by the master.
Some time later, the master’s son told Nelson that the Master had died. The Master was dead, but Nelson was alive, because of Jesus. Three months passed, one year passed, now eight years have passed, Nelson is still living.
Be His witness
Eyes are open
For Nelson’s wife Nanise, her life today and before is like day and night. Now she can see it was a total misery living under the control of evil spirits. Though Nelson made quite a bit of money, the money was so controlled that nothing was left for her and the family. Nanise was skinny, dirty, and had no shoes to wear. Because she was so skinny, people thought she had tuberculosis.
When Nelson was doing his job at night, she was not allowed to sleep. Instead, she had to stay awake and watch everything. One night, Nanise was exhausted after not getting sleep for a week, so she went to sleep while Nelson was working. In the middle of the night, she felt something hit her face, possibly a beating from the drunk Nelson or a psychosomatic effect. The whole night Nanise couldn’t open her eyes. In the morning she was able to open her eyes, but she couldn’t see. She was blind. Nelson hurried to buy a cow and sacrificed it as the offering to the spirit pleading to let her see again. After 48 hours, Nanise could see a little, but it was like through a veil and it was not clear at all.
When people from Iowa brought the Bible to Nelson’s home, she wanted to open it and learn about Jesus. But she couldn’t say so, because she was a woman. If she said it, her life would be short. Later, after she accepted Jesus into her life, things changed for her, too. Her vision returned, clearly, not as through a veil! No eye doctor helped her; it just healed. Today, when she looks at herself, she is still amazed at what she has become. “Is it me?” she often asks, “I don’t believe it.” Now she has shoes, clothes, and everything she needs. She has food for herself and her family. She is clean. She is healthy. She can sleep at night in peace.
“Now my eyes are open so I can see the greatness of God. Years ago, I couldn’t see. Now I can tell you God is a living God, is marvelous, is great, is someone you can’t imagine. All my life was miserable, but when I gave myself to Christ, my tears are gone; they are no more.”
Never going back
Though a new person in Christ, Nelson faced constant temptation (from former customers) and pressure (from the enemy) to go back to his old life. Unwavering in his new faith and determined not to go back, Nelson burned down everything and moved to a different place. With training provided by UCI, he joined a UCI construction crew and learned the new skill of building houses to make a living. His crewmates helped him build a new home. He chose one of his three wives to stay with him in marriage but let the other two wives go. It was not an easy choice because they also had children and had to start a new life. But it was the right thing to do. Today, Nelson Presume can SMILE. Before Christ; no way.
When asked to share his favorite Bible verses, Nelson cited 2 Peter 2:21-22. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.’” Nelson does not want to go back to his old life. These verses always remind him of the past and help him stay strong, not turning back.
Once, Nelson had only 3 months left to live. Now, almost eight years later, Nelson is a living witness that Satan comes to kill, but Jesus comes to give life. Nelson declared, “Christ gives life. I live because of Christ. This is why I can’t stop telling people to follow Jesus. Till today, I can’t stop going to places and sharing the gospel with people.” He continues to share his testimony and bring people to Christ.
Nelson has a special heart to convert other Vodou witch doctors and followers because he knows how much suffering they endure while being slaves to the evil spirits. He keeps telling them, “Do not trust witchcraft. THEY ARE LYING TO YOU. The evil spirit cannot protect or give what they promise. They come to kill. ONLY JESUS, THE TRUE GOD, COMES TO SAVE.” Sometimes he does not open the Bible, but instead points to himself. “Just look at me! He physically changed me!” Many Vodouists, witch doctors or followers, have been converted to Christ since. On that afternoon of May 17, 48 people accepted Jesus as their Savior after hearing testimony from Nelson and Dabou. Praise God! Jesus comes to this world to change people, in His timing. Just like JeanJean and Dabou shared the gospel with Nelson and his life was saved eight years ago, today it is Nelson’s job to follow their steps and do the exact same to help others.
A witch doctor at the age of eighteen, saved by Christ at twenty-seven, and now at the age of thirty-five Nelson has been a faithful kingdom worker for eight years, with many years more to come. He does two things in his new life: share the gospel (the heavenly work), and build homes (the earthly work), in that order. Praise the Lord for a miracle transformation only He is capable of. May God bless Nelson and his family!
Please pray for JeanJean, Dabou, and the whole community. Pray for me that I can continue to do this job that He called me to do. Pray for my kids to follow my step, to follow Jesus. Do not let anything in this world make you leave Christ. Satan is the liar. Jesus is the true God.
Please pray for JeanJean, Kristie, and Dabou. They came to share the gospel with us when everybody was afraid. Please pray for the families who are still under the control of the evil spirits. If God allows you to share gospel with people, don’t hesitate, the Holy Spirit will do the job.