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Learning to Fight the Spirits

“I’d never done an exorcism before,” admitted Phil Bergen, long-term worker in Burkina Faso.

But there he was, in a small hut, called in by the chief of the village and his son, to help the chief’s teenage granddaughter who had recently been attacked by evil spirits at school. The incident had thrown the community into an uproar and it was up to the chief to sort this out.

When the chief said, “Come! My granddaughter is sick,” Phil obeyed without hesitation. It was an unprecedented move by the chief, to invite a Christian into this kind of crisis. But this was the same chief who, twenty years earlier, had given Phil and his wife, Carol, permission to live in his village and translate the Bible into his language, Nanerige. Over the years, the two men had become good friends despite their differences on matters of faith. Phil felt completely unprepared for a power encounter with the spirits. In reality, he was afraid, so he prayed for peace of mind. And he began to recall what he had learned from a man named Madou.

Madou was from a neighboring tribe and a mature leader in the church. He was sent to help the Bergens plant a church among the Nanerige. After many years of faithful labor in Bible translation, the Bergens had seen many people, including village leadership, respond positively to the story of Scripture in their own language. But very few Nanerige people had chosen to break fellowship with the spirits so that they could align themselves with Christ.

For the Church to be truly born among the Nanerige, the people needed modeling from a local believer. “Madou was among the first to follow Jesus in his tribe,” Phil explained. “And he was living proof to these people that someone could follow Christ and not be killed by the spirits.”

But Phil was also very aware that he had a lot to learn personally from his new ministry partner. “Madou’s power-filled life with Christ was one that the Nanerige people could understand and imitate. Now it was my turn.”

When Madou arrived to help them, the Bergens expected him to follow the same strategy that they had been following for years. But Madou said, “First, I need to fast and pray, and ask God what to do.”

Phil was impressed with Madou’s response, but admits that he was bewildered when the seasoned leader came back to him and said, “God wants me to grow rice.” Phil knew that Taiwanese experts had invested millions of dollars over the past twenty years to grow rice in the area, but the project had failed miserably, and the foreigners had gone home. However, Madou had discovered a different story. He learned that local herdsmen, wanting the land for grazing their cattle, had put a curse on the land so that the spirits caused the crops to fail.

It made sense to Madou that God wanted to show his authority over the land, and over the spirits. “Now people won’t just hear the Word of God,” Madou thought, “they will see it at work in their fields.”

So Phil and Madou prayed together, and then Madou boldly asked the local government for land. Madou trusted Christ, planted rice, and his crops flourished. Everyone asked, “How can this be?”

“Jesus,” he said simply. “The King I serve has authority over the spirits.”

When other farmers saw that the curse had been broken, they began to return to the fields. Soon, the rice harvests were so plentiful that the farmers could not keep up. Phil observed, “Madou’s work showed everyone that Christ’s salvation meant more than just forgiveness, it meant a power-filled life.”

“I was converted,” Phil said. “I was converted to believing that Christ introduces himself to people through a demonstration of power, by showing his authority over the spirits.”

Phil knew that, in addition to exorcising the rice fields, Madou had been involved in numerous power encounters with evil spirits among the Nanerige and had seen several people delivered from demonic oppression. The chief was also aware of these incidents.

So when his own granddaughter was attacked by spirits, all eyes were on the chief. His granddaughter was an impressive young woman: tall, strong and smart. After she was seized by the spirits, thrown to the ground and publically humiliated, not only was she frightened, but the whole community was in shock.

The chief was desperate. He knew what could be done in the power of Jesus’ name. So he turned to Phil, his trusted friend. “Nothing like this had ever happened before in their family,” Phil said.

“The chief was the mediator with the spirits, so his granddaughter should have been protected. But now, if even the chief’s family wasn’t safe, who was? Who would be attacked next? The teachers were ready to leave!”

The chief was desperate. He knew what could be done in the power of Jesus’ name. So he turned to Phil, his trusted friend.

“So there I was,” Phil said, “sitting with a family of real importance in the area of spiritual power, at its wits end, ready to invite Jesus into the picture. They had no idea how to do that. The question was, did I?” Phil sat quietly, and prayed. As he did, he began to experience a settled feeling of peace. “I realized in that moment that, as a servant of the King, I had been living under his protection for many years. Through many trials, I’d seen how wonderful this was. The thought that the chief and his family were on the verge of sharing this with me replaced my fear with joy!”

With his heart in the right place, Phil decided to speak the truth in love about the reality of the spirits and life with God. “If you play with the spirits,” he said, “they will toy with you. If you give them power over you, they’ll take it. I don’t do that. I have no need of anything from them. I love my peaceful life as a friend and servant of the King who cares for me.”

Phil explained further, “The King of God’s people, Jesus, was anointed by God to help us live with God. In his service, we have mastery over the spirits. If you called me here to pray and fight the evil spirits in Jesus’ name, I will.”

Phil also made it clear that he wasn’t just talking about mere medicine. He would pray against all other powers at work in the young woman’s life, and he would introduce her to the King, Jesus Christ.

“This could cause trouble for you,” Phil probed with the chief and his son. “Do you really want me to do this?”

To Phil’s surprise, they agreed.

“I prayed a simple prayer,” Phil recalled, “that the girl would meet the King who saved her from her torment and move on from there protected from any further trouble as she learns to live with him.”

When he finished praying, Phil looked over at the young woman. At last at peace, she was sleeping like a baby.

The chief conveyed his gratitude and Phil went home. The next day, the chief came to the Bergen’s home and said, “If it weren’t for the covenants I’ve made [with the spirits], I would be with you right now in this thing you are doing here among us.”

Phil felt crushed. “I squashed down a blast of anger,” he said. “Knowing as the chief now does, where God’s opinions lie, how could he talk this way? Who wouldn’t be better off with God on their side? Who wouldn’t be a better chief to their people as an authorized servant of the King? Why spend one more second at the mercy of the spirits, the vermin of the universe? I wanted to argue with him!”

But Phil held his tongue, knowing that the chief was an intelligent man who had seen enough to make an informed decision. “The Holy Spirit, not the power of our arguments, changes people’s minds,” he said. “As servants of Jesus, we are people of peace, not pressure sales.”

In humility, Phil also held on tightly to what he had learned: “With this, my spirit grew stronger, and a little more of the evil in my own heart was defeated.”

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