Philip stooped to enter, taking care not to brush his hair against the small animal skulls that hung from the lintel. It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, both physical and spiritual, that dominated the interior of the hut.
"Sit over there!" commanded the figure crouching in the middle of the room. His hair was wild and his face painted; he worn only a loincloth and a necklace made from beads and small bones. The dried mud floor had arcane symbols scratched into it.
Philip could see there weren't any chairs so he chose to squat. "My name is Philip," he said, embarrassed by the obvious tremble in his voice. "This is Pastor Makene. We have come to talk about ..."
"I know why you are here. The spirits told me!"
The man's voice reminded Philip of a witch's cackle from some ancient Shakespeare play.
"Moreover," he added, his voice dripping with malice, "the spirits tell me that your name is not Philip: it is 'fearful'. You have come here in the name of your church but inside your soul is screaming with terror."
And that, unfortunately, was perfectly true.
"You need to go and speak with him." That's what Philip's boss, Pastor Atkinson had said. "You have been put in charge of that village church so it's your responsibility to stand up for the Christians there."
"But you're the missionary-in-charge," Philip retorted. "I've only been here four months. And I've never even spoken with a witchdoctor, let alone had to rebuke one."
"Philip, listen to me. I know you're nervous, but there has to be a first time for everyone. The members of your church love you. They enjoy your ministry. They are prepared to follow you. But you have to be there for them when they need you. Having a powerful witchdoctor pronounce a curse on your elder's wife is not something you can just ignore."
"I know," the younger man agreed. "It's just that this man isn't a charlatan. When old Mr Satoteke refused to pay for a charm, he cursed his cow and it died within hours. And people say that he has manifested the spirits of the dead before now. Maybe you should send someone with more experience?"
"I'll tell you what. I'll send Pastor Makene with you. But he's not to speak - that's your job. He'll just be there for moral support. And besides ..." The missionary paused, he flashed Philip a rascally smile, "If you do get turned into a toad, the pastor can always pick you up and bring you home."
"I... I'm not sure that..."
"The blood of Jesus, Philip. Just claim the blood it's as simple as that. Now get out of here before I'm tempted to call down fire from Heaven!"
"Yes, I am nervous," Philip said, trying but failing to look the witchdoctor in the eye. "But I have been sent here to say that you simply cannot..."
That was as far as the message got. Philip opened his mouth to speak but the words would not come out. It was as if his tongue were turned to stone. In panic he looked at the witchdoctor but all he saw was the smug smile of easy victory.
"What were you going to say?" the man taunted, breaking out into a laugh that was as evil as it was humourless. "What is it that I am not allowed to do?"
Philip was poised to turn and flee. But then he felt an unusual sense of calm descend. Glancing at Pastor Makene, he saw that his lips were moving silently. It looked as if he were praying quietly in tongues. Philip turned once more to the sorcerer and found that his own tongue was instantly loosened.
"I tell you, by the power of the blood of Jesus, that you will not threaten any of my church members." The words were spoken with a force and authority that surprised Philip as much as everyone else.
"My people have left the old ways," he continued, "and I will not allow you to interfere any further in their affairs!"
"Get out!" hissed the withered, pathetic old man cowering in fear against the far wall of the hut. "You are upsetting the spirits."
Philip left, a quiet confidence in his step. "That wasn't too bad," he said to Pastor Makene.
"Not bad at all," he agreed, "- for a first time."
Gregory Kane is a missionary from the UK who ministers in Mozambique, Africa. He can be contacted through his web site at http://kane.elim-moz.org/