A Letter From Ghana
The Day the Black Belt Came Untied
HE IS not the way I pictured he would be. Dressed in his flowing robe of crisp white cotton, a two-inch-wide [5 cm] black belt tied snugly around his thin waist, he assumes a fighting position, hands stiff and ready, bare feet planted wide. His face is intense; the brow is furrowed in concentration. His eyes are narrowed, hard, threatening—void of even a hint of softness that would betray weakness.
Suddenly, with a loud yell, he moves. “Hyat!” His hand slices through the air in a blur. Whoosh! A plank of wood snaps with a loud crack and falls to the ground. He whirls again, this time rotating high in the air, his feet and hands in fluid movement to deliver precisely aimed blows to a startled opponent. Could this really be the man who has asked for a Bible study?
I step forward with an outstretched hand. “You must be Kojo. I understand that you would like to study the Bible.” He grasps my hand and smiles broadly, his face warm and friendly. His eyes, no longer intense and intimidating, are now full of curiosity. “Yes, I would like that very much,” he replies. “When do we start?”
We sit with our Bibles and textbooks on a small veranda attached to his house. Here it is cooler, quieter, and we can be alone. There are three of us: Kojo, me, and his small monkey. The little primate, a mere 14 inches [35 cm] long, has a cap of red fur and a tuft of white beard that make him look comical and mischievous. Cute, playful, and extremely inquisitive, he moves about freely, walking on our papers, snatching our pens, sticking his little paws into our shirt pockets in search of a treat. Like a parent accustomed to the noise and fidgeting of small children, Kojo ignores the distractions and concentrates on the lesson. His many questions show me that he is thinking, eager to learn. Maybe karate has taught him to be wary and cautious, for he does not accept anything unless he is convinced and has proof from the Scriptures.
Our study progresses well. In time, however, I see another fight developing, a struggle deep within him that is intensifying. “The only thing I love in this world is martial arts,” he tells me. I can see in this fighter’s heart a passion for combat, a devotion to the skill that he has honed and perfected. At 26 years of age, not only does he love karate but he is good at it, having risen to the level of a black-belt fighter, a status that few have or will ever attain.
I am not sure what Kojo will do. I sense that he realizes that being a karate fighter, hurting others with his hands and feet, cannot be compatible with the compassion, tenderness, and concern that is characteristic of the love found among true Christians. Yet, I know that Bible truth has melted the hearts of harder men. If his heart is right, Kojo too will slowly soften, mellow under the power of God’s Word. I must be patient.
One sultry afternoon when we are about to finish our study, we read a Bible text that jolts Kojo like the blow from an opponent’s powerful kick. “Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one, and anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates,” he reads. (Psalm 11:5) “Anyone loving violence,” he softly repeats to himself. His dark brown eyes, once determined and unyielding, begin to soften. He looks me in the eye and slowly smiles. “I have decided.”
Kojo and I are now doing the work we love best—we are volunteer teachers, providing free Bible instruction to those who will listen. This morning we have an appointment to visit a young man named Luke.
On the way to his house, we take the cramped and crowded road through the market. Hundreds of stalls and vendors line the streets with their goods: heaps of red and green chilies, baskets of ripe tomatoes, mounds of okra, as well as radios, umbrellas, bars of soap, wigs, cooking utensils, and piles of secondhand shoes and clothes. Girls peddle hot spicy food in large aluminum bowls balanced gracefully on their heads. They deftly press their way through the crowd, tempting hungry customers with tasty soups and stews of blackened smoked fish, crabs, and snails. Dogs, goats, and squawking chickens scramble underfoot. Radios blare, horns honk, and people shout.
We follow the dirt path leading away from the commotion of town and arrive at a worn-out building displaying a faded sign: “Long Journey Spot.” Luke, a slight young man in his early 20’s, stands in the doorway and calls us in for a little shade from the sun. His place is stuffed with bags and boxes of dried herbs and roots, leaves tied together with strings, and thick chunks of bark—all belonging to Luke’s elderly aunt, who is an herbalist. Generations of knowledge are in her concoctions, specially pounded and brewed and guaranteed to treat ailments of every description. Luke is expecting us. He has swept the clutter aside and has set up three wooden stools. We sit inches from one another and begin our Bible lesson.
Kojo is Luke’s teacher. I sit back and listen as the two young men discuss the Bible’s answer to why there is so much suffering on earth. When Kojo reaches over to help Luke find a Bible text, I watch as his strong hands gently turn the thin pages to the scripture. And then I remember. Not long ago, those hands were fighter’s hands. The power of God’s Word takes ingrained negative traits that are so common in this unprincipled world and transforms them into the positive qualities of compassion and love. I can think of no greater achievement.
On our way home, we approach a man sitting in the shade of a mango tree. He quietly listens as Kojo opens the Bible and reads a scripture. When the man realizes that we are Jehovah’s Witnesses, he springs to his feet. “I don’t like you people!” he snarls. For an instant, Kojo tenses. Then I see him relax and excuse himself. We walk away.
Down the road Kojo leans over and whispers: “My heart was pounding back there when he said that. Do you know what I could have done to that man?” “I know,” I say with a smile. He smiles back and we continue on our way.