They say that there is nothing more terrible than a heart that is pitiless, insensitive, and cruel, like a cold, soulless stone. Neither pity, nor love, nor even the slightest understanding can be found in such a soul. It is also said that a person who has sold his soul to the devil and entered into actual communication with him can’t be corrected even if he wants to be; the mark of this past diabolical influence will remain on his soul for the rest of his life. Is it really possible for a man who made his own natural character evil, and even got “high” on evil, to repent and change?
There is such man among us. His name is Joshua Milton Blahyi. An African born in 1971 in Liberia, a country created by the descendants of freed American slaves, he would seem to be an ordinary man. But Blayhi stands out for the depth of evil that he committed. To say it right out and frankly, it would be hard to find anything comparable within the last several hundred years. He is still alive. What did this man do? We warn the reader here that what he is about to read is, although shocking enough, actually toned down in comparison with the facts of our hero’s biography.
The tribal cult required human sacrifice, and at age eleven the boy went through a special initiation: he stood naked near the altar while the elders led a girl to him, undressed her, and wiped her body with clay. Then Joshua cold-heartedly sliced open the girl, took her still beating heart out of her bleeding chest, and ate it. He ate the rest of the victim over the course of three days. After this, having been prepared by occult practice and gone through the initiation, Blahyi had a particular mystical experience—on some very subtle level he came into contact with the devil, who told Joshua that he would become a great warrior, but in order to do so he would have to continually offer human sacrifices and eat the hearts of children. We recall that the ability to enter into contact with the demonic world comes when a person crosses over a specific spiritual boundary. The initiation murder and the occult rituals themselves constituting his crossing over that boundary, where he was met by satan’s pitiless grin, were masked at first by promises of military glory. Blahyi fulfilled the devil’s order unquestioningly for fourteen years.
The chief shaman’s dark essence especially came to the fore on the backdrop of serious social upheaval. In general, Liberia is a country with a tragic, broken history. In 1822, certain freed black slaves came to this territory from America, traded trinkets for land from the local chieftains, and succeeded easily in turning much of the native population into their slaves. So it happened that a group of slaves who obtained freedom then went and enslaved others. Slavery continued here until practically the end of the twentieth century.
In 1980, members of the Kran tribe overthrew the government and took power into their own hands. The chief shaman Joshua Milton Blahyi became a very important and high profile figure overnight—his task was to protect President Samuel Dohu with magic charms. But soon a civil war began in which there could clearly be no victor. In civil war, everyone fights against everyone else, uprooting even themselves and losing what, unfortunately, the pagan could not earlier foresee. Magic charms didn’t help, and in 1990, after the president’s death, Joshua Blahyi became the “field marshal,” actively participating in military actions. Strange as it seems, in his battalion were many youths and even children, to whom he gave cocaine along with food. Himself having committed his first murder at age eleven, Joshua considered that every child has the potential to become a good murderer—he only needs to try.
Remembering the mystical prediction, Blahyi unfailingly sacrificed defenseless children before each battle. Later he recalled how he liked to stealthily swim up to children happily playing in the river. Suddenly emerging from underwater he would grab them brutally, drag them underwater and drown them. Sometimes he would break the child’s neck, or just stab him with a knife. Besides these killings were special child sacrifices. In accordance with the cult practice, only small, innocent children were suitable for sacrifice, and the heart was supposed to be torn out still beating, cut into pieces, and eaten. The idea is that the heart contains a person’s life forces, and by consuming it you become invincible in battle.
When he succeeding in taking over another village, Blahyi and his warriors killed everyone that they met. They sacrificed the youth and drank their blood, and beheaded the rest, then played football with the heads.
There was yet another barbarism—Blahyi went into battle absolutely naked. He wore shoes, of course, in order to get around quickly and easily, but nothing else. This would have been a horrifying sight—a naked, brutally grinning man, pitilessly chopping the heads off of every person he meets. “If you really want to make an impression on your enemy you have to show him that you are an animal and not a partisan,” Blahyi would teach his underlings. He served the devil, and the devil provided protection over his priest. Joshua was convinced that total exposure in battle protected him from bullets, and in fact one never hit him.
But in one important moment, his heart was wounded.
This happened in July of 1996. Joshua was about to do his usual, unusual work—sacrificing a little girl. 20,000 victims had preceded this one, sacrificed at the hands of Blahyi and his cohorts. A stone does not quiver at someone else’s pain, and just as a stone idol looks coldly at the pain and blood of totally innocent sacrifices, so did Blahyi look at the bitter, desperately crying children. But this time something suddenly changed. Blahyi stood with his knife before a four-year-old girl. There was something unusual, and Blahyi suddenly understood that he was faced with a reaction from this innocent child that was completely unlike anything he’d met before. Blahyi himself remembers it thus: “The child was extraordinarily beautiful and good. Most of the children that the elders had brought to me for sacrifice would cry and resist. This child was peaceful. I thought, ‘this child should not die.’” The thought was extremely unexpected for the merciless shaman. He stopped for a moment, looked into the girl’s eyes and the kind, pure, honest gaze of a little child shook him. But the pagan priest did not want to display any signs of weakness to the cynical warriors. He raised his knife against the victim but she just looked at him defenselessly, peacefully, even affectionately. Then Blahyi overcame himself and killed the child. “I forced myself. And killed her. Of all the thousands I had killed before, this little girl was the only one I didn’t want to kill,” he said later.
At the time of this strange sacrifice, a change began to take place in Blayhi’s heart. After the sacrifice he went away somehow different, not understanding entirely how. There was no influx of animal energy, and somewhere deep down a feeling of guilt appeared. Soon he would have a new mystical experience. During the battle he was fighting after the sacrifice, Blahyi suddenly heard Someone calling him. He turned around and saw an extraordinary light. He recalls: “Right after her murder I had an epiphany. I saw a white light in the form of a man. And a voice said to me, ‘Repent and live, or refuse and die!’ This was Christ.” This pierced Blayhi’s soul through. The battle was raging, bullets were flying, but in the soul of the naked evil-doer a rebirth was taking place. The animal became a man, the stone became a heart, and instead of satan’s dark gleam in the recent villain’s eyes the image of Christ suddenly shone forth.
After this vision Blayhi was baptized. Joshua Milton Blayhi stopped killing and making human sacrifices. In one hour, he ceased to be a pitiless pagan priest and bloody killer. Then his soldiers thought that he had lost his mind. The throng of merciless killers had no need for such a leader, and Blayhi was forced to run.
Twelve years passed. In 2008 in Liberia a man appeared who is still preaching life in accordance with the Gospel commandments and who says that true freedom is giving goodness to others. It’s the same Joshua Milton Blahyi, only now he a completely different man. He now searches out the soldiers that he had formerly chosen to be killers and calls them to repentance. He also says that true happiness is only possible with God.
We usually want to hide from evil-doers in fear, but God does not want to hide Himself from them. The Heavenly Father gives the light of day even to villains and He can impart the unwaning Light even to a cynical Satanist. Blayhi’s service to satan began with the sacrifice of a defenseless girl, and its end came with the sacrifice of an innocent and kind little girl. Incidently, Blayhi was born on September 30, the day of the martyrs Faith, Hope, and Love—three defenseless girls who meekly underwent tortures, confessing the Lord Jesus Christ. Goodness always conquers no matter how defenseless it may seem before aggressive, seething evil.
Even Blayhi’s face changed, as often happens with those whose souls have changed. Instead of an animal grin, the metallic reflection of satan, he has a noticeably pure gaze, sincere faith, and a kind of childlike hope in the Savior. Once pitiless and cold as stone, he now pours tears of repentance over the terrible sins of his once lost soul. In the past he would pose naked, but now he calls even miniskirts and short dresses the spawn of the devil. Could such a change of mind happen by itself?
Of course, in all of this there is one “however:” Joshua Milton Blayhi received Protestantism. He even became a pastor—how about that! Why didn’t the heavenly revelation convert him straight to Orthodoxy and Blayhi accepted the denomination that happened to be in his country? I don’t know. One would like for people to find the fullness of truth right away. But after all, the Lord has a degree of mercy on us when we don’t see the whole truth. God’s Providence leads us through our error up the steps to the spiritual height. Whether someone reaches the height or stops is a matter of God’s calling and the soul’s personal response. Knowing examples of conversion to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, I would want very much for Joshua not to stop where he is, but to receive the pure truth of the Holy Orthodox Church. I pray for that. Let the reader not judge me harshly. But for me, the conversion of a cynical and merciless pagan priest to the ideals of the Gospel is a miracle in some sense. It is a miracle of the rebirth of a once perfidious pagan who devoured the hearts of children.
They say rightly that there is nothing more terrible than a heart turned to stone. But could there be anything impossible to God? Our Heavenly Father is powerful to turn a stone into a heart that is resurrected and transformed. To turn from an animal into a man, and from a man into an angel—that is the task set before each of us in our lives. And the first call to this can be someone’s kindness and meekness, overthrowing all the treacherous tricks of evil. That means that innocent sufferings are not for naught, since they serve for the salvation of someone’s perishing soul. For this let us glorify the Lord, Who Himself innocently suffered and saves a soul, no matter how far it has fallen.
There is hope also for us, no matter what mistakes and crimes we may have committed, to rightly answer the personal call and make the right choice when given it: “Repent and live, or refuse and die.”