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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 me—this 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Assure them that they have weapons to counteract attacks and engage them in practices that refine those.
- 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.
- 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.”
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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!
- Before You Cry Demon (article) – JonathanTrotter https://bit.ly/3SYZYbZ
- The Essentials of Spiritual Warfare – Scott Moreau https://amzn.to/3kWJTa2
- Three Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare – Clinton E. Arnold https://amzn.to/3YuK0XZ
- The Invisible War – Chip Ingram https://amzn.to/41N8qPv
- The Place We Find Ourselves: Warfare Part 1 (podcast series) – Adam young https://apple.co/3JnyfOE
- The Bondage Breaker – Neil Anderson https://amzn.to/3kSolvh
- Demon Possession and the Christian – C. Fred Dickason https://amzn.to/3YsBIjA
- The Steps to Freedom in Christ – Neil Anderson https://amzn.to/3Jl67M7
- Restoring the Christian Soul – Leanne Payne https://amzn.to/41Xb5X0
- The Biblical Guidebook to Deliverance – Randy Clark https://amzn.to/3YsAtAW
- Demons and the Spiritual World (podcast) – Joel Muddamalle https://apple.co/3LmCBHB
- The Adversary: The Christian vs. Demon Activity – Mark I. Bubeck https://amzn.to/3J5BQjo
- Warfare Praying – Mark I. Bubeck https://amzn.to/3F3D79j
- Spiritual Warfare: Are Demons Real (podcast) – Dr. Rob Rienow https://bit.ly/3L4HrbZ
- The Believer’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare – Tom White, Bruce Wilkinson https://amzn.to/3mygkMu