One of my refugee friends had come to faith. In the rough and tumble season of his early years as a believer, he had a very hard time believing the Bible in some of its teachings about the spiritual realm. This friend had a mixed religious and philosophical background, with Central Asian communism being one of his main influences. Hence the skepticism about angels and demons. At one point of crisis he lost his housing and moved in with another Central Asian refugee, S., an Iranian man who had claimed to be a Christian and who had been granted religious asylum in the US. My friend had only been there a few weeks when he called me up, sounding very disturbed.
“Brother, let’s go for a drive. I really have to talk to you about something,” he said.
“Sure thing, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
At that point we lived in an apartment complex full of Americans living in near-poverty and refugees who had been resettled from several dozen nations. I drove over to the complex next door, where my friend lived. This one was mostly full of Nepalese refugees, but had a few Central Asian residents like S. My friend came out and hopped in the passenger seat of my little ’95 Honda Civic, which my Iraqi friends had dubbed “baby camel” because of its amazing gas mileage.
Not for the last time, my friend and I went on a meandering drive together, working our way around the roads of south Louisville while discussing something of deep spiritual import.
“Brother, I now believe in demons!” my friend started off.
“Really?” I said as I turned to glance at him. “Well… good. They’re biblical, you know. What happened?”
I remembered back to the numerous conversations we had had about the spiritual realm, where my friend had stubbornly refused to believe in demons as the Bible presented them. It was not that I was so very experienced in this area myself, but I had grown up on the mission field (in an animistic culture) and my parents had been involved in at least one direct encounter with the demonic. Then there’s all the sober accounts from missionary biographies and church history, which present quite a strong case to even the most skeptical Christian. Beyond all these, there’s the Scriptures themselves, which talk about the demonic as a quite literal fact of life in this fallen world and an enemy particularly exposed through the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Bible also presents demons as an enemy still occasionally dealt with by Christ’s followers in the beginning of the Church, without any indication that they would disappear entirely in this age.
“Brother,” my friend continued, “Since moving in with S., I’ve been sleeping on the couch. It’s only a one bedroom apartment. Well, last night I fell asleep while reading my Bible. But I was woken up in the middle of the night by the television turning on and off by itself.”
As usually happens when friends describe things like this to me, the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
“It was flickering on and off all by itself, then other lights started flickering on and off by themselves also!”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“Well, I was laying there under my blanket, afraid to move. Then I heard S. laughing and I saw a glimpse of him running up and down the hallway. When I got up to see what he was doing, I looked in his bedroom and saw that he was still in bed, fast asleep! But then at the same time I whirled around, hearing him laughing hysterically and running around the kitchen! He was somehow, impossibly, in two places at once – fast asleep yet running around the apartment laughing. This was when I became truly terrified.”
We sat still at a traffic light, somewhere on Dixie highway, my eyes open wide in astonishment. My formerly materialist friend had no motive to be making up this story about his new roommate who had just graciously given him a place to live. He continued.
“I went back to the living room, turned on all the lights, and started reading my Bible out loud. I didn’t dare stop for the rest of the night. Nothing else happened, but I was too afraid to go back to sleep. Then this morning at breakfast, I confronted S. about it.”
“Wow. What in the world did he say?”
“S. confessed to me that he’s always had this problem. He said, ‘They follow me wherever I go. So I move houses a lot. Whenever I move, it seems to get better for a while, but then they always come back. Whatever you do, don’t try to talk to them or stop them,’ he said. ‘One of my former roommates tried. They got angry with him and hit him in the head, and he lost his hearing.'”
My friend was clearly shaken up by this terrifying night. He continued, “I don’t know what to do. But I now know they are real, just like the Bible says. I was a fool to remain a materialist in this matter.”
“Well,” I responded, “I’m sorry this happened. But I’m glad you believe what the Bible says now about this. S. probably thinks they follow him, but the Bible seems to teach that they are somehow within him. Demons are almost always connected to people in the Scriptures. That’s probably why he can’t get rid of them when he moves houses. Let’s make a plan, you and me. The next time you see S., ask him if we can pray for him. Together with maybe a couple other believing brothers, we’ll gather and lay hands on him and pray. I’ve never done this before, but I believe that we can help S. if we gather, pray over him, read scripture, and trust in the power of Jesus over whatever is going on with him spiritually. There’s some phony stuff that some churches get into, but Jesus’ followers have done this sort of thing quietly for 2,000 years.”
“I’ll ask him,” my friend agreed.
“Bro,” I said, unable to avoid feeling a little vindicated. “You should have believed the Bible! What a terrible way to find out the demonic is real!”
“I know!” my friend said, laughing and shaking his head, “I know. I have been thoroughly convinced.”
We both shivered, trying to shake off the creepiness of the whole affair.
Our plan set in place, I dropped my friend off and sent out a text for prayer. Strangely, right after this, S. disappeared, abandoning his apartment and never coming into contact with us again. I can only speculate as to why he ran off, but it probably had something to do with the fact that we were ready to pray for him. Perhaps the spirits tormenting him got wind of this plan and caused him to flee. Years later I heard from other refugees that they had seen him, that he no longer professed to be a Christian, and that he had gotten deeply involved in drugs. I pray that wherever he ends up, there will eventually be a community of believers who will be able to befriend him and pray over him, that he might experience the freedom from the demonic that Jesus gives.
As for my friend and me, it was a good but hard lesson in believing the Bible, even when it contradicts our experience. Whatever our “enlightened” cultures might claim, the demonic is real. We need not be fixated on it, but I pray that if we ever get another chance to directly pray for a demonized person, that we will be ready, and that we will see the delivering power of Jesus displayed in that unique and merciful way.
Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash