We had just arrived for our missionary assignment in Indonesia and were a few months into language study. Enjoying the tropical climate, adjusting to new culinary delights, and feeling welcome among the gracious, hospitable people of our host country, we were beginning to think we would evade the expected cultural shock in our smooth adjustment. One Monday morning our Sundanese household helper arrived for work emotionally distraught. She always went home to her village on weekends, and upon her return on this particular occasion, something was obviously troubling her.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” we asked with concern. She explained that her daughter had become demon possessed. Not fully comprehending the situation she described, we were unprepared for her appeal that we go with her to her village and pray for her daughter. We had bonded closely with her; and although she was a Muslim, she respected us as missionaries and recognized that I was kind of like a priest or some kind of spiritual leader. It didn’t matter whether we were Muslim or Christian; she just wanted someone with some spiritual authority and power to help her daughter.
We agreed to adjust our schedule to go with her to her village and pray for her daughter later in the week. I wasn’t sure what we were going to encounter, so I spent the next couple of days praying and fasting. The serenity of the village, shaded by waving palm trees and surrounded by endless fields of golden rice ready for harvest, was broken only by barking dogs and children playing noisily. Thatched bamboo houses, each with an overhanging grass roof, built closely together, reflected community neighborliness. Friendly greetings belied the serious concern and understanding of why we had come.
As we entered the house and our eyes quickly adjusted from the bright sunlight to the darkened room, we found a beautiful teenager tied to the bamboo bed where she was sitting. Her clothes were torn, her hair disheveled, and she was snarling like an animal. When we walked into the room, she glared at us and said in clear and perfect English, “Jesus Christ is not God; Mohammed is the servant of the most high god.” Well, OK; that’s an expected Muslim perspective. I didn’t think anything about it until her mother told us on the way home that her daughter had lived in this remote village all her life, was uneducated, and didn’t speak English!
We prayed for her in the name of Jesus, and there was no visible response or results. I didn’t know anything else to do. But it was an alarming experience. I began to think, Is this what we’re going to encounter here in Indonesia? Are we equipped for this? It wasn’t long until we began to learn that where the gospel has not been proclaimed and Jesus is not known, Satan has considerable dominion and power. Demon possession is not uncommon in such places; and we had, indeed, ventured into Satan’s territory.
A few months later, when we were becoming involved in our assignment of starting house churches, I was leading a group that was ready to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. I could tell in their personal conversation that they were responding to the Bible studies and the witness I had been presenting. Dark-skinned Javanese were crowded into the dirt-floored house, the light from a dim, flickering lantern reflecting off white pairs of eyes. Each window was filled with the silhouettes of curious neighbors. I felt the moment had come when I could ask them individually, but simultaneously and collectively, to pray and become followers of Christ. Leading them to take this step and make this decision was an auspicious, holy moment.
As we were moving toward that point of invitation and decision, one of the women started screaming and cackling. She had been a part of the group week after week, had always seemed normal and attentive, but suddenly became disruptive. Everyone was clearly embarrassed and tried to hush her, but she just kept screaming. Spontaneously, without any forethought, I said, “In the name of Jesus, be quiet!” She suddenly slumped in her chair as if in a trance. We continued with the service, and in a moment she sat up, appeared to be normal, and, in fact, was one of those who received Christ as Savior that night. It was apparent that Satan was making a last-ditch effort to disrupt the loss of souls in his dominion and prevent these people from becoming followers of Christ.
My sensitivity to the reality of spiritual warfare has grown over the years. I’m not sure what I truly believed about the presence and activity of Satan prior to going to the mission field. My understanding of the struggle with sin, even as expressed in my preaching, had more to do with personal resolve and human effort than a battle that was going on in the spiritual realm of life. However, it did not take me long following my arrival in Indonesia as a missionary to lose all skepticism regarding the reality of the power of Satan as manifested in cultures and places where Christ is not known.
Jerry Rankin and Beth Moore, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009).
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