There were ghouls, witches and zombies wandering around my neighborhood in October. Some wore pink sneakers under their torn bed sheets. Others had lollipop smudges on their chins. All held bags and baskets at arms’ length, hoping their harmless evilness would score them extra loot.

But there is nothing harmless about true evil. Neither in the orange-decorated cul-de-sacs of the Chicago suburbs nor in the remote villages of Africa, Asia or South America. Though we expect witch doctors and magic spells to be rarer in the western world than in primitive cultures, I can vouch from growing up in France and living in Germany and the States that mediums, curses and dangerous experimentation with the spirit world are alive and well in countries that consider themselves modern and sophisticated.

I’ve also been involved in MK ministry long enough to know for a fact that a good number (a majority?) of missionaries’ kids have been exposed to something satanic at some point in their overseas lives. The screaming voices that follow a knock on the door in the middle of the night. The chanting of satanic rituals taking place just down the road. The atrocities committed to appease vindictive gods. All within eyesight and earshot of young souls. All with the potential to dig deep into their subconsciouses and anchor there with dark fears and profound disquiet. Some MKs carry their brushes with the occult inside them, finding their faith, their emotional stability, their relational abilities and mental health weakened or entrapped by the unseen forces of their past.

Brette writes:  While I was living in Bali, Indonesia, we were told to be careful of anything we might buy or acquire that could have demonic attachments to them. I knew enough not to buy any amulets or anything that might have had blessings or curses done to them. But before I left the country, I bought a handmade wooden puppet, a big part of the Balinese culture. When I got back to Texas, however, I was having very disturbing dreams about people I knew in Indonesia and demonic presences. I was also experiencing a “teasing spirit” that would do things like turn the lights on or off in my house, or open doors I had closed. I told my parents about it, and we all prayed that we would find what was causing this. We all felt that my puppet had some sort of attachment to it.  We burned it in our backyard and I instantly stopped having nightmares and the “teasing spirit” stopped.

Another MK I’ll call Jenny went on a six-week mission trip to a remote part of Africa when she was seventeen.  It wasn’t long before she started hearing stories about the village’s witch doctor, a man whose powers were strong enough to force his “subjects” to kill their own mothers. Jenny eventually ran into him, and she describes making eye-contact with him as “staring into the face of evil.”

When she returned to the States, all was not well. Despite an active faith, Jenny found herself crippled by months of severe depression and an overwhelming desire to end her own life. Her nights were plagued with vivid dreams in which evil (in multiple forms) assaulted her subconsious. She simply could not extricate herself from the grip of that witch doctor’s power.

Even in the relatively safe context of Kandern, Germany, some of my former students witnessed witchcraft taking place in firelit rituals in the forests after dark and watched the entire Black Forest area observing Fasching—a cultural celebration of immoral behavior that ends with the symbolic casting of demons into the sky.

Just how deeply can believers be affected by contact with the occult? To the uninitiated, what Brette and Jenny endured might look like possession—the type of demonic control trivialized in movies and insipid television shows. But most theologians argue that believers cannot be possessed. That which God has filled cannot be emptied out and refilled by the forces of evil, no matter how powerful they are. But Christians can be oppressed. They can be lied to, pummeled, teased and tormented by envoys of the prince of darkness. (Please see bibliography below for more ample biblical explanations.)


Mark Anderson, a former missionary to France whose Wheaton-based ministry now centers around spiritual warfare, has experienced sights and sounds most of us would dismiss as Hollywoodian fare. He has seen objects move through space, heard demonic voices erupt from unconscious victims and witnessed cursed wooden objects like Brette’s puppet refusing to burn even when repeatedly doused with gasoline. He has personally battled the evil attacking MKs who carried more than great memories back from the mission field with them. Spiritual warfare is not a theoretical debate between religious points of view. It may be abstract, but it is very real, and the devil’s purpose is to dig his “claws” so deeply into our mental, relational, physical and spiritual lives that we cannot extricate ourselves from his grip.

Contrary to what we’re told on little and big screens, there is no such thing as “casual” contact with the occult, yet we blithely invite it into our daily lives, thus exposing our vulnerabilities to its parasitic intentions. Whether it be tantalizing, terrifying or entertaining, any contact with witchcraft, Satanism and other forces of evil puts Christians at risk.

The oppression process will look different depending on the strategy that particular spirit employs and the weakness it senses in its victim. The spirit may begin by warping and deconstructing us to such a degree that we become incapable of fighting back by the time we realize what’s happened. It may lure us with lies, entice us so deeply into sin that we can’t see our way back out, then blast us with paralyzing guilt. It may tempt us with objects, like Brette’s wooden puppet, that are imbued with dark powers. It will blind us to their influence while it takes over our ability to resist impulses, robs us of health and sanity, or alienates us from all that is good and satisfying.

It can cause unbearable emotional turmoil, perversions of the mind, physical ailments and unexplainable violent/irrational reactions.

In order to make discernment even more difficult, evil will often bind itself to other “human conditions” and remain undetected as the source of the affliction. It may see mental illness as an entrance point and use that disguise to sow destruction. It may discover a natural weakness like sexual desire and balloon that into something irresistible and damaging. It may find fertile soil in unbridled ambition, anger or pride. Whatever the weakness we expose, it will exploit. But it is too insidious to identify itself with a pitchfork and horns. It will lie just beneath the surface of our ability to see it, thus adding self-loathing and society’s judgment to its already crippling power.

In a CSI-saturated world, we’re all looking for the easy Q-tip test that will determine the nature of whatever afflicts us. Add a chemical solution and if it turns pink, it’s mental illness. If it turns yellow, it’s hormonal imbalance. If it turns green, it’s criminal, blue, it’s emotional and black, it’s satanic. But there is no such test. Though so many mental illnesses are biological or psychiatric, some are directly linked to spiritual oppression. Though many violent criminals can trace their behavior back to victimization and desensitization, some are acting out under demonic possession. Though sexual perversion can often be traced to media’s influence and the dehumanization of women, it can also be linked to occultic control.

I’m delving into this difficult topic because of the number of emails I’ve received from MKs who have expressed their fear that demons may be attacking them—and their urgent need to know more about a subject that is sadly too taboo. Though their lives have been steeped in the spiritual, they feel resourceless in their battle, afraid to utter their suspicions and unable to help themselves. Some of them are mired in untenable anxiety and sleeplessness. Others are incapable of cutting their ties to the past and living in the present. Yet others find themselves sabotaging every good thing in their lives, harming others and themselves, or plagued by irrational fury they can’t control.  It’s for them that I’ve embarked on my own journey of discovery and for their sake that I’m writing on a topic so few wish to address.


How can MKs discern whether they’re being oppressed?

If you’re dealing with seemingly irresistible destructive urges, unexplainable ailments or overwhelming mental/emotional anguish you can’t beat by “normal” means,

  • Seek the counsel of someone who is truly versed in the reality of spiritual warfare.
  • Pray for clear discernment.
  • Eliminate non-demonic explanations:
    • Unhealthy habits (Forty-eight straight hours playing video-games and drinking Red Bull? Lack of exercise?)
    • Medical factors (Low thyroid?  Chemical imbalance?)
    • Emotional triggers (Grief? Stress? A family history of depression? Unresolved anger, jealousy or emotional injury?)
  • Write down a history of the exposure you’ve had to evil, witchcraft or any kind of demonic activity. Note the time-frame in which it happened.
  • Try to pinpoint the onset of your oppression. Does it coincide with the history you’ve just noted?

What can MKs do if they believe they’re being oppressed?

  • Commit or recommit your life to Christ and His authority.
  • Again—find wise counsel.  Do not wade into this alone.
  • Dispose of anything that still links you to those dark spirits.
  • Do not be surprised by symptoms that are intended (by evil forces) to prevent you from finding freedom: dizziness, nausea, trembling, headaches, instant intense fatigue. Fight them in the name of Jesus and persevere.
  • Begin the process of loosening the hold evil has on you through intensive prayer (yours and those of others), a repudiation of the devil’s power over your life, repentance, forgiveness, etc. I strongly recommend that this be done with someone of greater spiritual maturity and possibly with the help of a book like The Bondage Breaker (by Neil Anderson).
  • Invest yourself in a discipleship journey toward deeper faith.
  • Don’t give the devil any access back into your life through weakness, rebellion or other sins.
  • Engage daily in making yourself a less appealing target (see below).

And once it’s over, it’s over?

Not exactly. The process of freeing ourselves from the grip of evil is not a one-time vaccination followed by happy-ever-after. Do not be surprised if you need to battle again and again. The devil will not give up easily if he’s already had access. He’ll try new strategies when the old ones fail. He’ll attempt to alienate you from those who are forces for good in your life and from the habits that keep you intimately connected to your Savior. Never assume the battle is over, but live with the hope and certainty that God is triumphant. And He is!

How can MKs make themselves less appealing targets for the forces of evil?

  • Pray and get others praying.
  • Fill yourself daily with scripture and truth.
  • Repeatedly put on the armor of God in a conscious way.
  • Confess sin and claim forgiveness.
  • Live your life as a disciple—constantly seeking to learn and deepening your faith.
  • Be aware of the spiritual forces around you and flee those that can be demonic.  (Pornography, superstition, astrology, violence, addictions, occultic movies and TV shows, etc.)
  • Eschew pride, jealousy, anger, sexual sin and other entrance-points the devil may use.
  • Renounce habits that weaken your resistance (lack of sleep, excessive gaming, drinking, etc.)
  • Trust your spiritual “gut” and flee anything that feels “hinky.”
  • Seek counsel the moment you feel exposed and/or under attack.
  • And let me repeat this: pray.  The name of Jesus, spoken out loud, is a powerful deterrent to the forces of darkness.

One night while I was sleeping, I was woken suddenly by an unexplained feeling. Everyone else was still asleep. I could hear Bapek (the Hindu dad in the family) snoring in the next room. As I lay there motionless, I opened my eyes and felt like I was being watched. My eyes were drawn to one of the rafters above us. There, perched like an animal, but shaped like a human, was the outline of something I can only be sure was a demon. The best way I can describe it, was by its darkness. It was pitch black in the house, but I could see the creature perfectly because its darkness was so much stronger, so much darker, that it was easy to distinguish. This happened after we had been able to share the gospel in the village, and were teaching a friend how to read English out of our Bible. I felt so strongly that this presence was saying “This is MY domain, you have no place here,” that all I could do was pray. I never saw it again after I prayed that night.

If you’re an MK and you’d like to share how you’ve been exposed to spiritual warfare and/or how you’ve freed yourself from its grip, please do so in the comments space below so people reading this will know they’re not alone. If you suspect you’re under attack, please seek help immediately. If you don’t know anyone you’d trust with this, write to me and I’ll see if I can connect you with someone I know in your part of the world. This battle is not lost.  God’s Word proves it:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons… nor any powers…will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38, 39)



Raising your children in ministry without addressing spiritual warfare is like taking them on a motocross course without a helmet and protective gear. Your stature as Christian missionaries in foreign lands makes your family an obvious strategic target for the forces of evil. Don’t be so naïve as to think that “good Christian kids” are out of his reach. Be proactive in protecting your children.

  • Educate yourself about the power and strategies of the forces of evil.
  • Speak openly about both the devil’s reality and our power to resist him
  • Give your children the vocabulary they need to discuss the demonic or satanic and provide open communication channels for them to speak.
  • Instill in them soul-preserving disciplines like confession, forgiveness, prayer and spiritual discipleship.
  • Be aware that they are hearing, seeing and absorbing everything that happens around them, including what you think you’ve kept under wraps.
  • Look for unexplained changes in behavior, moods and physical health, then refer to the lists above to determine the nature of the changes and get them help.
  • Be prepared to remove your children from harm’s way if the place where you are serving is spiritually toxic for them. Some children will be more susceptible than others when faced with the occult. Don’t assume that because one child did well, another will too. Some children simply need to be removed from danger.

Some resources to consider:
The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare – Ed Murphy
Deliver Us From Evil – Scott Thoreau (African section)
The Invisible War – Chip Ingram
The Bondage Breaker – Neil Anderson

I am grateful to Mark Anderson, Brette and the Robinsons for their invaluable contribution to this article.  Thank you for your clear-eyed knowledge on this critical topic.

[NOTE: You can subscribe to this blog by sending an email to and writing “Subscribe” in the subject line.]



  1. Great article Michele. I think your suggestions are things we should do with our children no matter where we live in this world. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Great article! I would also add Ouiji boards to the list of possible entrapments. And dare I suggest the Twilight series? and other books that glorify the spirit of darkness?

    • jlebarnes3

    • 12 years ago

    Great article — thanks for sharing. The only caution would be the reference to the Rebecca Brown book — have heard a lot of controversy over the truth of some of what she has written. You can Google her name and the book and check it out further especially via Wikipedia — not that you can believe everything posted but other sources seem to substantiate things. Do know Ed Murphy, Chip Ingram and Neil Anderson as reputable authors on the topic.

  3. Thanks for the heads-up on Rebecca Brown. This book came recommended by someone I know, but if she’s truly controversial, I don’t want to appear to condone all of its content. Please read it at your own risk!

    • Steve & Renee

    • 12 years ago

    Brilliant! So nice to see a well-rounded summary on this topic. My only comment is that it can be too easy to rule out the spiritual when there is a physical skapegoat. It’s like we are somehow relieved to find that we have a chemical imbalance or a family history of depression. We think the meds will fully solve it. However, I believe that there is normally a mix of blame on all 3 aspects Ed Murphy describes: the world, the flesh, and the devil. So the solution will often require a mix of resources and strategies (medical, emotional, spiritual…). The devil is nasty in nature, and would very likely escalate and take further advantage of any physical or cultural or habitual weakness we have.

    • Cristina

    • 12 years ago

    I was an MK in South America for 14 years. When I was in high school, my mom, brother and I lead a Bible study in the small women’s prison. One woman, a gypsy from Spain, asked my parents for help. She was possessed by 3 spirits – everyone in the prison knew of them and knew their names. Twice they prayed with her and battled the demons. I was in another room praying for them one time, and praying and singing praises within earshot of her with several Christian prisoners during the second. She kept coming out and asking us to stop, saying we were being to noisy. She had told my parents before it was important that she kneel – but when they were with her, she refused to. “It burns” she said. As they tried to read Scripture – the Word is the sword of the Spirit and is powerful against the enemy – she kept flipping the pages so they couldn’t find their place or read anything. She was afraid of the big demon she saw in the corner, attached to a kitchen knife. Several other things happened as well. In the end, she was not freed from all the spirits, because she wanted one to stay – it claimed to be her dead grandmother.
    A couple days later, I was there alone for a German lesson from one of the women being discipled. The girl my parents had prayed with greeted me cheerfully, and asked me to “greet your mom and your brother and sister – but not your dad.” There was a strange look in her eye that made me feel uneasy. “I’m sorry?” I asked, not hardly believing what I had just heard (it was unusual for her to be that rude). “Greet your family” she amended quickly. As the spiritual leader, my dad seemed to have more authority, and therefore was more to be despised and feared. When we left to return to the U.S. for furlough a short while later, we knew we wouldn’t see her again – she was returning to a prison in Spain. She gave me a gift – a patriotic American T Shirt – to remember her by. The creepy, uneasy, spiritually-dark feeling frightened me as she forcefully insisted I promise to wear the shirt. When we got home, we prayed over the shirt, that it might be released of any dark forces or curses attached to it. The frightened feeling immediately passed.
    There have been a few other similar experiences with the enemy. Because of this, Halloween and other lighthearted things I find in America hold no pleasure for me.

    • elefacets

    • 11 years ago

    The potential for damage to young minds, both from misdiagnosis and the permeating oppressive fear of ever-present invisible horrors, concerns me. Please consider joining the 20th century on such matters at least, preferably the 21st if at all possible.

    1. I’m firmly anchored in the 21st century, thank you. I’m neither superstitious nor deluded. Unless you’ve experienced the very real oppression of unseen forces, as so many MKs have, you can’t possibly relate to an article such as this. I pray you never will.

    • elefacets

    • 11 years ago

    Would I be able to experience it if I shuffled a deck of tarot cards, wore a couple of evil eye pendants and browsed a bit of porn? Maybe I should also stay up all night playing video games and read some select excerpts from Harry Potter. That might work, but in the name of efficacy, I’ll light some candles and mutter something along the lines of “hail Satan, powerful king of darkness, come dwell in my heart” like a mantra just to be sure that I have sealed the deal.
    Staying up all night is probably not worth it, but everything else is readily accessible and not much of an inconvenience for me. So in the name of science I’ll try my best to be something of an occultic lightning rod for ten minutes this evening so that I don’t have to take your word for it.
    I’ll fill you in on the results.
    I have no doubt that you are perfectly modern in most senses (you do have a blog after all), but on this particular issue there is little to distinguish your understanding of the various influences on mental health, childhood development and social complexities from that of your average 18th century Puritan.
    Case and point: I’d be surprised if you approved this response, not so much because you are avoiding contention or disagreement, but because you ascribe some particular, terrible power to a short sequence of letters I included a few paragraphs up.
    Modern understandings of the world posit that “hail Satan” is nothing more than a sequence of 1’s and 0’s encoded in unimaginably rapid pulses of light with no unique power. Someone like Increase Mather might have thought otherwise.

    • bdax

    • 11 years ago

    Satan exists. But Jesus is God and has won the battle against him. Yes, Satan is a powerful foe, but as Martin Luther pointed out in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress,” One word shall fell him..That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth…” We are told again and again not to fear. We have also been told by our Lord the end of the story. Anderson, et. al, in my opinion do not focus enough on who we are in Christ. We do not have to fear satan nor should we give him too much power by paying an inordinate amount of attention to him.
    This quote is for “elefacets”:
    “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight” (C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letter. 1941, p. 3).

    • bdax

    • 11 years ago

    I would like to add one more thought, if you do not mind. Yes, there is spiritual warfare. But I do not believe that as Christians we are to be “spooked” or live in fear of the satan and his demons. There is good theology (Biblical thinking) in that Luther hymn I mentioned above. Here is the hymn in its entirety:
    1. A mighty fortress is our God,
    a bulwark never failing;
    our helper he amid the flood
    of mortal ills prevaling.
    For still our ancient foe
    doth seek to work us woe;
    his craft and power are great,
    and armed with cruel hate,
    on earth is not his equal.
    2. Did we in our own strength confide,
    our striving would be losing,
    were not the right man on our side,
    the man of God’s own choosing.
    Dost ask who that may be?
    Christ Jesus, it is he;
    Lord Sabaoth, his name,
    from age to age the same,
    and he must win the battle.
    3. And though this world, with devils filled,
    should threaten to undo us,
    we will not fear, for God hath willed
    his truth to triumph through us.
    The Prince of Darkness grim,
    we tremble not for him;
    his rage we can endure,
    for lo, his doom is sure;
    one little word shall fell him.
    4. That word above all earthly powers,
    no thanks to them, abideth;
    the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
    thru him who with us sideth.
    Let goods and kindred go,
    this mortal life also;
    the body they may kill;
    God’s truth abideth still;
    his kingdom is forever.

  4. Beware of harmless holiday traditions. Beware of foreign cultures and their heritage. Beware!
    The article claims that a wide variety of harmless, often mundane things pose a grave danger to our mental health. Sounds like an unnecessarily fearful way to go about life.
    Yes, apparently God can protect you from the little demons roaming around the suburban cul-de-sak, but it seems that simply not believing in that nonsense is equally effective at prevention.
    The CS Lewis quote doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t explain the fact that I know a very large number of people who scoff at the idea of a malicious, biblical understanding of spirituality, and who frequently interact with many of the things listed in the article above freely and without fear.
    If these things were actually dangerous as described in the article, then there would be some sort of discernible effect on them.
    If the demons are leaving them alone because they are simply content that they disbelieve as CS Lewis says, then that’s impossible to prove wrong so it is meaningless.
    It’s intellectually equivalent of saying “you can’t see unicorns unless you believe in unicorns, but trust me, unicorns exist.”
    By the way – I’m happy to report that I’m still not demonically oppressed.

    • Edmund Ball

    • 4 years ago

    Though this chat took place seven years ago today, , I arrived on it by “accident” ,and would like to make a comment on Elefacets attempt at the demolition of the article. I note that there was a gap from June to November till he/she placed his/her last contribution.
    1) I note that it does not help the argument if someone shows a pretentious arrogance in putting someone down
    2) I note that the writer, identifies clearly with the people he mentions in the paragraph “I know a very large number of people who scoff at the idea of a malicious, biblical understanding of spirituality, and who frequently interact with many of the things listed in the article above freely and without fear.”
    3) So what actually is the fundamental question is whether or not the biblical understanding of spirituality ( which he labels “malicious”.) is correct or not. Questions of eighteenth century puritanism and put downs at the blog writer’s blindness to complexities, simply masks the fact that writer has an inveterate hatred of Christianity., and at the same thinks that “interacting with things mentioned in the article” is a good thing..
    4) He claims that he knows no-one who has been interacting with the occult that has seen any bad effects, yet seems not in the slight bit interested open minded enough to examine any counter-examples. The fact that his limited number of friends who “interact freely” with the occult claim no damage, is hardly a disproof of C.S.Lewis’ adage.
    Finally I want to say , I did not agree with everything said in this blog, but the general drift of it I did. Thank you for putting it out. My name is Edmund Ball

    1. Just FYI, an updated version of this article is here:

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