Spirits. Good. Evil.
What is this thing, this world of spirits? How real is the unseen world? Do invisible personalities carry influence, power with people – sometimes over them?
I pondered the questions off-and-on. Growing up in the Pentecostal tradition, I had heard things about the spirit-world referenced plenty of times. Demon-oppression – Spiritual warfare – Deliverance ministry, and the like. My understanding was limited but the idea seemed reasonably simple.
Those good, powerfully strong beings of the angel variety represented God’s good presence at work in the world. By contrast, dark, evil, destructive forces issued from the kingdom of Satan, God’s biggest adversary. These dark beings were real and to be taken as seriously as angels. Teachers of scripture and the bible itself had shined light on the subject. That, though God himself is supreme, having no rival, no equal, much of humanity suffers in some measure under the deceiver, the accuser. This view, with plenty of Bible to commend, had informed much of my belief on the issue of spirit beings.
For me, it was also personal. I had sometimes sensed a a thing that felt like a dark, eerie presence. Not often but enough to trouble me, leaving me unsettled and sometimes fearful.
Living now in deep Africa, I discovered something I had long heard. The world at large – outside North American, European and other Western cultures – needed no persuading whether the spirit world existed. They required no convincing if spirit beings might play a role in living, breathing human beings.
First-hand encounters with witchcraft jarred me out of any guesswork about the matter.
I was enjoying lunch at the home of a missionary friend – another Jerry – in Southwestern Kenya. Jerry taught in a vocational school. The tribal people of the region had generations-long histories featuring spirit powers they knew to be evil. Placing curses on people was as common in some areas as the presence of moisture was common to a rainy season. Divination, witchcraft and the like, saw powerful spirit influences, fueled by fear.
A youth on a bicycle sped toward the house where we were. He came from the school’s direction a mile away.
“Mr. Jerry, Mr. Jerry!”
My friend set his tea cup down and moved outside.
After a brief visit with the boy, my host called up, “A student at the school is in trouble. Want to come with me?”
We set off on the ragged road – hardly more than a foot path. Less than five minutes the car jostled to a stop.
A tall, robust-looking youth sat on an outcropping of rock – one common to the area, rising about four feet out of the ground. In every way the student looked like, from a distance, a fine specimen of health. Except, that is, for his demeanor. And the trembling hands. His eyes shifted repeatedly away from direct contact. They seemed dark, fearful. He held his head as in a vice – sandwiched in a tight grip between the palms of his two large hands.
Missionary Jerry gently questioned the boy and one or two friends. He summarized the problem as best he could. The boy suffered an overpowering head-throb. It pulsed with searing pain. Indeed, he looked tortured.
But the pain’s source was not biological. Not really.
©2017 Jerry Lout Image credit. AMAS-Quay Snyder, MD