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The Knotty Problem of the Haunted Wells

In Footsteps No.12 we reported that people living near Mengo Hospital in Uganda preferred to drink dirty river water instead of the clean water offered to them because of their fear of spirits.

1993 Available in French, English and Spanish

Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Immunization – Footsteps 14

Practical tips for carrying out successful immunization programmes

In Footsteps No.12 we reported that people living near Mengo Hospital in Uganda preferred to drink dirty river water instead of the clean water offered to them because of their fear of spirits.

Here are some of the ideas you sent us.

I read with great interest the Knotty Problem in Issue No 12. Many people, both rural and urban, put a lot of belief in the spirit world and live their lives in fear.  It is important to teach people about the spiritual battle we have around us. In the case of the wells, let one well be taken as an example. Assuming those concerned are Christians, prayerfully convince people, especially the elders and leaders of the community of the need to use the wells for clean water.  Protect the well, and battle it out spiritually in prayer - pleading the blood of Jesus.

When people enjoy the benefits of good, abundant and clean water, their health will improve, the hospital will have fewer patients and this will lead to the automatic protection of the other well as well as being a positive Christian witness.

Patrick W Okki, Kampala, Uganda

Having worked in Uganda with CMS, I know Mengo Hospital and problems which are based on superstition only too well.

I would like to suggest that rather than thinking of this as a problem - think of it as an opportunity!  If the local people believe that the wells are haunted, so be it, but if the creature is a spirit of the well, it is his well and he is there to protect it and he will do it no harm. If animals and people are dirtying the water he will be very angry.

With prayer and pastors playing a big part, go ahead in faith with the wells - providing facilities for animals and washing clothes as well as taps for clean water. Most Ugandans are aware of the power of prayer, both Muslim and Christian, so religious leaders should have no problems explaining about how disease is spread through dirty water and about what the Bible says about looking after our own bodies and caring for animals (using the Old Testament, since Christians and Muslims come from the same historic background).

People are naturally lazy and I believe that many superstitions are developed to frighten people into doing things they might otherwise be too lazy to bother about. Wells are often badly looked after - what better way of keeping wells clean than by telling stories of spirits who will be angry if people mess up the well. If Christians show no fear and provide Christian teaching I am sure that the fears of local people will be overcome.

Margaret Pattinson, Essex, UK

I enjoy reading Footsteps with its lovely spirit coming through to me from its pages. I have just read the Knotty Problem in Issue 12. Christians should have little fear of such evil spirits which keep people in bondage to drinking dirty water and ill health as a result. Some Christians with faith should go there and invoke the power of Christ praying that any evil spirit should depart from the place. Those who have believed in such evil may now believe that Christ can turn such a place into a sign of God’s love and power. Clean water bubbling up from the ground is to me such a wonderful image of God’s grace, of the cleansing power of baptism, of the water flowing from the temple etc.

Then the place and its approaches should be cleaned and cleared and some Christian sign placed there to remind those who may still be fearful that this is now a holy place.

Five metres is a large span to cover. If the water is flowing away from the well area, then it would only be necessary to wall off or protect the place where the water is coming out. Direct the water through a pipe or over a low wall so buckets can be filled easily. I have done a lot of work with water supplies and if I had more information I might have some better suggestions.

I love water, wells and springs. They are God’s gift to us and evil pagan beliefs should not prevent people, especially Christians using it. Prayer and perseverance can liberate the people and the water.

Father Vinnie O’Brian, St Justin’s, Otukpo, Nigeria

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