by Ric Jacobsen
Victories by Brazilian believers raise some important questions.
The air was humid and mixed with the smell of salt, candle smoke, and flowers. Although it was late, the beaches were crowded with tens of thousands of inflation-plagued people standing in line to offer expensive sacrifices. The custom of venerating the demon goddess Imanja, brought from Africa and BOW practiced in the popular folk religions of Macumba and Candomble, claims Brazilians of all ages, and all economic and social backgrounds. Fear continues to bring more than one million of them to Rio de Janiero’s beaches every New Year’s Eve, as they obediently line up to pray with mediums in the hope of having a better relationship with the spirits.
Some years ago, two churches working with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) to present the good news to the demonized worshipers of Imanja were scorned by many evangelical churches who declared, "This particular night belongs to Satan. Christians should seek protection by attending prayer vigils in their own churches." Between Christmas and New Year’s, YWAM held classes on evangelism, and graduation meant ministering to the thousands of lost souls visiting the beaches of southern Rio. The victories and power encounters experienced by the 150 young people and leaders were so great that their number doubled the next year. Churches have been so convicted that last year nearly 2,000 Christians took part in evangelism during the festival. Power encounters are now expected on that night, and extensive intercession and spiritual warfare precede each outreach.
Such outreaches have shown Brazilian Christians, who feel a new aggressiveness in proclaiming Christ, that the demonic powers that operate in their country can be defeated. In the five years in which I participated in them, I saw many confrontations with demonic powers. New believers took part and became convinced that God is more powerful than the forces that once governed their lives. Yet, strangely, most members of the foreign missionary community were absent from these encounters
One evangelical mission leader said that he would not take part because the spirits were merely "mumbo jumbo," products of the superstitions of believers from more primitive backgrounds. This missionary said that when a professor of anthropology had visited from his denomination’s North American seminary, he had taken him to a number of spiritist centers to observe occult worship, and they had even consulted with a medium. The missionary’s world view radically differed from that of students at that seminary. Pastors of his denomination were participating with church members in the powerful, faith strengthening outreach on the beaches.
One elderly minister of a church took a group of 20 young people to witness one evening. After they had set up a small platform in the sand and were hooking up the sound system, a man came and screamed at them to move because they had taken his place. For many years he had used that spot to call down the demonic powers and give counsel. After an argument, the medium declared that he would set up nearby and that the demonic powers would thwart their efforts at evangelism. The pastor and his young people prayed and began to sing worship songs. The medium carefully laid out his sacred stones, candles, and flowers. Finally, he unpacked his sacred drums, each dedicated to a familiar spirit. His helpers began to beat the drams and tried to put themselves in a frenzy, calling down the demonic powers. Three hours later they were too weary to beat the drums any more. Not only had the demonic powers not been manifest, crowds of people who were standing next to the medium were listening to the presentation of salvation in Christ.
The elderly pastor stopped preaching, walked through the crowd, and stopped next to the medium. He asked, "Can I beat out a song about Jesus on one of your drums?" The medium, hanging his head, handed him a drum and said, "You might as well. They have no power tonight." The pastor, playing with little concern for rhythm, beat out the Portuguese version of "We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus saves, Jesus saves" God had triumphed in a spirit of humiliation and intercession, defeating the powers of darkness.
This kind of aggressive evangelism is a product of interceding prayer by the church. Both are important in defeating the forces empowering the Macumba and Candomble worship. Victories seen by believers questions for North American missionaries and their sending agencies.
A missionary training program must recognize the reality of the spirit world. In recent years, many missionaries written in prayer letters that they are reading books about spiritual warfare; many have asked why the subject was not addressed when they were students or in candidacy. Attempting to meet this felt need, we have (1) included teaching on demonology and spiritual conflict at missionary retreats and field conferences; and (2) provided seminars for those preparing to be missionaries. The seminars often are taught by missionaries who know, from theology as well as personal experience, the reality of power encounters.
For instance, enthusiasm and singular vision on the day of the interview will not necessarily carry future missionaries through the discouragement and difficulties they will face after moving into a tribal area. Although many areas need to be covered in the interview, you need to determine their ability to win the expected spiritual battles. Have they ever started and run a successful prayer group? Are they consistent in their own prayer lives? Are they known as "praying people"? Interviews must penetrate the surface of spirituality to see if candidates have discipline in prayer and intercession. Spiritual victory does not without a working knowledge of prayer, intercession, and spiritual warfare. An effective prayer life is required for those being to such a battlefield.
The annual meeting of the mission was packed with emotions as the field leader described the frustration, oppression, and spiritual conflicts involved in his work among Muslims. "We are sending missionaries into battle, and we will have casualties. The war is real, and we will have casualties as we plunder the strongholds of Satan." His painful message produced more understanding, more intelligent prayer, and a greater compassion for those ministering on the field and those who had returned. Prayer letters, mission updates, systematic teaching, and testimony should inform the sending base of the reality of spiritual warfare.
Although some 5,000 invitations to a marriage and family seminar had been placed in the mailboxes of expensive condominiums in a southern suburb of Rio de Janiero, only 12 people attended the first night. The disappointed, angry, and frustrated core group of believers, who had prayed and used other methods to announce the seminar decided to spend more time in prayer and intercession before subsequent outreaches, binding the spirits of idolatry and spiritism which dominated the religious lives of the group. Within months, other out-reaches produced fruit, and 12 months a church with 60 believers had been established. As a mission, spiritual war-has become an important part of our planning and strategy to reach our goals for the year 2000.
Bill and Janeanne struggled to make friends as they sought to bring together a core group of new believers as the basis for a new church in Bogota. Discouraged by the resistance of their target group, they bought, through a bookstore at their home base, eight copies of The Weapons of Your Warfare by Larry Lea (Creation House, 1989) and them to key prayer partners and prayer group committed to their ministry. Bill and Janeanne had joined a growing number of missionaries who equip and those who pay for them. They received letters of thanks, and assurances that this excellent book on spiritual warfare had transformed prayer lives. Within weeks, Bill and Janeanne were able to become acquainted with neighbors and win the confidence of two families. In recent years, many seminars and books about spiritual warfare have appeared. Strategically placed books and tapes – screened to avoid the fluff – can help to develop a solid support base that will bring triumph on the mission field.
We are in a war that can be won. As in Brazil, perhaps we need to learn from our churches the importance of entering the battle so that our evangelism and church planting efforts will succeed.
EMQ, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 6-9. Copyright © 1991 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.