[An audio version of this article is available on the Pondering Purple podcast.
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This is a delicate topic—one that can elicit some pretty strong responses—but I’m taking a deep breath and delving into it today because of the number of conversations I’ve had with MKs who have expressed their fear that there may be spiritual warfare going on inside and around them. They’re eager—sometimes desperate—to know more about a subject that is sadly still too taboo.

This is not a prescriptive article. I did a fair amount of research before sitting down to write, hoping to be able to bring you a condensed theology of the occult, but discovered that the views of experts in this field are so diverse, complex, and intensely held that I realized I’d be doing you a disservice by trying to integrate so many perspectives into a brief article. Perhaps equally importantly, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of presenting myself as the ultimate authority on such a complicated and sometimes obscure topic.

So…consider this a conversation opener—a context in which to consider what exposure you or your children might have had to the occult, and an invitation to further personal study on this crucial and too often overlooked subject.

Whether you are an MK or you love MKs, my prayer is that reading the firsthand stories included here will inspire you to pay attention, learn, discern, and develop tools to counteract whatever destructive forces might be infiltrating our lives. I’ll link some books, articles and podcasts at the end of the article, and would love for you too to contribute the best resources you’ve found, as well as any personal stories you feel comfortable sharing.

A good number of missionaries’ kids has been exposed to something occultic 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 deeply superstitious beliefs and fears of otherwise “enlightened” societies. 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 seem able to brush off their encounters with the occult and go about their lives and faith as if they never happened. Others appear to carry those encounters inside them, finding their faith, their emotional stability, their relational abilities, and even their mental health weakened or entrapped by the unseen forces of their past.

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 plagued by unexplainable terrors, nightmares, and physical ailments. Others feel inextricably bound to events of the past and find it impossible to engage fully in the present. Yet others find themselves sabotaging every good thing in their lives, harming others and themselves, or prone to irrational fury they can’t control.

Granted, we can’t pin every challenge we face on the dark powers that might stalk families serving in ministry. We live on a fallen planet where facing hard things is inevitable. But we can’t ignore the potential impact of occultic encounters on the spirits and minds of children either.

Let me give you some examples.

Andrew (name changed) recalled being woken suddenly one night by an unexplained feeling. Everyone else was still asleep. As he lay there in the dark, in a primitive village where his parents had just begun to teach the Bible, his eyes were drawn to one of the rafters above him. There, perched like an animal but shaped like a human, was the outline of something he could only describe as a demon. It was pitch black in the house, but he could see the creature perfectly, because its darkness was so much stronger than the shadows in the room. He felt in his marrow that the presence was saying, “This is my domain—you have no place here.”

Brette lived in Bali, Indonesia, and was warned to be careful of anything she might buy that could have demonic attachments. But when she got back to Texas, she began to have disturbing dreams about demonic presences and she became tormented by a “teasing spirit” that would turn the lights on or off in the house and open doors she had just closed. She and her parents eventually identified a wooden puppet purchased in Bali as a possible source of the disturbances. After they burned it, the nightmares and spiritual activity instantly stopped.

Another MK I’ll call Jenny went on a six-week mission trip to a remote part of Africa when she was seventeen and met a witch doctor there whose powers were said to be strong enough to force his subjects to kill their own parents. She described her encounter with him as “looking into the face of evil.” When Jenny returned to the States, she 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.

Even in the relatively safe context of Kandern, Germany, where I taught at an MK school for 20 years, some of my former students witnessed witchcraft taking place in firelit rituals in the woods after dark and watched the local population faithfully observing Fasching—a cultural celebration of immoral behavior that ends with the symbolic casting of demons into the sky.

Now that I’ve moved to an American suburb known for its influential Christian college, with churches on every corner and spiritual symbolism all around, I’ve learned from a respected colleague who specializes in the occult that he has witnessed the kind of demonic activity here that we would normally expect from far less “reached” places.

Just how deeply can believers be affected by contact with the occult? The debate rages on. Some believe we can only be oppressed—not possessed. And others find a theological basis for claiming both are possible. Whichever it is, it is clear that Christians can be acutely affected by the Prince of Darkness. They can be lied to, manipulated, teased and tormented. And so can MKs.

The oppression process will look different depending on the strategy a particular spirit employs and the weakness it senses in its victim. 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 may blind us to the crafty manipulation that takes over our ability to resist impulses, robs us of health and sanity, or alienates us from all that is good and satisfying. It may cause unbearable emotional turmoil, perversions of the mind, physical ailments, and irrational, violent 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.

Please hear methis is my greatest fear in tackling this topic: I am not saying that those “human conditions” are demonic in themselves. Mental illness, medical issues, and other challenges are typically just that and need to be addressed with the best resources and methods available to us. By labeling every difficult event or physical ailment in our lives as a spiritual attack, we risk cheapening and trivializing the dangerous reality of true spiritual warfare.

I would exhort us to be careful about over-applying direct satanic involvement to every challenge we face, thus fueling undue fear in impressionable children. It may be more productive instead to try to instill in them a sober understanding that unseen forces are real and can sometimes conspire against us. And that we are not helpless in combatting them.

With that clarified, I think it’s safe to say that in some cases—perhaps even in rare cases—evil may piggyback on existing conditions to find an access point. It may use mental illness as a disguise to sow destruction. It may discover a natural impulse like sexual desire and balloon that into something inescapable and damaging. It may find fertile soil in unbridled ambition, anger, or pride.

Whatever the vulnerability or weakness we expose, a pernicious form of evil might seek some way to exploit it. But it is too insidious to identify itself with a pitchfork and horns.

Raising children in ministry without addressing spiritual warfare is like taking them on a motocross course without instructions and protective gear. The stature and purpose of Christian missionaries in foreign lands make their families an obvious strategic target for the forces of evil, and “good Christian kids” are not out of their reach. We need to be proactive in protecting children growing up on spiritual battlefields.

What can be done? I’d like to address both the MKs (of all ages) who suspect they might have been impacted by the occult, as well as parents currently raising children in spiritually fraught places.

First, to the MKs reading this. If you suspect that exposure to the occult might have left you with some lasting attachments, may I suggest these three areas of exploration to you? They are by no means comprehensive, but they’re a good place to start.

How can MKs DISCERN whether they’re being oppressed?

If you’re dealing with unusual visions, a spirit-level sense of oppression, irresistible destructive urges, unexplainable ailments, or overwhelming mental/emotional anguish that can’t be resolved by “normal” means:

  • Pray for clear discernment.
  • Write down a history of the exposure you’ve had to evil, witchcraft, or any kind of “occultic entertainment” like Ouija boards and media depicting demons and satanic rituals. Note the timeframe in which that exposure happened and see if it coincides with the onset of your oppression.
  • Seek the counsel of someone who is truly versed in the reality of spiritual warfare.

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

  • There is power in the name of Jesus. Claim it. Say it. Yell it. Pray it. Declare it. And surround yourself with others who will do so on your behalf.
  • Learn. Read or listen to all you can from trustworthy sources.
  • Find wise and qualified counsel. Do not wade into this alone! You’ll need the guidance of someone whose faith and expertise you trust, who has experience with the occult and will commit to helping you.
  • Dispose of anything that still links you to those dark spirits you’ve identified.
  • Renounce habits that weaken your resistance, and avoid contexts in which you feel a dangerous, dark presence.
  • Invest yourself in a discipleship journey toward deeper faith.

What disciplines can MKs PRACTICE to be less vulnerable to the forces of evil?

  • Fill yourself daily with scripture and Truth.
  • Intentionally and 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.
  • Renounce habits that weaken your resistance (lack of sleep, excessive activity, substance abuse, occultic media, etc.)
  • Trust your spiritual “gut” and flee anything that feels “hinky.” (That’s a bona fide theological term!)
  • Seek counsel and support the moment you feel exposed and/or under attack. Again, this is not something that can be tackled alone without further making ourselves vulnerable to the forces that seek to destroy us.

And for parents of MKs who are concerned about the influence of the occult and spiritual warfare on your children, here are a handful of suggestions for you to consider—though there is no prescription for this kind of combat. You’ll find that these suggestions have similar themes to what I just offered the MKs.

  1. Educate yourself about the power and strategies of the forces of evil. Ask people you trust for the resources they’d recommend. Read, listen, research. Ignorance on this topic is not “bliss,” as the saying goes. It’s dangerous.
  2. Give your children the vocabulary they need to discuss the demonic or satanic they witness, and provide open communication channels for them to speak of it.
  3. Assure them that they have weapons to counteract attacks and engage them in practices that refine those.
  4. Instill in your children soul-preserving disciplines like confession, forgiveness, prayer, and spiritual discipleship. Help strengthen the weaknesses the devil might exploit as entrance points.
  5. Be prepared to remove your children from harm’s way if the place where you are serving is spiritually toxic for them. I know nobody wants to hear that. But 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 will simply need to be taken out of danger’s way.

I realize that we’ve just scratched the surface of this topic. All I can do is plead with you to do your own research, maybe starting with the articles, books and blogs I’ve compiled below. They address the topic from different traditions and perspectives, some of which we may not all agree with—but I think there is a richness to studying across denominational and geographic barriers. Especially when it comes to topics like this one.

I’d like to end by affirming the truth of Romans 8, verses 38 and 39 – a truth that soothes the fear that so often accompanies conversations like this one. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Please join the conversation!

    • Contribute your thoughts in the comments section below
    • Use the social media links to Like and Share this article
    • Many of these articles are now available in podcast form. Simply search for “Pondering Purple” on your usual pod platforms, or click this link to be taken to its host page
    • To subscribe to this blog, email michelesblog@gmail.com and write “subscribe” in the subject line
    • Pick up Of Stillness and Storm (my novel about a missionary calling gone awry) on Amazon

Consider this a starter kit of sorts—incomplete and varied. Please add your suggestions and personal stories in the comment section below this.

To be clear, I don’t see eye-to-eye with some of the content listed here, but the materials come recommended by people whose faith and sincerity I trust—even though I’ve reached different conclusions than they have. We’d be poor students indeed if we siloed our research to just the sources we already agree with!


One Comment

    • Rick Burdett

    • 1 year ago

    Michelle, I have only spoken to a few people about this experience with demons but never written about it which I will attempt to do here. It may be a bit long but the details matter.

    My first trip to India was with a missionary, our church supported – Nathan Olson. He served in Uttarakhand in northern India. As we traveled by a small bus into the Himalayan mountains the small group I was with stayed in a small village. I was invited to hike up to a remote mountain village where the missionary had previously found a “person of peace”. The village had no electricity or services. It caused me to think this might be a village in Bible times. It was about 10,000 ft and when we arrived I was exhausted. The family that lived there cooked a meal over an open fire in their mud and stone home which served as their animal barn, kitchen, bedroom, and one room for just gathering as a family.

    Following our meal, we gathered in the family room to just talk using an interpreter who was with us. Because I was so tired I excused myself to go to bed. This family had given up the bedroom for the four of us who had climbed up the mountain. Entering the bedroom, by flashlight, I saw four cot-like beds, one against each wall, I was pointed to one of the beds for the night and left alone. The room was completely void of any light. I pretty much collapsed onto the bed, but before I went to sleep, I shined my flashlight around the room and was what looked like figures of what I thought might be Hindi deities. I laid my flashlight under the bed and quickly fell deeply asleep.

    I have a vague idea of the timing through the night, but very explicit memories of what occurred. I woke up before any of the three others who were with me came to bed. It was totally black inside – no light at all. I woke in a panic. Fear is the only sensation I felt. I had never experienced this in my life. I was too panicked to move. So I called out to God, to Jesus asking for help. It was as if Jesus entered the room and whatever caused my fear vanished. I remember thinking/asking if I was dreaming or if this was real. What I know for sure is this happened several more times through the night and each time I called out to Jesus and immediately (like in the very moment) I was comforted by His presence.

    I asked Nathan and the two others with us in the morning if he had a similar experience. He had not. He shared that this did not surprise him that I had. he pointed out the Hindi deities all over the room and suggested that perhaps I had come under demonic attack. I came to realize I had and I also experienced the presence of Jesus in ways I had not since I sensed the Spirit coming into me when I accepted Jesus as my savior as a youth.

    I learned that night, that God’s Spirit is always with me. I have never once felt that kind of fear or panic in my life again. I learned I can always call on the Lord, He is there and near. This story gets better, Nathan was able to persuade the parents of the two children 8 & 11, living with them to leave their home and move to a Moravian school for education in Moossorie about 10 hour’s drive away. My wife Chris and I committed to sponsoring them for their entire education and both kids have come to faith in Jesus as has their mom. We continue to pray for the dad (the man of peace).

    Demons are real and they are terrifying to encounter. But we have Jesus and Jesus is always enough.

    Rick Burdett – COO Outreach Canada

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