On Angels and Demons.

Disclaimer: I planned to disclaim this story, but I changed my mind. You are a discerning bunch, blessed with big, juicy brains and curious hearts. Use them and decide for yourself.

 

At the SCRUBS community medical clinic in Chongwe, Zambia last week, an older couple, maybe in their late 50’s, waited in a long line for medical attention. He wore an ill-fitting suit and tie, she wore a bright blue and yellow dress, with a scarf on her head. Her shoulders slumped and her eyes were flat and sad, so I figured she was pretty sick.

Charity and I had taken up our post on the bench outside the clinic, where people who’d just had worms pulled from their ears, abscesses drained, and HIV counseling, waited their turn to receive prayer from the 24 year-old preacher girl and her Muzungu friends.

Prayer Team.

Prayer Team.

SCRUBS director Holly interrupted us and told us the couple in their Sunday best were a special case.

“She has demons,” Holly said. “You guys better get ready.”

The ancient Irish had a name for places where the supernatural grazes the natural world. They called them “thin places.” But I dwell in a post-modern culture that dismisses such nonsense, pooh-poohing angels and demons as superstitious mumbo jumbo, the mark of primitive, uneducated minds.

Although I’m a bible believing Christian and the words angel and demon are used 70 times in the Bible, even by Jesus, I ignored them like a faraway relative.

Then I went to Zambia, home of desperately thin places.

For example, in Zambia and elsewhere, women believe they are used sexually by demons, who then take up residence, wreaking havoc in their marriages and mental and physical health. It’s called having a “spiritual husband.” The woman in the blue and yellow dress, whom we’ll call Sarah, brought hers to us, saying she wanted him gone.

I want to show you pictures of Sarah, but I won't.

I want to show you pictures of Sarah, but I won’t.

So, five of us walked out into the woods and surrounded Sarah and her actual husband. Charity spent a few minutes establishing who Sarah prays to, careful not to assume.

Then we prayed with nothing but the authority Jesus gave us.

Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. – Jesus. Luke 10:19 NLT

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues. – Jesus. Mark 16:17

Put on God’s whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil. Eph 6:11 AMP

She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. Acts 16:16-17

Want to start a fight at church? Start acting like you believe these scriptures. Believe they were not just for the 12 apostles and the early church but for skinny, white girls with shaky knees praying in the Zambian bush. Oh, I can hear the hollerin’ already.

Then, Sarah joined Charity in commanding the spirit to flee in the name of Jesus, and her eyes rolled back. She started talking to us in a different voice – deeper, crazier. Holly knelt, holding onto Sarah’s feet and cried into the dirt. Jess stood behind Sarah, Shelby behind me – all of us praying in the name of Jesus.

“Goodbye to you. Goodbye to you. Goodbye to you,” Sarah shouted. Then everybody got quiet. Sarah looked at Charity and said “ok it’s gone.”

“You’re a liar,” Charity shouted and Sarah jumped up and tried to run away. Charity grabbed her arm and dragged her back to the bench.

“It’s the demon, he’s trying to trick us,” Charity said. “In the name of Jesus, and the God of Elijah and Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, I command you to flee….”

More praying. More hollering. Then silence.

“It’s finished,” Charity said. “They’re gone.” Turns out it wasn’t one. It was three.

Sarah looked up with tears streaming down her face and started to laugh. Her husband joined her, clapping, I stared at Jessica, wide-eyed at the palpable energy change in the woods. Holly wiped the tears and dirt off her face and Charity checked her nails.

“Praise God. Praise God,” Sarah said, thanking us as we walked out of the woods. Then she rejoined her friends waiting on the benches outside the clinic. Her husband asked us for a bible, so we gave him one, then we went back to work.

I don’t know about you, but this story helps me make sense of Sandy Hook, Columbine, Ft. Hood, Aurora and Virgina Tech. At those heinous times, even Christians say, “how could somebody do such a thing?”

Really? Is it that big a mystery?

Jesus said, “the enemy comes only to kill, steal and destroy, but I came so you might have life, have it in abundance to the full, until it overflows.” (John 10:10 AMP)

Or have we just gotten too smart for all that? Too post-modern?

Remember what the Apostle Paul said:

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”I Cor 1:19

Teresa's in white.

Teresa’s in white.

Teresa, a SCRUBS Nurse, put it like this, “We can’t look at the person, we’ve got to look who’s standing behind him.” So maybe that’s why, when the school shooter gets the chair, it feels anticlimactic and unsatisfying – like we got the wrong guy.

You can believe what you want to, I’m just telling you what I saw. Now, more than ever, I believe the Apostle Paul when he said, THIS IS WAR:

For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place] Ephesians 6:12-13 AMP

Six Reasons Mission Trips Matter.

Yesterday at church I tried to talk about Zambia without crying or blathering on like a bimbo. I failed. Sam loves it when I cry at church.

What I think people want to know is this: Was it worth the money and the effort? Did you accomplish what you intended?

Short term missions can be tricky, so I’ll be months sorting that out, but here are six reasons I think fiscally responsible, culturally aware, Christ-centered mission trips are worth considering (besides the elephants.)

Awesome.

Whoa!

1. World travel is important because the world is circling the drain. Talking with a stranger, in broken English and sign language, we discover they too like ice cream, safe schools, jobs and Tide laundry detergent. This demystifying process reminds us people of other cultures are like us. But when we isolate ourselves with folks of our color, belief system and economic class, fear of others festers, and that makes it easier for us to bomb them when someone suggests we should. How much more of that can this world take?

Chongwe, Zambia

They stopped playing for three seconds!

2. America, while problematic, is still a global beacon of stability and function, so quit complaining. In many countries, the arrival of a new president/dictator/supreme overlord means all the rules change, again, and it’s hard to kick a ball through a moving goalpost. Although the American media insists the US Constitution is being dismantled, it’s still there and it still works. The Republic is far from perfect but it could be soooooooooo much worse. Be grateful. Be involved.

Community clinic.

Community clinic.

3. Pressure reveals what lurks under your spiritual exterior and Africa is wonderful at applying that pressure. So when the bus breaks down, again, turning a four-hour trip into twelve, will I pitch a fit and yell at everyone trapped in the same boat? Or will I ball up my blanket, scream into it and then say, “someday I will laugh about the Zambian dudes tying the leaf springs together with a tree bark rope.”

Wait Upon God’s Time … Often.

4. You may experience the life of faith you forget to live at home. On a mission trip, praying about things is the first resort. In Zambia, we prayed over constipation and shame and witch doctors in the woods. One morning, I prayed four times before 9am with different people for different reasons.  All day, I found myself in meditative conversation with Jesus over dumb things, big things, things that made no sense. Zambia took my prayers to a new level. And by the way, it works, but more on that later.

Chongwe, Zambia

She loved having her picture taken.

5. You are literally obeying Jesus, who said, go into all the nations and preach the gospel. Sometimes I forget to do that when the line is long at Starbucks or I’m stuck in traffic and it’s hot. It doesn’t matter where you are, Jesus commanded his followers to tell people about Him – that He is the way, the truth and the life. You’d be surprised how many people are hungry to hear that. Human beings are desperate for hope, so don’t let them down just because somebody might disagree. If that’s the case, just be nice and carry on. Remember eternal ripples are hard to count.

The girls' hut.

The gals.

6. Somebody might just say, “Yep, count me in.” On a dusty bench in Zambia that happened to me nine times. Not counting the 250 people who prayed for salvation after the Jesus film, nine people told Charity, me and a handful of others, they wanted to follow Jesus. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. All we did was open our mouths and follow Charity’s lead. Those people trust Charity because the love of God falls from her like rain. Don’t miss that…the love comes first. In fact, after hearing about the God who so loved the world he gave his only son, one woman tore off a necklace, placed on her baby by the local witch doctor, and threw it in the bushes.

Charity teaching.

Charity.

So don’t go on a short-term mission trip to change the world, because you won’t. Go because the world will change you.

And that may just be what God’s after.

Notes from Zambia – Part II

image

The indomitable Hugh Ragsdale.

Standing in the bathroom of the SCRUBS Medical Mission team house in Lusaka, Zambia this afternoon, I watched water pour out of the faucet. It nearly made me cry.

For the past eight days, five men from Texas have wrangled, cajoled, pleaded and threatened the local cowboys (two well-paid, eight year-olds driving a team of Brahma-looking oxen) to keep ferrying drums of water from a nearby well.
Chongwe, Zambia
And when it runs out, we wait.

If our hair is dirty and the dishes pile up, we wait.

If we are thirsty, we wait.

If we have diarrhea, we wait.

Just like the 150 Zambian school children, whose feet and legs are powder gray from the rain thirsty ground, do. They are expert at waiting.

How many church services have you endured where a slideshow full of sad African faces forces you to bust out your wallet?

In Chongwe, despite a sketchy water supply, no schoolbooks, a basketball hoop that’s little more than a cut out barrel lid nailed to a pole, I couldn’t find a crying child. Sorry, no sad Zambian kid pictures here, though they absolutely have cause.

Chongwe, ZambiaAn engineer from a neighboring ministry called Tree of Life (seriously, take a minute and check out their orphan work) told me Zambia has the highest AIDS rate per capita in the world. Not surprisingly, it also has the highest orphan rate per capita in the world. (I thank you in advance for fact-checking mercies as I drop quarters into the Internet.)

And evidently there’s a rumor circulating, perhaps perpetuated by the lively and demonic witch doctoring industry, that the cure for AIDS is sex with children. The practice is so widespread, last year a SCRUBS nurse saw a billboard that read, “Don’t have sex with children!” written in Nyanja.

So please spare me any talk about cultural imperialism and Christian crusading in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the slums and the bush, where people live in fear of curses and poisoned children and witchcraft, the gospel of Jesus Christ is incredibly good news.

“Come to me all you who are heavy laden and weary, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said.

And while there are folks of others faiths, it’s primarily Christians in the slums, educating orphaned kids. It’s Christians handing out anti-retro viral drugs to children infected with HIV. And in the case of SCRUBS Medical Mission working this week in Chongwe, it was exhausted, unwashed Christians treating rampant STD’s, caring for pregnant mothers, diagnosing TB, worming kids and splinting broken bones.
Chongwe, Zambia
And when that was all done we prayed, hard, on our knees in the dirt, for people we may never see again.

For all my questions about efficacy, here’s one thing I know for sure:

Zambia taught me to pray. Specifically a 24-year-old teacher named Charity taught me to pray. She is a powerful, fearless woman of God, who understands with such clarity the rest of God, when she opens her mouth, people listen.

Because Charity already knows, what I am learning fast: When you’ve got nobody to rely on but Jesus – an experience foreign to a lot of Americans – you learn really fast to rely on Jesus.

For all our pride, our posturing, our strutting, the Bible says we are in fact, helpless and naked, blind little waifs in desperate need of salvation.

And in Chongwe this week, the edge got a little more jagged for me. Stripped of my quotidian comforts, my naked helplessness and desperate need for Jesus grew a little more apparent.

And that was before the demons showed up.