The Witch Doctor and the Preacher
Would the preacher share his magic?
By Wellesley Muir
Lino Chaiña, living in the city of Juli overlooking Peru’s Lake Titicaca, supported his family by practicing witchcraft. Although the city boasts four colonial cathedrals built in the days of the Spanish conquistadores, the Aymara Indians lived in fear and superstition. As a witch doctor, Chaiña exploited this fear by practicing magic.
Hearing that the biggest book of magic ever published was for sale in Puno, he thought, It will take me two days to walk there, but I’ll make any sacrifice to get this book. Eighty kilometers [50 miles] is a long way to walk, but it’ll be worth it.
In those days there was no highway to Puno, just a trail traveled by animals and people. Leaving as the first rays of morning light burst over the giant lake, he walked past the Santa Cruz church, a cathedral originally built by Jesuits. Indian stonemasons had carved a huge sun, the Inca god, on the front of the church. The fact that the sun, bringing warmth to his body and breaking the chill of the crisp morning air, had been created by a loving God never entered Chaiña’s mind.
A flock of magnificent flamingos took flight as he walked along the lakeshore north of Juli. Their red and white wings remind me of the Peruvian flag, he thought. Occasionally he met young children herding their family’s sheep as he trudged on toward Ilave. By midafternoon a stranger joined him when he passed the village of Acora.
“We’ll arrive at Plateria soon,” the man said. “There’s a house back against the hill where a gringo [White foreigner] lives. They say he’s a man in the daytime and turns into an animal at night.”
“Really?” Chaiña questioned.
“Yes! People say it happens all the time.”
Amazing! A new idea burst into Chaiña’s mind. If I learned to do this, I could frighten people at night. Then as a witch doctor I could charge to protect folks from wild animals. I’d earn a lot of money.
Approaching Plateria late in the afternoon, the stranger pointed to the only house in the area with a metal roof. It stood alone back against a hill. “That’s where the gringo lives,” he said. “His name is Ferdinand [Fernando] Stahl.”
Obsessed with the idea of being able to become an animal at night, Chaiña decided to leave the trail and investigate for himself. He followed a stony path to the Stahl home. Trembling, he knocked on the big wooden door. The door opened, and a tall, strong man greeted him in his native Aymara.
Not Just a Book—the Book
“Kamisaraki hermano! Why are you here?” Pastor Stahl questioned.
“I’m on my way to Puno to buy the biggest and best book of magic ever published,” Chaiña said.
Stahl smiled: “You don’t have to go to Puno. I have the best book of magic ever published right here,” he exclaimed. “Come in, I’ll show it to you.”
Stahl reached out with a big abrazo [hug] and pulled the witch doctor into his home. “Please, have a seat at the table. What’s your name?”
“I’m Lino Chaiña, from Juli.”
Stahl walked to a bookcase and pulled out a huge family Bible with lots of illustrations. “Señor Chaiña,” he said, “this is the best book of magic ever published. It changes people’s lives.”
Chaiña gulped. Does he mean it tells how to change from a man to an animal?
Stahl sat down beside Lino Chaiña and began turning pages in the big Bible. When they got to the book of Daniel, he saw pictures of all kinds of strange animals.
It must be true, Chaiña thought. This man must know how to turn himself into an animal at night. When they got to the book of Revelation, Chaiña became totally convinced. Here were pictures of outlandish beasts he never imagined existed.
The two men talked for a long time. Finally Stahl said, “It’s late. You can’t go to Puno tonight. Let’s eat together, and you can spend the night with me. My wife, Ana, is away on a trip, but she left me with a lot of good bread, and we can have soup.”
Later Stahl suggested: “Since my wife is gone, you can stay in our room. I’ll sleep in the big bed, and you can have a cot over against the wall.”
Lino Chaiña, the witch doctor from Juli, watched as Stahl got on his knees beside his bed and stayed there for a long time. He must be asking the spirits to turn him into an animal, Chaiña imagined. Instead of going to sleep, Chaiña stayed awake all night waiting to see missionary Stahl turn into an animal. When Stahl jumped out of bed in the morning, Chaiña moaned, What they told me isn’t true. He’s still a man.
Disappointed at first, but fascinated with the “best book of magic” and all the strange animal pictures, he stayed all day studying the Bible with missionary Stahl. He stayed the next day, and the next. He studied with Stahl every day for three weeks. Stahl gave Chaiña a Bible, and instead of going to Puno to buy the big book of magic, he went back to Juli and burned all his books of magic.
After continuing to study for almost a year, Chaiña returned to Plateria and asked to be baptized by Pastor Stahl. Soon his wife and children were baptized too. A dictionary definition hardly justifies calling the Bible a book of magic, but Stahl was right. The Bible worked like magic on the hearts of the Chaiña family and thousands of other Aymara Indians living around Lake Titicaca.
The transforming power of God’s Word to change human lives is amazing. I like the way Ellen G. White put it: “The whole Bible is a revelation of the glory of God in Christ. Received, believed, obeyed, it is the great instrumentality in the transformation of character. It is the grand stimulus, the constraining force, that quickens the physical, mental, and spiritual powers, and directs the life into right channels” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 458).
A Link to the Past
My family lived at the headquarters of the Lake Titicaca Mission for five years, but I never heard of Lino Chaiña. Soon after I transferred to Lima, the mission asked me to visit mission stations on the Perené River.
At a Campas village one evening, an Adventist teacher and his wife invited me to join them for supper of papaya, mango, bananas, and delicious bread prepared by his wife over an open fire. While eating in the light of a flickering candle, I asked the teacher where he was from and how he became an Adventist.
“My father was a witch doctor in Juli,” he said. Then he told me the story you’ve just read. He added, “We were about the only Adventists in the area, and my parents sacrificed a great deal to send me to the Lake Titicaca Training College, where I studied to become a teacher. I thank God for the Stahls, who brought God’s Word to the Lake Titicaca area.”
Chaiña’s son continued, “When the Stahls had health problems because of the high altitude, instead of going home they moved to the Perené in the Upper Amazon jungle and pioneered gospel work among the Campas. It’s a privilege for me to be able to work here where they worked.”
“Is your father still alive?” I asked.
“Yes. My mother died, but my father lives alone high on the mountain above the city of Juli. He cares for his sheep and lives by selling wool.”
Then I made a decision: If I ever get a chance, I will visit Lino Chaiña.
Just a Little Farther
After nine years in Lima we moved back to the Lake Titicaca Mission. We’d been in Peru almost 16 years, and still I had not met Lino Chaiña. We spent a long weekend at a mission station near the border of Bolivia. Traveling home, we passed through Juli. I turned to my wife, Evelyn, and said, “If we’re ever going to see Brother Chaiña, we’d better do it now.”
There was a problem. It had been more than 10 years since I had visited his son, and all I knew was that his father lived up the mountain above Juli. “He could be dead by now,” I told my wife.
We started asking for directions. Some said they didn’t know, but most people simply pointed up the mountain. We found an animal trail and followed it, stopping occasionally to ask for the home of Lino Chaiña. The answer was always the same. “He lives farther up the mountain.”
When the trail we were trying to drive on became impassable, we left our car and started walking. Breathing became more difficult at more than 14,000 feet elevation, but each time we stopped to catch our breath we turned around for magnificent views of Lake Titicaca.
We’d walked for more than an hour when we met a man on the trail who said Chaiña’s adobe home was just a little farther. We walked another hour without seeing any homes at all. We stopped and talked with some women. One woman pointed in the distance. “That’s Chaiña’s home,” she said.
We kept walking, and at 15,000 feet elevation reached the thatched adobe house. No one was around; everything was locked up. I looked at my wife. “Have we come all the way up here in vain?”
Two men came by. “Have you seen Lino Cahiña?” I asked.
“Yes,” they said. “He’s with his sheep a little farther up the mountain. Follow the trail we just came down.”
After walking another half hour, we were getting discouraged. “Look, Evelyn,” I said to my wife, “there’s a flock of sheep.” We walked closer. I could see an old man sitting on the ground. He had something in his hand—a book. Engrossed in reading, he didn’t see us as we walked closer. He’s reading the best book of magic! I wanted to shout.
“Buenas tardes, hermano Chaiña!” Startled, he looked up. We couldn’t help rejoicing. Former witch doctor Lino Chaiña, 90 years old, sitting on the mountainside reading the book of “magic”—his Bible—and still faithful to his Savior 60 years after meeting Pastor Stahl.
We sat with him and talked for a long time. I told him about meeting his son, a teacher on the Perené in the jungle. He responded, “My wife is resting now, but we were grateful to God when our son chose to become a missionary teacher. We were excited when he started teaching where the Stahls worked in the Amazon jungle. I thank the Lord that Pastor Stahl taught me to love God and His great book of ‘magic’.”
It proved difficult to hold back tears of joy when we prayed with this dear old man and turned to leave. “I’ve been reviewing Bible teaching about Christ’s coming,” he said. “I pray He will come soon. I want to be with you, the Stahls, and all God’s people in His kingdom.”
Wellesley Muir, retired missionary and pastor, lives in Oakhurst, California, U.S.A.