I was in Ethiopia last month to observe and support a Christian “follow-up” ministry. The leader, Rich, was a Bible translator in Nigeria for many years. After translating the New Testament into a regional language he spotted a problem. Many new converts brought along their old ways of worship to their newfound Christianity. So for them Jesus was just an add-on god who might help make life work a little bit better.
During our training—we were located in an unfinished church building that was wide open at one end—an apparently drunk or demonized lady walked into the outer courtyard. She was shouting something as she walked in our direction on wobbly legs with waving arms.
The speaker, an Ethiopian pastor, continued his talk, undisturbed. At the same time a pair of the African conferees rose to intercept the lady before she got within a hundred feet of our group. They gently took her aside and sat with her while the meeting continued. They evidently knew what to do; and I shouldn’t have been surprised since our group was made up of sixty-four regional pastors and evangelists. Rich had briefed us beforehand that about one thousand witch doctors were active in our host region, so we were a spiritually disruptive presence in the village.
The next morning we heard the rest of the story. The two pastors who spoke with the lady prayed for her to be freed from her demon and she immediately changed: the exorcism was effective. Just then the pastors turned to a new scene outside the compound gate. The woman’s father had come with her to the church and was waiting outside. As soon as she was exorcised he fell to the ground and started writhing and shouting. The two pastors then left the lady and tended to him, praying for his release. Once again they were effective. And later that evening the entire family returned to the church and prayed, giving their lives to Christ.
Let’s call this an applied lesson in spiritual warfare. But it’s certainly not the sort of thing I expect to see in Oregon or Washington very often, if at all.
So here’s the question of the day: are those of us in the West, living in a post-supernatural world, now beyond demons and exorcisms? Is it possible that the Africans were just play-acting, with the woman and her father pretending to be demonized. Was the Ethiopian drama a case of old cultural superstitions still in play? Or does the great enemy of our souls have different ways of working in different times and places?
What strikes any reader of the New Testament, with the four gospels and Acts inviting special attention, is how much closer first century life was to our experience in Ethiopia. And I’m still ready to treat the supernatural events in the Bible as defining realities. There’s no reason for us to doubt that demonic activities and manipulations continue to be as active today as in Christ’s time on earth.
The bigger question is how well we’re adapting to the type of spiritual warfare we face in the West. In Oregon the ploys of the enemy, it seems, are much more indirect than direct. Where the Ethiopians have witch doctors to serve as proponents of false spiritualties, we have proponents of false values and ambitions operating through powerful visual media.
Certainly Paul’s warning in Ephesians 2:1-3 is compelling truth, worldwide. At one time all of us were “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”
The only question is how this “prince” manipulates human desires of the body and the mind. In Africa it seems that overt fear of demonic powers is his more common approach; while here in the West it seems that spiritual skepticism—recalling Genesis 3—is his favored approach. In either case, he holds vast numbers of people in the thrall of spiritual disobedience.
What did I learn from my African friends? That they knew what to do! Two men responded quickly and appropriately, and by the end of the day a family was freed from darkness and brought into the light.
My invitation to pastors in the West, then, is to catch up with our brothers in the third world. Be sure that some in the church—in every faithful church—are mature enough to step into any setting where people need spiritual help. To love them, speak with them, and to bring them into Christ’s love and light.
I think those of us in Oregon, Washington, and in lots of other Western settings, still have some serious work to do!
Now for the final question: are you part of the solution?