Freed from Fear

A shamanistic priest comes to Christ

  • November 21, 2013
  • By: Matt Petersen
A man sitting on a bench, smiling

Pugong lived in fear of evil spirits for most of his life. “I’m going to accept Christ,” he had said for many years, “but not yet. I’m still afraid of what the spirits will do to me.”

At one time Pugong had been a leading shamanistic priest, believing in the spirits’ power to bring success or failure, health or sickness, life or death to his community. He worked hard to appease them, faithfully performing sacrifices and rituals.

The Burning Lamp

Over the years, friends and family encouraged Pugong to accept Christ and abandon the opposing traditions. They quoted John 3:16 and many other Scripture verses in his own language — Ifugao. Anne West, a Wycliffe translator who was working on a Bible in Pugong’s language, was one of those friends. She knew the dangers of spirit worship. When Pugong came home late at night after performing his priestly duties, which often involved drinking large quantities of alcohol, he would see Anne’s lamp still burning and felt that she was always waiting to see that he was safe.

Pugong also listened to gospel recordings in Ifugao, beginning with cardboard record players operated by hand using a pencil. Later it was hand-cranked players, then battery-operated cassette players.

Anne encouraged Pugong to accept Christ, assuring him that God was more powerful than the spirits. But despite the fact that his nine children and many of his neighbors became believers, Pugong continued to wait, wondering what the spirits would do.

The Big Decision

After many years with no ill effects from the spirits, Pugong could no longer deny the spiritual freedom God’s Word was bringing to his friends and family. He finally faced his fear.

“I’m ready to accept Christ,” he said one day, when a church group came to his home.

“Oh, wait until a pastor comes!” someone said.

“No, I don’t need a pastor,” Pugong replied. “I can pray now.”

Pugong did pray. And he insisted on being baptized, although it meant squatting low in a drum of water. Then he did something the spirits really hated — he burned his altar, rice god and other religious paraphernalia. At his request, Pugong’s fellow priests were present. “I truly have become a follower of Christ,” he told them, “and you must do the same.”

Power Over Spirits

This milestone brings new energy to Central Ifugao translators who are translating the Old Testament for their community.

One of those translators is Pugong’s son-in-law, a local pastor who looks forward to the day when every Ifugao-speaking village experiences Christ’s power over the spirits, just as Pugong did.