Stories From Miss Ginny • Nunggang the Witchdoctor

Nunggang the Witchdoctor

Nunggang, or as we called him, Bapa Ambet, was a very powerful witch doctor for many years. He put spells on people and made animal sacrifices. Each year, on one special day, he followed others to a nearby mountain to sacrifice to the “Jubata,” the supreme god or evil spirit.

Bapa Ambet lived in the village of Anik Denger- across the swampy area at the back of our property. One thing that made him very unhappy and mostly angry was the fact that his wife and daughter had responded to the gospel message and became Christians.

Nunggang’s daughter became engaged to one of the Christian schoolteachers in Anik. The tradition among the Dayaks is that whichever family initiates arrangements is responsible for providing the wedding feast.

In this case, it was the bride’s family. Since the groom was a schoolteacher, most of the other teachers in both the grade school and the junior high were invited to the feast. And because Ibu Ambet, the mother of the bride, was in our ladies’ group, we were all invited to the wedding and the feast to follow.

A few days before the wedding, Bapa Ambet and a friend of his started making fun of Ibu Ambet. They told her and her daughter that they never should have invited so many people to the feast. They would run out of rice—which symbolizes food and hospitality. In their culture, this would be unforgivable. Ibu Ambet and her daughter would be in shame for the rest of their lives.

However, Bapa Ambet was not prepared for what his wife said next. She was an uneducated village woman who had never been to school. She could not read or write, but she was faithful in learning Bible verses. Many of the older women grew up when there were no schools in the area. Every Sunday afternoon in our Anik ladies’ meeting, we sang, had a Bible lesson, and memorized scripture. Ibu Ambet remembered one of those verses when confronted by her husband and his friend.

She looked at Bapa Ambet and responded, “Have you not heard? My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) Her husband just laughed and called her a fool.

A few days prior to the wedding, we had a lot of rain. The trail to Anik Denger was underwater. To get to the wedding, we walked as far as we could. Then, some of the village men came with small boats to take us the rest of the way! That was an adventure!

The entire wedding was a testimony of God’s grace to Ibu Ambet and her daughter. The ceremony was conducted by Pastor Dewan from the Anik church. The bride’s father and some of his friends were there, but they did not really participate except to eat.

Miss Ginny now works in the World Team USA sending center.

The next Sunday, in ladies’ meeting, Ibu Ambet stood and told us about remembering her Bible verse. She said she knew that God would help and no one would go home hungry from that wedding feast. Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she said: “I had enough leftover rice to feed my pigs for three days.”

It was at that ladies’ meeting that Ibu Ambet, her daughter, and the rest of us made a promise to pray daily for the salvation of her husband, Nunggang—Bapa Ambet.

Nearly two years later, the most amazing thing happened. Bapa Ambet was very depressed and was not getting much ‘business’ as a witch doctor. He decided that he should just end his life by drowning himself in the nearby Menyuke River.

He took a rope and went to the river’s edge, looking for a large rock. He planned to tie the rope around the rock and throw himself into the river. The rock needed to be heavy enough to pull him under.

Just when Bapa Amber thought he had the right rock, he heard what he thought was a voice saying, “Nunggang, if you do that, you will spend eternity in hell.” We had to believe that God was intervening. Note what happened next!

The Anik clinic was open, and patients were being cared for by my co-worker Clara and Anes, our national nurse. (I was not at the clinic that day). Pastor Dewan, the husband of our nurse, was at the window giving out medicine after each patient was seen. He often used this opportunity to share the gospel with the patients and their families.

Suddenly, Bapa Ambet rushed up to the window where Pastor Dewan was seated. He said, “I need to be saved, and I need that right now!” What a total surprise for all the clinic staff and patients waiting to be treated.

Pastor Dewan brought Bapa Ambet inside the clinic and spent a long time talking with him. He wanted to be sure that this was genuine and that Bapa Ambet really understood what it meant to turn from the old ways and follow Christ.

Pastor Dewan had heard that Nunggang had threatened his wife. Fearing for her life, Ibu Ambet took a bus to the town of Ngabang, about an hour away. She had family there that she could stay with for a while until her husband calmed down. Pastor Dewan told Nunggang that he needed to go to Ngabang and apologize to his wife. Then, they both needed to come back to Anik and meet with him.

We heard later what happened. Bapa Ambet found his wife but had to talk a lot to show that he meant it! Ibu Ambet finally agreed to forgive him and return on the bus to Anik. However, she sat in the front of the bus and told him to sit in the back as far away from her as possible—and he did!

After meeting again with Pastor Dewan, Nunggang knew that the next step in following the Lord was to get rid of all the charms and fetishes he had used in his witch doctor practice. For nearly 50 years, he had been using these items.

That evening, we walked down the road to the home of Nunggang’s daughter and son-in-law. We ate a wonderful meal together. Then Pastor Dewan led us outside in the front of the house, right near the edge of the road. We had a time of prayer and singing.

On a large woven mat, Nunggang gathered the things he had used when casting spells and trying to cure sick people with his witchcraft skills. Some of these items, according to those still bound by spirit worship, are so powerful that they cannot burn. We gathered in a circle and sang the hymn ‘Power in the Blood’ as the fire was lit. The flames consumed everything.

Many of us had tears of joy on our faces. His family and many others had prayed for this man for years.
We gave all the glory to the Lord and his working in Nunggang’s life.

The following Sunday, Nunggang was sitting in the front row during the worship service, singing the hymns in a loud voice! We had many visitors that day because word had gotten out about the burning of the fetishes. Some people came just to see Nunggang in church! We trust that some of those who came out of curiosity heard the gospel from Pastor Dewan.

Not long after this happened, my visa was not renewed. I had to return to the States. Sometime later, I got word that Bapa Ambet (Nunggang) had become ill and passed away—but with joy on his face and in his heart.

In 2004, I returned to Kalimantan for the special Jubilee celebration of the founding of our national church association. I also got to spend a few days in my old house in the village of Anik. When I arrived, I was told a story about Ibu Ambet by Sartini, a dear friend, co-worker and former house helper. Together, we had trained Sunday school teachers and provided teaching materials for many of the churches in our district.

Sartini told me that Ibu Ambet would often ask if there was any news about Nona Ginny. Not long before I made the trip back to Kalimantan, Ibu Ambet became very ill. The girls went to visit her and told her that I was coming soon. Mag and Sar said that she just smiled, bowed her head, and prayed that I would have a safe trip. She tried hard to hang on but began to fail. The last thing she said when the girls visited her again was to tell me not to be sad because she knew she would be with the Lord in heaven.

Her family waited until I came to have a feast in honor of Ibu Ambet. Usually, feasts were for naming babies, celebrating the harvest or weddings. However, her family and the church leaders in Anik wanted to do this. It happened the night I arrived in Anik, and I had the privilege of sharing God’s Word at the feast. What an honor!

It was not hard to share about God’s faithfulness to this dear woman who herself was so faithful in following Christ. From the world’s viewpoint, she was a tiny woman with only two teeth who could not read or write—but in God’s eyes, she was a woman of great faith who never gave up praying for the husband who did not believe.