What are our experiences of the supernatural as we work with our friends? Whereas the rational scientific mind refutes such experiences, perhaps even labelling them hysteria, a number of us have experiences that speak of the supernatural.
One woman wrote: several of my teammates (at least 3) have experienced waking in the night with feelings of being choked or someone sitting on their chest. As a team, we go to teammate’s houses and pray after something like this and it has always gone away after one or two times. We try to pray for places soon after someone moves in to prevent this kind of thing happening.
Another told the following story. Thirty years ago when my husband and I were young, new workers on the field in Pakistan we were woken by a commotion going on in the boys hostel near our house on the compound in which we were living. We heard screaming, wailing, grunting and general sounds of distress. My husband went over to support the hostel master in dealing with the incident and returned a couple of hours later confused by what he had seen and uncomfortable with the physical restraint that had been employed to regain a sense of order.
Committing the situation to God in prayer together we returned to sleep. It was only on reflection, years later, that we recognized that the chaos my husband had witnessed could have been sourced in either a belief in or actual spiritual dark powers – something to which we, as westerners, had a blindspot to. One wonders why the hostel manager didn’t alert us to this. Could it be a sense of embarrassment or fear that we would have dismissed it out of hand or brand it as “traditional” practice and therefore not valid?
She followed it up with the following story. Much more recently, on our visits to the Horn of Africa, we hear of the occasional young woman who is brought to the hospital in a comatose state but when test are done, there is no evidence of a biophysical cause. Over time, and as a history of symptoms are taken an unseen story unfolds of a young woman in an extreme state of stress, caught in the grip of family members who want to make decisions on her behalf and without her consent. This would fit in with a description that suggests that such symptoms could be “indicative of a frustrated need for attention”. Referring to a BBC article she quotes: “Might their remarkable symptoms be saying something about how they are really feeling inside but are unable or unwilling to allow themselves to consciously acknowledge, feel or verbalise?”
In Turkey, this is all quite common. In fact, what Marie describes is so common that there is even a Turkish word for it – ‘karabasan’ – ‘the dark pressing.’ I even wonder if in Jan’s example in Pakistan the hostel manager didn’t mention it because he assumed everyone understood what was happening.
I was clueless to this realm when I was a new worker. Paul Hiebert’s article on the ‘excluded middle’ was so helpful to me, as well as being part of a team with others far more experienced in this area. I’ll have to think about the gender balance..yes, it does seem that it’s been more women but there have definitely been men. That might be due to the fact that it is women who are normally in contractual relationships spiritually, using different forms of folk Islam for successful exams, finding spouses for children, keeping husbands faithful, etc.
In another story a sister wrote: one of our national staff at the hospital got a psychosis similar reaction and was admitted to the hospital. I heard rumours that the patient himself told that he was hit by the evil eye of another hospital staff, and that was the reason of his “madness”. It was very interesting to realize and follow how differently the Western and the Ethiopian doctors looked at this case, it’s cause and cure. As the Western doctors treated him (the patient was a man!!) in a western way, I was surprised one day when I passed one of the Ethiopian doctors house and heard a lot of shouting and noise. I realized that they had taken their sick co-worker home to their own private house and gathered some Christian (national) doctors from the Hospital (and probably elders from the Church as well?) to pray for their sick “brother” to be free from the evil. After a while the “brother” became well. A very interesting experience that revealed two different worldviews in action.
Muslims who move to the West also express the reality of the spirit world. Several Muslim women in my western city have told me stories of feeling like someone is on top of them, suffocating them in the night; not being able to buy meat as the sun is setting because spirits will get into it and make them sick when they eat it. One friend was convinced a man from her country was lurking outside the house she’d just moved into – but he was supposed to be dead. These women are from different countries in south Asia and Middle east including Saudi Arabia. I have learned to have respect for these experiences and not to let my western framework dismiss them nor to let it fill me with fear. Rather I seek to use them to share my and others’ experiences of God’s good Spirit and of Jesus and to pray for them and to bless them.
Where would you go in encounters in the Bible in engaging with women around this sort of thing, and why? Some of the following stories have been suggested. Mary Magdalene who had 7 spirits cast out of her. There must have been such distress, physical and emotional pain associated with that as well as a level of social ostracization. And then we read of Jesus not only healing her but completely reversing this pariah status in that she forms part of Jesus’ ministry team. (John 8). She is also witness to Jesus death and resurrection. She is given the honour of being the first to see the risen Lord, who calls her by name and commissions her to bear a message to the disciples elsewhere.
Any of the passages about Jesus casting out demons would be good ones to go to. My favourite is the man from the Decapolis because of his amazing response and obedience. I think that story is amazing. But others would be good too.
The story from 1st Samuel 28 about Saul bringing up the spirit of Samuel has always been interesting. I would love to hear a local person’s perspective on that passage but we don’t have that book translated into the language here unfortunately.
I love to use this blessing: “May your good Spirit lead me on level ground ”. It is couched in the middle of 2 other appropriate verses which I’m trying to memorize as a whole to use as a prayer of blessing at such times when women share these confidences with us. “Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD; I flee to You for refuge. 10Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. May Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. 11For the sake of Your name, O LORD, revive me. In Your righteousness, bring my soul out of trouble.…” Psalm 143: 9-11
How do you respond to experiences that you don’t understand? What questions can you ask? How do you seek God and who stands with you in prayer.
This blog brings together several women’s experiences with the supernatural in an online When Women Speak… forum.
© When Women Speak… March 2023