[Written October 15, 2013]
Magandang gabi (good evening) from Manila! After experiencing so many stories and encounters of faith over the last few months, I figured it is now a good time to share one with you all, as a way to catch you up a bit on my journey and life here in Manila!
This story actually began earlier this year with a trip to the medical clinic in Antipolo (neighboring city to Manila) where my missionary friend (and brother of my pastor back in Illinois) provides free check-ups and medical care for the poor. We went there because one of the youth in our ministry in Montalban was experiencing pain in her stomach and didn’t know why. After about a week of our church praying and fasting for her (this often is the first line of healing in our community – seeking prayer and spiritual healing before paying money for medical care), but the problem not seeming to improve, I suggested that maybe we could take her to the clinic in Antipolo for a check-up. Sadly, there is only one small clinic for our whole community in Montalban (over 100,000 people!), and there is often no medicine there either! So you imagine the blessing, though over a 2-hour drive to Antipolo, of this clinic for this girl and her family.
To cut this part of the story short, we found out at the clinic that this girl wasn’t actually sick after all. Rather…she was pregnant! Four months pregnant, and carrying a healthy baby. We found out later that she had had a pregnancy test a month or two earlier, and had tested positive, but was 1) too afraid of her step-father for fear of getting kicked out of the house, and 2) told by a second opinion (i.e. witch doctor from the community) that she wasn’t actually pregnant, but sick because of a curse placed on her by an old friend who held a grudge towards her. For the sake of her being able to stay in her house, she chose to believe the lie, rather than the truth. Our church too had believed the lie and been deceived, praying to ‘cast out’ the disease/curse instead of help the girl through her pregnancy (to our credit, the girl hadn’t told us that she had had the pregnancy test, so it was hard for us to know that that was the case).
Fast forward now to this past week, and a Sunday that I had the opportunity to preach at my church for the first time since we started this church over two years ago. Preaching on the ‘spiritual’ gifts, I had not idea that I’d soon be having my first real encounter with ‘spiritual’ warfare. I feel in some ways that I have ‘graduated’ to a new level in my faith, or at least been given the chance to experience something that many Christians I know (including myself until this particular experience) never get to experience. And I’m realizing these experiences/encounters are not simply for us as Christians, but for the strengthening of the church/saints, as is the purpose of the spiritual gifts that I was preaching on this particular Sunday from Ephesians 4.
So for the experience itself. The girl this time was actually the sister of the girl who we had discovered was pregnant only a few months earlier. And while last time the evil spirits were trying to convince us and the girl that she was actually ‘sick’ because of a curse placed on her by an angry peer, this time the spirits were trying to convince us and the girl that she was the one responsible for the death of 12 youths who died quite horrific deaths in the community this girl and her family used to live in a few years back. And rather than physical sickness, these spirits attacked this time through spiritual demonic possession.
It may sound crazy to some, but I saw this with my own two eyes, and heard the screams and laughs (of the demons), and praise and prayers (of my church mates) with my own two ears. In fact, these spirits had possessed this girl’s body for almost two hours after our service on Sunday! The spirits acted out through the youth’s body by violently fighting our five church members holding her down, laughing in the face of our Pastor when she asked the names of the spirits (who never did give their names), causing her body to go limp as if she was dead, and screaming at the sound of Jesus’ name.
Before going into too much detail though (lest we give these spirits more ‘air’ time than they deserve), we must step back a moment and identify some other aspects of this girls being possessed by evil spirits. First, much of this spiritual attack was brought on by the social reality of fear brought on our youth by her stepfather (the same step-father from our previous pregnancy story) who made little space in his heart and home for his stepdaughters who were rightfully living with their mom (who is also, sadly, a victim in this whole situation too). The second reason for this attack is due to physical hunger and weakness brought on by a lack of nutrition and the fact that this girl usually only eats once a day, and only twice a day if she is lucky. Third, and most importantly, I think we, especially those of us who are Christians, must recognize the spiritual reason for this experience! As is the case of many stories in the Gospels and Acts, when Jesus and his disciples cast out demons and heal the sick, the purpose of the healings and deliverances is that God might receive glory!
As was the case in our story (actually both!), God, and Jesus’ name, triumphed over darkness and death and deception. In the first story, the girl successfully carried and delivered her baby, and it was adopted by her cousin so she could focus on finishing her school and getting a job since she and her family couldn’t afford to care for the child. Of course, the entire situation was not resolved (i.e. the stepfather still caused fear in the home), but God’s name WAS lifted up and glorified. The same is true in the second part of the story. I watched, and joined in when appropriate, as our church leaders and youth took turns praying over our youth who was being possessed, and casting out the demons (led by our pastor), while other sang worship songs over the course of the two hours until the demons fled. How long the deliverances took in the Gospels/Acts I’m not sure, but this (the second time the girls body had been possessed in a week) took a few hours both times. Others I’ve talked with since said that these possessions can last over a week just for one person!
But like the first story, the important part of this story is that Jesus’ name was lifted up and evil was conquered/cast out. Currently the girl is staying with and being cared for by my host family in our Youth Center that has been renovated and improved by the generous donations of many of my family and friends back home. This girl is also being cared for by our church members, each of which are the spiritual fruit of our recent church plant in Montalban. I believe God has big plans for this girl (one reason she may have been the one under attack), as her actual spirit/personality is one of the most humble, gentle, and sincere out of all of the youth in our church. (I discovered recently that two of the missionaries on my current church planting team also experienced up to a week of possessions in the past in their own life/body, since which they have both become faithful servants of the Lord!).
I’m not sure how each of you reading this, or even I personally, will respond to this story. My hope/prayer would be that it might give us both more faith as well as a more holistic view on spiritual possession/warfare [for those of us living in a more materialistic world/culture, hopefully this will remind us of the many unseen/spiritual forces at work in our world; and for those more frequently dealing/combating these unseen/spiritual forces to see that often the spiritual can also be manifestations of the material/natural world (i.e. pregnancy cycles and hunger/fear)]. I personally have begun asking about and discerning the places in my own life where satan has a stronghold (my finances, sexuality, pride, etc.), and also begun trying to learn more about how to engage these unseen forces when they rear their ugly faces through demonic possessions (thankfully these resources ARE available in abundance if we know where to look).