Courage is highly esteemed in the Middle East, but underlying that, and rarely talked about, is extreme fear about the spirit world, particularly within folk Islam. Muslims and Christians alike recognise that unseen spiritual forces of the heavenly realms are constantly at work. Every now and then, however, we see the beautiful fruit of new believers who are freed from fear.
The staff of our community centre organised an art competition for young people. They did not advertise it widely for fear that some extreme groups, who deem any form of creative expression ‘haram’ (forbidden), would take offence. As a family, we attended the official opening, which was held in an unused part of the community centre. In an impressive outpouring of creativity, 50 young people displayed their artistic flair.
It was only when we showed our staff a blurry family photo taken at the exhibition that we learned about ‘Anji’, believed to be the resident evil spirit. One of my employees, Indigo, was particularly attuned to the ‘unseen’ and very fearful of the spirits she believed followed her every move. This led to a most unusual management/ministry issue that I was not prepared for. Soon almost all our local staff believed there was an evil spirit in that area.
Both Indigo and her colleague Harriet claimed to have heard the spirit’s name and seen her face in dreams. Indigo flatly refused to enter the room and when Harriet did she placed her holy book on the table next to her for protection. This fear of Anji became a growing problem but it led to opportunities for us to share openly with staff about the One who has power over evil spirits.
At one of our weekly staff lunches, the topic of Anji was discussed for more than an hour. I didn’t want to trivialise the importance of the issue but reminded staff that our centre provided great ‘light’, hope and transformation in people’s lives so it was to be expected that the devil would oppose it.
I decided to be bolder and offered to pray with and for any staff members in Jesus’ name in these rooms. This created an awkward conundrum: if they asked for prayer they were publically admitting that Jesus does have power, but not asking left them crippled with fear. It was awkward for me too, considering this battle was out of my comfort zone and experience; however, Ephesians 6:10–12 gave me more than enough guidance:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers … against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Sadly, our staff never did ask us to pray to expel the evil spirits. Many did, however, recognise the power of our own prayers. Harriet became increasingly open and committed to read the Bible alongside her holy book every day. She would often come to us with concerns and ask us to pray. We still long for them to know the power of Jesus and to experience freedom from fear.
We had seen the fruit of faith remove fear in a very tangible way with another new local believer, Ruth. She had been under much pressure from the unseen, so crippled by a fear of jinn (spirits), in fact, that her sister needed to accompany her even to the bathroom. Amazingly, immediately after she trusted Jesus her fear disappeared.
Please join us in praying that Ruth will continue to stand firm, and that many others will be freed from their fears and superstitions.
Stephen is a long-term Partner working in the Middle East.
Names have been changed.