The realm of spirits is not one I have had much to do with, but last night I heard a story that sounds like it came straight off the pages of the New Testament.
I am in the far north of Cambodia visiting some community development projects. We have been transported by tractor along a dusty dirt track to the edge of the Sekong river, then to the village on the other side by raft. The sun is setting behind us and the view is spectacular.
We are an hour early for our meeting, so our host encourages us to go for a walk. The jungle is thick around us, the light is fading. We pass timber houses, pigs, dogs, chickens. At one stage I am greeted by a short Cambodian man who has a huge smile. He takes my hand, refuses to let it go, and speaks to me in his native tongue in greatly animated voice. It’s a cart being pulled by two bullock that needs to pass that forces him to release his grip.
As we continue along the track we pass the home of a man who works in the project we have come to see. He and his wife invite us in. Plastic chairs are placed in a circle out the front of the house and in the semi-darkness he and another staffer share about their lives.
We have been talking for about 45 minutes when I ask the men how they came to faith in Christ.The man whose house we are visiting tells us it was through the witness of the project staff. Then the second man tells his story. He speaks for a long time with greatly animated voice. When he finishes, our translator relays the story in English. It went something like this:
“I was a spirit caster. When a person in the village became possessed by a spirit, I would cast it out. A more powerful spirit would come and enter me and I would use its power to cast out the spirit in the other person.
One day I felt a powerful spirit leave my body. I vomited it out. But a day later I discovered it had entered my sister. When I tried to cast it out of her, the spirit spoke through my sister. ‘You are not powerful enough to cast me out. You have no authority over me.’
I didn’t know what to do. Then I felt a force enter me. I had heard about Jesus from the project staff and the spirit in my sister sensed it was Jesus that had entered me. The spirit acknowledged Jesus had greater authority and left my sister. It was then that I believed in Jesus and became his follower.”
The secular rationalist in me wants to dismiss this as a supernatural interpretation of what was nothing more than a psychological event. But what if it’s the other way round? What if I am placing a materialist interpretation on what was a genuinely supernatural event?
There is so much we don’t know about life, the universe, and everything. What if the spirit realm is one of them? What if this man and this tribe in the far northern jungles of Cambodia knows far more of this than we westerners? What else does he have to teach me?
And so this encounter symbolizes much more than the realities of a spirit realm. It challenges me to remember that there is much I don’t know and much to learn, and that my teacher may well be a formerly illiterate spirit caster from a remote village in the jungles of Cambodia.