I woke up. A film of sweat coated my entire body. I tapped my phone lying next to me. It was 4am. Why was I awake? I lay on my back and stared at the dark ceiling. My eyes immediately widened. Big, black, shadows moved ominously overhead. There was no electricity in my neighborhood, nothing to create moving shadows. But these were not the shadows that run escaping light. These were deep, shadows, darker than the night that surrounded them. They drank in and swallowed the dark.
I am aware that there is a spiritual darkness that smothers this island. Whispers and rumors have reached me. My island friends have made comments that reveal a worldview far removed from the orthodox version of the religion they practice. They reveal a world filled with powerful spirits that wreak havoc and a world of witch doctors that diagnose illnesses caused by the spirits sent by jealous relatives. It is a world of fear, a world of power and ultimately a world of darkness.
Darkness and fear had now invaded my bedroom. I did the only thing I could do. I prayed. I called aloud for protection using the only name imbued with power to defeat darkness and evil. The shadows continued to churn relentlessly above me. I closed my eyes and began to sing (well, croak, if we’re honest). I croaked out a familiar song of love for Him that paid the price for our protection against our enemies. When I opened my eyes again, the darkness was once again simply the darkness before dawn. The shadows had disappeared. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep knowing I rested under the protection of my Father’s wings.
I awoke that morning, refreshed and ready to face the day. I was disturbed by my nighttime experience and shared it with several people before my language helper came over. Our lesson began normally but halfway through I felt prompted to share my story with her in local language.
With vocabulary and grammar help we processed the story together. I told her everything and she told me that those were spirits. She asked if they sat on me. I said no, they had not touched me. She shared that every night she is awakened by spirits that sit on her, causing great pressure over her entire body. I asked what she does when this happens. She explained that she quotes memorized sections of her holy book. Does it work, I asked? Sometimes.
My own experience opened the floodgates for her to trust me with information about her own life and the things that she and her family experience here. One of her sisters is possessed and while her sister hates the spirits that torture her mind, this is a good thing for the family because they can foretell disaster or give the reason a family member is sick. She spoke about local dances that are done to appease the spirits. How spirits will follow you home if you dump food in the river at night (something I do). On and on we talked for hours. A whole world of understanding was opened to me and a previously unknown level of trust was established because I, a foreigner, with a foreign language and a foreign God had had an experience she could relate to.
Today I woke up yearning to do my Bible study and get alone with God in prayer. Yesterday was team day. And it was not an easy day for me. Relations with some of my teammates were strained. Discussions had become too emotional and hurtful things had been said. Add into that mix an unhealthy portion of selfishness and pride on my part and you had me this morning- a completely drained, emotional basket case looking for answers. What do I do, Lord?
For two and half hours I wrestled with questions. I was led to Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” That’s good. But it didn’t settle my soul. What do I do?
I sat, frustrated, alone, afflicted in my spirit. I had prayed. I had searched Scripture. I knew what I should do later that day but I didn’t feel any better. I quieted my heart and asked God to speak. The following is from my journal as He spoke to me:
“Run to the Lord for comfort. You are looking for instruction on what to do with your hurt. Doing will not make it go away. Give it to God and rest in his comfort.”
But praise God; He did not leave it there. Another language helper arrived this morning. We talked about normal things. We watched a short film. Then out of the blue, she started to tell me what a hard time she is having with her co-workers. They are not hard workers and they gossip about her. She told me that they hate her because she does her work well and makes them look bad. They teach seminars on literacy and she feels that they poison the students against her before she gives her sessions.
She and I have had many conversations about her difficult family life, about the engagement that she does not want, about her hopelessness and despair. But her literacy work has always been a refuge, a place she found solace and purpose. Now she feels utterly alone with nowhere to turn.
We spoke at great length about what she could do, who she could talk to. I shared Matthew 18 with her and told her in vague detail about my own situation with hurt feelings. She loves the Psalms and since I gave her the Word in her second language, she has spent time translating them into local language on her own. So I opened to Psalms 25- this Psalms has spoken directly into my heart repeatedly over the last two days. It is shared in its entirety below.
Two totally different experiences. Two totally different women. Both uniquely reached by a Father that loves them so much that He orchestrated events in my life to correspond with their needs. Bridges were formed that reached across cultures, across languages and across religions.
In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.[b]
They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!
Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord, is in you.
Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!