The Naked Preacher
The Astonishing Story of Jeremiah Swaray
By: Larry Titus
My name is Jeremiah C. Swaray. In 1973 I was born in the little village of Harrisburg, Liberia, West Africa. I attended the G.E. H. Henry elementary and high school. My parents are Sekou and Sarah Swaray. My mom was from Harrisburg and my dad was from Sierra Leone, a neighboring West African country.
When my mother discovered that she was pregnant with me, she decided to abort the baby because she was only 18 and still in school. The first doctor refused to perform the abortion since my mother was already 3 months pregnant. She then decided to go to a traditional village doctor who practiced home remedies and folk medicine. While the doctor was preparing to give her herbs that would kill the fetus, the doctor heard a voice saying, “Leave this child alone, I have a great plan for his life. He will be my servant.”
The village doctor became very frightened because this was the first time she had heard the voice of God. So instead of giving her the traditional medicine to kill the baby, she gave her medicine that would make the fetus stronger.
Because the doctor had already received money from my mother to kill the baby, she lied and told mother that it would take several months, but the baby would eventually die. My mother went home elated that she would be rid of the baby and that she could continue her education. But, God had other ideas. God had a plan for my life, and he has a plan for your life as well.
Three months later, she discovered that the traditional doctor had deceived her. Rather than her baby dying, it was thriving and healthy. Even then, the devil wanted to kill me, but God had other ideas for my life. Long before I was ever conceived in my mother’s womb, God had a plan for me. I am not an accident. My birth is not a mistake, mishap or fluke of nature. Today, I am my mother’s joy and I am a great help to both my mother and father.
My dad is a Muslim and my mother is a Christian. I was reared as a Muslim boy. Because of the religious differences in our home, my Mom and Dad were continually in conflict, which caused constant friction. My dad would try to force my mom to practice the traditions of Islam, but she would refuse, making my home life very difficult and unbearable. For that reason I was reared by my grandmother, a Christian woman, who gave me the only stability I knew growing up. I have five younger brothers and two sisters.
I grew up in a community where I learned to play soccer. Soccer was my life. I also loved to read. Because of the constant strife in my home, reading and soccer became my escape.
When I was sixteen years of age the Liberian civil war began. This war lasted sixteen years and it completely destroyed the infrastructure of the country.
My friends and I used to go out and sit under a tree where we liked to spend time, just talking and hanging out. One day shortly after the war began, while sitting out under the tree seven rebel soldiers entered our village, completely surrounding us. “Halt! Don’t move,” they shouted. When we asked what the problem was, they announced that they considered us enemies. Although we weren’t, they charged us with being government soldier recruits.
There were thirteen teenage boys in our village. They were all close friends of mine and all members of my soccer team. When the rebels captured us, they tied us with ropes—I still have the rope burns on my arms to this day. They began beating us on our heads and backs with their gun butts and they started stabbing several of the
boys. One of the soldiers stabbed me four times with his bayonet. I was stabbed three times on the leg and once on my wrist. They tried to slice through the vein on my wrist. The bayonet wounds coupled with the blows of the gun butts, left me in unbearable pain. I cried like a baby.
I was forced to watch as they mercilessly shot and stabbed my friends and teammates. I lay there helplessly, while all my friends were slaughtered. The soldiers shot some in the chest and in the head, while the rest of my friends were stabbed to death in the neck with their bayonets. As I looked around me, not one of my friends was spared. You cannot imagine the horrific scene, watching your innocent friends all killed in front of your eyes.
My best friend was my teammate Prince. I watched as a soldier stabbed him to death in the neck. One by one the rebels shot or stabbed each of my teammates in cold blood until all lay dead on the ground. I knew it was my turn to feel the sting of their bullets and the searing pain of their bayonets. Resigned to die, I began to cry out of sheer hopelessness.
Just then the Deputy Commander looked at me and shouted, “You’re next! It’s your time,” he yelled, and began to strike me with the gun to push me away so he could shoot me. The more they beat and stabbed me, the closer I positioned myself to the rebels because I knew I’d be next to die. I thought that if I got close enough, it would make it more awkward for them to aim at me.
I was clinging to an angry rebel, trying to draw closer to him to avoid the end of his gun barrel. At the same time, I begged him not to shoot me. Strangely, something came over me, a peace that I cannot explain, and I quietly folded my hands and whispered, “God, if you’ll save me I’ll serve you all the days of my life.”
Then, the solider pulled the trigger and shot me. I fell to the ground, sure that I was going to die. But five minutes later, I opened my eyes only to see myself lying on the ground, still alive. Miraculously, the bullet never entered me, though fired at point blank range. I could see where it had grazed my body, leaving a bullet hole on the left side of my shirt.
When the Deputy Commander who shot me saw that I was still alive, he assumed that I had been spared by witchcraft. It is commonly believed in Africa that supernatural events were the results of witchcraft. We were both stunned, the Deputy Commander was amazed that the bullet had not hit its mark, and I was amazed that I was still living.
When I came to my senses and realized that I indeed was not dead, I looked up and saw that he was preparing another attack, this time with the sharp tip of the bayonet. At that moment the Commander of the troops, whose name was Moses, came up and began to yell at the Deputy. “Are you a soldier? Why are you killing all of these boys?” The Deputy Commander replied, “All of these teenagers are government troops.” But the Deputy’s response didn’t satisfy the Commander’s questions. He continued to berate the Deputy. “You are telling a lie. All of these boys are students and soccer players. Even the one who is lying down and you are going to kill, I know him very well.”
I was still on the ground covered in blood when the Commander picked me up, cut the rope off my hands, and took me to the combat medic. The combat medic treated me, gave me stitches for my wounds, and I spent two weeks in the hospital. On that day, from my hospital bed, I made a full commitment to the Lord to serve him all the remaining days of my life.
Throughout my community there was uncontrollable crying, weeping and mourning. In all the homes every teenage boy on my soccer team was slaughtered except for me. Mothers and fathers cried inconsolably for their sons who were no more. I was the sole survivor; I was the only one left to tell the story.
After finishing school, I went to Bible College to fulfill my commitment to the Lord. Following Bible College, I began my first missionary journey to a place in Liberia called Ganta in Nimba County. This is where I started my first church. Also, Ganta is where I met and married my wife, Joyce Smith. Joyce was reared in Monrovia but like many others she became displaced during the Liberian civil war. During the sixteen years of civil war in Liberia, half of the country became displaced citizens. We were there for two years when I resigned to begin another church.
I felt the Lord calling me to plant a church in a village called Sewarolor, in Bong County, Liberia. The town is known for its demonic control and prevalence of witchcraft. It is the center of a secret cult society named, “Poro.” During the reign of the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, all of his government officials had to be initiated into this secret society before they could hold office. Many of those initiated into this cult call themselves Christian, but in fact were not. Up to fifty percent of the population, both men and women, had some form of involvement in this cult. Although it’s easy to get in, as you will see, it’s very hard to get out.
The cult’s leader was named “Zoe,” which means “the devil” in our dialect. They actually called him the devil. Bibles were prohibited in the cult, and no one was permitted to talk about the devil, because they consider him their leader.
The cult’s initiation rites are extremely painful, with designs cut into the entire back. No one was allowed to wear clothing throughout the entire training period, which now lasts only six months, but prior to the war lasted up to eighteen months.
Bizarre rituals were part of the initiation, including drinking one’s own blood from a human skull. The rituals involving the women were even more grotesque, with the removal of their clitoris which is added to a concoction the men are required to drink.
Members of the cult were threatened continually with curses. If they divulged any of the rituals to any outsider or if they left the cult before graduation, they were threatened with insanity or death. Members were always in a state of fear.
Though training in the Poro consists of learning skills and tribal ways—which in itself is not necessarily bad, the basis for everything in the cult was absolutely satanic.
The graduation ceremony consisted of selecting one of the young initiates, killing him, cutting off his fingers, toes, ears, nose and genitals, cooking them in a stew and forcing all the graduates to eat it. This horrible satanic cult still continues to this day in West Africa, with many of the government officials and many church members still practicing it. All cult members volunteer to undergo this training. All except one.
I entered Sewarolor, the center of activity for this cult on March 26, 1999, having no idea what was about to happen to me.
When I got into town, I met a brother on the street whose name was Cooper Bee. He asked me, “Are you a member of the secret cult society?” I responded, “I am a pastor, a missionary here. I’m not in the Poro. I’ve come to start a church. If you want to meet me, come to Pastor Amos’ home this evening.”
Previously, I had met Pastor Amos at a conference in Monrovia. I went straight to Pastor Amos’ home. While there, I heard outside the ominous sound of a traditional drum beating. This was not a good sign. Hundreds of cult members began to surround the house, shouting my name and asking Pastor Amos, “Where is the pastor who entered your home?”
The cult members charged that I had broken their society’s rules by entering their village unlawfully. They had been involved in one of their cultic meetings when I entered their town. They alleged that I had intruded on their meeting, which infuriated the devil.
When they tried to force open the door, we immediately grabbed an iron bar and pulled it over the door to prevent their entering. When they saw that they couldn’t break down the door, they left and hid themselves behind the house. Some time later, we heard a voice outside announcing that the crowd had left and it was now safe to come out. Around 11 p.m. on March 16th, I walked out of the house believing the crowd had dispersed, when suddenly I was attacked and taken captive.
Upon capturing me, the cult members told me I had violated their rules and that the devil had seen me entering their town. Now they had no choice but to make me a member of the Poro. No one bothered to explain that I was the only member of the Poro who was forced to do so. All the others were volunteers. They evidently suspected a pastor would be too dangerous, so I had to be held hostage and mercilessly mutilated.
Just then, some Christians gathered around and spoke up. “No, you can’t take him, he’s a pastor,” they exclaimed. At that point, both the Christians and the cult leaders decided to call the Governor of the county, Fulton Dumber, to settle the impasse. The Governor agreed to come. He was a church member, but not a Christian. He was a member of the cult, and the leaders felt he would be biased and rule against them, so 150 of the cult members took me to the cultic cotton tree, which was a place where they customarily held their meetings. To begin the initiation ceremony they tied my feet and hands so I could not escape.
When the Governor finally arrived, he began to question the cult leaders. “Why did you bring him here? You know that anyone who comes here cannot escape.” Then he said to me, “Pastor, there is nothing I can do for you. I am only responsible for feeding you since the society has already taken you.”
The Poro then took me to a creek where they stripped me of all my clothes. According to their rites, you must enter the society exactly the same way you were born from your mother’s womb, totally naked. You cannot put on your clothes again until you graduate.
After stripping me naked, one man held down my right hand while another man held down my left hand. Meanwhile, two men stood over my back and prepared to start the initiation process. As I stood with my back bent, the two men behind me began to insert large fish hooks into my back, one on each side, cutting the hooks out with a knife. This was happening simultaneously on each side of my back. The fish hook would go into my skin. Next, the man would pull the hook up, lifting the flesh with it. Then, with a knife in his other hand, he would cut through the skin, releasing the hook which caused a painful incision in the skin. They did this repeatedly until a satanic pattern emerged across my entire back. My back was a bloody mass of cuts and open wounds. It was so painful I cried and cried. I cried like a baby. Because I was a pastor they made the procedure as painful as possible. And all the while they stuck and sliced my skin they were kicking me and slapping me on the back and head.
I was the only one of the hundreds of young men in the camp during that six- month training session who was initiated as a captive. All the others volunteered to undergo this satanic initiation process. Today, I bear on my back over one hundred scars from their initiation rites. Mind you, I was a captive and a prisoner of this cult because I was a preacher of the Gospel.
I was understandably bitter toward them. But I was also bitter towards God. I cried out to God, “Why am I going through such a thing?” At that moment I heard God say to me, “I brought you here for a purpose.”
After the initiation they filled a human skull with the fresh coagulated blood that they scraped from my back and mixed it with traditional African herbs and gave it to me to drink. But before giving it to me, Chief Zoe, the President of the Poro secret society, said, “What we are doing you must tell no one or you will die or go crazy.” As he was pronouncing his evil curse over me, I knew it would not harm me. That curse is broken because of the blood of Jesus. They have no covenant with me. “Because of the blood of Jesus, I will not go crazy and I will not die.”
Finally I was taken to a camp where thousands of men and women had been similarly initiated and trained throughout the years. Before arriving at the camp, we crossed a long swinging bridge which in Africa was called a “monkey bridge.” We crossed the monkey bridge and entered the camp around 11 a.m. on the morning of March 17th.
I met over 1200 men in the camp, all of whom were naked. There were security guards armed with traditional bows and arrows and single barreled shotguns surrounding the camp to prevent escapes.
I was taken to a place where I was laid on my back on leaves for about four hours so the blood could coagulate. When the blood stopped running, I was taken to a small hut made out of mud and palm branches. A big fire was burning in the middle of the hut, and sixteen young men were stationed in and around the hut to guard me twenty four hours a day. They monitored me at all times and I could not even go to the toilet without their company.
At six p.m. that evening, the Lord spoke to me, instructing me to start preaching His Word. Using a termite hill as my platform, I started singing about Ezekiel and the dry bones in order to draw a crowd. When the crowd gathered, I started preaching the gospel to them. It was around six thirty p.m. on my first day of captivity.
Well over a thousand men gathered to hear me sing and preach the Gospel. I shared with them the love of God. I could not preach from the Bible, because Bibles are banned. I was not allowed to mention the devil’s name, because the leader in the camp dresses like the devil and all the members revere him as the devil. Though the leader of the society is referred to as Zoe, his actual name is Na Sumo. He is a very evil man. When I preached I had to refer to Satan as Lucifer rather than the devil, because they refer to their leader, Zoe, as Satan.
Can you picture the scene—a naked preacher preaching to a naked congregation? If it were not so desperate, it would have been humorous.
When I gave the invitation, around 800 men, the majority of the men in the encampment, gave their hearts to Christ that very night. They all came to me and said, “Thank you for the message. I repented of my sins tonight. I was so glad for the message.”
After I finished preaching and giving an altar call, the chief Zoe, the one called the devil, came to me and said, “At least you are feeling at home. I can see you are enjoying yourself, so go ahead and do what you’re doing.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but his words were really not meant to encourage me. The whole thing was a lie. It was a set-up. The chief had a much bigger plan. Although I didn’t know it then, the chief was planning to make me the human sacrifice at their graduation ceremonies a month away. Not only would I be killed, but dismembered, cooked and given to the initiates to eat as the sacrificial lamb.
On the second day of my imprisonment, one of the cult’s leaders, a man known as the Junior Mentor, was saved along with another hundred men at the conclusion of my preaching. After receiving Christ, the Junior Mentor felt that he must tell me of the chief’s intentions. He broke the news to me that it had been their plan since capturing me to make me, as pastor, their final meal on the day of graduation. After the meal the rest of my body would be thrown into the river to be eaten by the crocodiles. Graduation was only one month away. I had only one more month to live. I was to be their sacrificial lamb at the last supper.
The morning after the Junior Mentor confided in me about the cult’s plans was Sunday, April 1, 1999. We had a wonderful service on that first Sunday. At the conclusion of my preaching, another hundred men gave their lives to Jesus Christ. There were now 900 initiates, out of the 1,200 or more men in the compound, who had asked Christ to come into their lives as their Lord and Savior. The leaders were growing increasingly angry with me.
On that same day the church in Ganta, my first pastorate, was praying, along with churches all over Liberia who had received the news of my capture. At 3 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon, while I was sitting under a tree praying, I heard the Lord speak to me again. “Jeremiah, I will deliver you.” I did not tell anyone what I had heard the Lord say, but kept His word to myself and went to bed.
To escape from this camp is very difficult. In addition to the sixteen guards that were with me day and night, there were bamboo-spiked traps set around the perimeter of the camp. No one knows the location of these traps except the leaders. If anyone falls into them, they would suffer death instantly.
They also have large police dogs that were trained to attack anyone trying to escape. I know it sounds strange to western ears, but as added security they have demonically possessed roosters in the camp. If these roosters hear anyone trying to escape, day or night, they will immediately start to crow, alerting the authorities, much like fire alarms.
An atmosphere of tenseness pervades the camp and it was very difficult for anyone to sleep at night. There was always noise and commotion throughout the camp. Everyone was restless. Although on this particular night everything was quiet.
At midnight, after everyone had fallen asleep, an angel of the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Jeremiah, let’s go. The Lord has sent me to you.” Was this a dream? Am I imagining this? I looked around, to see all sixteen security guards fast asleep, something that never happened. I looked outside my hut, and everyone in the entire camp was asleep, again unheard of. There were no barking dogs, no roaming guards, no crowing roosters, and no restless leaders. The camp was dead silent, as if put on pause. God had put every living thing in the camp into a deep sleep in preparation for my escape.
The angel that spoke to me was dressed in all white. As soon as he said, “Jeremiah, let’s go,” he took me by the hand and began to lead me out of the camp. Remember, the camp was completely surrounded by traps and only the leaders knew their location, but the angel knew.
The angel continued to lead me until we crossed over the swinging monkey bridge that separated the camp from the village. It was very late at night when we entered Sewarolor. This was the same town from which I had been taken captive four days previously. As the angel and I made our way through the village, I noticed that there were still several dozen people milling around, even at this late hour. Although they looked at me, they didn’t seem to see me, as if they were somehow dazed. It was like I was not even there. They stared right at me, yet saw nothing. The angel of the Lord had blinded their eyes. We walked right through the village and not one person saw us. We walked right beside them, yet no one recognized us. I could see them but they could not see me, and we passed through the town undetected.
On the main road that leads to Ganta, the town where my wife and family lived, there is a big bridge called, Bella. When we got to the bridge, the angel turned to me and said, “I am with you, I will protect you, don’t be afraid. Go in peace.” With those words the angel departed.
When the angel left me at the bridge, it was as if I had come out of a long dream. Had I been dreaming? No, it had been real. It was exactly like Peter experienced in the Book of Acts, Chapter 12. I had been delivered by an angel of the Lord. I was miles away from the camp, standing on the road to Ganta that would eventually lead me safely home. I was still naked.
While I was walking along, I saw a man at the side of the road sleeping. It was still early in the morning. He was evidently waiting for the first bus to Monrovia and decided to sleep until the bus arrived. He had covered himself with a pair of pants and a shirt to keep himself warm from the cold, with his luggage standing beside him.
I saw my opportunity, so without awakening him, I grabbed the trousers and the shirt that covered him and began to run as fast as I could. I am sure he must have thought me crazed, a naked man stealing clothing from him while he slept. He awoke and ran in one direction, while I ran in the other.
By eight a.m. I arrived home. My wife Joyce and family members were in tears because people had told her that she would never see me again. One man in my neighborhood even predicted that I would either die or go crazy. He knew about the curse that would come upon people who left the society. Joyce saw me, but didn’t recognize me. “I’m Jeremiah,” I said. Then she recognized me and came running to me, hugging me, now with tears of joy.
At home, I asked for some alcohol so I could cleanse my wounds and remove the puss still oozing from my back. Remember, I had more than a hundred open cuts on my back, which by now were horribly infected. My wife scraped the wounds and the alcohol helped to heal them. It was very painful, but at least I was in my own home with my wife lovingly caring for me.
After only a few hours at home, while sitting in my living room, I saw a group of men coming toward my house carrying weapons. Some carried guns, some had knives or swords, and others held various tribal weapons. Their intention was to kill me on sight. How they got to my house I do not know.
But I saw them before they discovered me, so I ran to a next door neighbor’s house and hid while my wife covered for me. “You are the ones who kidnapped my husband. You should know where he is,” she said.
They searched my house and all the surrounding houses, but could not find me. Then they went to my friend’s house, a pastor named Owen Dumber, and asked him, “Where is your friend?” Pastor Dumber was the son of the Governor who had originally betrayed me. He had told his son, “The devil swallowed me up.” So Pastor Dumber repeated the same thing his father had told him. “Why are you people asking me the whereabouts of my friend? The story my father told me was that the devil had swallowed him up. Well, then, if the devil swallowed him up, where did he go? Did the devil vomit him out?” After hearing those words, they left.
Pastor Dumber then gathered all the pastors together for a prayer meeting. “We must pray against this evil Poro, and openly expose it,” he exclaimed. So after prayer the pastors agreed to take the story to Monrovia and tell the reporters of the major newspaper what had happened to me. They also told the story on a local radio talk show called, “Issues in the Press.” Even the BBC in London got wind of the story and carried it on BBC Africa. The satanic secret society called Poro was at last being exposed. This is not a harmless organization, but a satanic cult that actually kills its own members and cannibalizes them. Even international travel guides list Poro as a quaint native society, helpful in perpetuating tribal customs.
After the news of my capture and torture was released to the media, a reporter was sent into the Poro society, wanting to know what happened to Pastor Jeremiah. To cover up my disappearance the Poro killed one of the boys in the camp and put him in the river for three days so that he was unrecognizable by the time they took him out. They told the authorities that this was the Jeremiah they sought. According to their story, he had attempted escape and drowned. The story then spread all over the nation that I was dead.
To protect me from further attempts on my life, the pastors in Liberia decided to send me to the Republic of Guinea to a Liberian refugee pastor by the name of Claudius Deah. I did not know Pastor Deah at the time, but he took me in and changed my name to Claudius Deah, Jr., so that the Poro cult could not find me. Pastor Deah is a true father in the faith. He was willing to take me, a man who still had death threats against his life, and bring me into his family as a son. That is the Father-heart of God.
For several months while staying with Pastor Deah, I had demonic dreams that tormented me during the night. One night I dreamed that the Poro were beating me. When I awoke in the morning, I felt great pain in my left arm, and my whole right arm and right foot was paralyzed. For over three hours Pastor Deah and I prayed until feeling returned to my arm and foot.
On another night I dreamed that the Poro were pursuing me in order to kill me. I had many attacks in my dreams. I had to continually call on the name of Jesus and ask for his precious blood to cover me.
While I was in the Republic of Guinea, I started another church in the city of Guekedou. Many souls were saved and the church was thriving. It was then that a civil war broke out in Guinea and the citizens of Guinea began killing Liberians and Sierra Leonians. My wife was nearly raped. The rebel soldiers caught her and took her to a checkpoint. I was passing by and did not know that my wife was captured until someone shouted, “Pastor, your wife is inside. You need to go there quickly.” When I arrived there, I saw my wife with seven soldiers surrounding her, interrogating her. When I walked into the room I began to speak to them in French, telling them that she was my wife. “You see my name, my name is Swaray. I’m a Guinean,” I said. Swaray is a common name both in Liberia and Guinea. When they heard me speaking in French, they released my wife.
When the war broke out in Guinea, the rebels also arrested Pastor Deah, the man who gave me his name so I could escape death. He was sent to prison twice and was eventually freed. After getting out of prison, Pastor Deah gave us money to enable my wife and other Christian workers to leave the country, so we returned to Liberia.
When I returned to Liberia in 2001, the Lord laid on my heart to move to the city of Firestone, where the American tire company ran its Liberian company. I started another church there. In two years, the church grew to 300 people. I left a pastor in charge of the Firestone Church and moved again, this time to Sierra Leone, where the Lord again laid it on my heart to start yet another church.
Today I serve as a missionary in Sierra Leone. My vision is to continue to work in the capitol town of Freetown, spread the work, and plant churches in all thirteen counties of the nation. Sierra Leone is an Islamic nation, but with God all things are possible.
Joyce and I now have two children, Courage, our 8 year old son and Elijah, our 3 year old son. Pray for us, as I continue to plant churches and lead souls to Jesus Christ. I do not know what my future holds, but I do know one thing. I know that I will never go back on the promise that I made to God on the day that the rebel soldiers pointed a gun to my head. “God, if you will save me, I’ll serve you all the days of my life.”
Occasionally, I will meet someone who gave his life to Christ during the three days that I preached to them while I was a captive of the Poro society. Many of them are pastors today. “Remember when you started singing that song, ‘Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones,’ I was one of those who was saved.” And the Lord’s work goes on.
Are you going through problems or trials? Are you discouraged? Your deliverer is on the way. All you need is Jesus Christ. You must have tests and trials in your life. It is God’s plan for your life. If I had not gone through the trials, persecution and pain that I went through, one thousand men would not be saved today. Every trial produces a blessing. Just hang onto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. I am a living testimony that God is still in the deliverance ministry. If God can deliver me from a secret satanic cult, he can intervene on your behalf.
My brothers and sisters, you are not an accident. You are on this earth for a reason. You are part of an intricate plan that God has for your life. You may not understand now, but you are unique, perfectly designed and precious to God. God did not make a mistake when he made you. You are a living testimony for Jesus. Isaiah 44:2.
The servant of Jesus Christ,
Jeremiah Clinton Swaray
Sierra Leone, West Africa