" ...have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:6-17
At age twenty-five, Walter Gowans arrived in Nigeria, the southwestern edge of the wide sub-Saharan territory that stretched from the Atlantic ocean to the eastern border of Ethiopia. That vast, mysterious region had been named Sudan, "Land of the Blacks" by early Muslim settlers.
A few decades later, that vast landmass was being divided into separate nations. But that didn't change Walter's providential vision of the "Sudan Interior Mission" (SIM). God had given the young missionary a passionate love for the oppressed natives, and he was willing to give his life for their salvation. In spite of ominous warnings from established mission organizations, he chose to spread the gospel in one of the world's "most treacherous regions." And indeed, he did -- though he didn't live to see the amazing results.
Neither of the two friends who shared his vision escaped the fury of the dreaded malaria. Tom Kent, like Walter, died within a year. But Rowland Bingham survived and, by God's grace, he made Walter's dream of the SIM mission a reality. It would indeed spread God's saving love across Africa.
It wasn't easy. Though Bingham never gave up, his early years were filled with disease, discouragement and depression. Yet, in the midst of such training in endurance, God gave him the faith, strength and resources (meager, yet always sufficient) to carry on and spread His Word!
Keep in mind, the native tribes of central Africa were NOT the free and simple "natural man" popularized by Western idealists like Rousseau. Instead, their tribal beliefs, rituals and deadly sorcery brought paralyzing fear and misery.
For example, the Dinka tribe (in what is now the nation of South Sudan) believed in a cluster of "gods." Their reigning deity was Nhialic, the "sky god." That heartless master ruled all the other dark spirits that manifested their power through village sorcerers.
Nhialic's spirit "mother" was the serpentine Abuk. Since the natives believed that spirits lived in serpents, the punishment for killing a snake -- poisonous or not -- was death by sword or spells. After all, the serpent spirit might take revenge on the whole village.
Many years ago, Bingham shed some light on that darkness:
“There is the constant invisible warfare....It is fashionable in the Western world to relegate belief in demons and devils to the realm of mythology, and when mentioned at all it is a matter of jest. But it is no jest in West Africa.... One has not to go far in the jungles of Nigeria, the Sudan or Ethiopia and visit a few of the African villages to believe in devils and demons. They are all around you....Fetish men, devil men, ju-ju, lycanthropy, witches, wizards, ordeal by poison all flourished unchecked."
The reality of this spiritual war should serve as a warning to all of us. Countless missionaries have testified to the dark power behind real sorcery. Those forces still keep countless villages in bondage to mental and physical torments that Westerners can hardly imagine.
"O our God... we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." 2 Chronicles 20:12
Denying the Devil and Ignoring the Battle
Before we return to the Sudan mission, let's remember that spiritual warfare rages in our midst as well as in Africa. In a document titled "Spiritual Warfare and Worldviews," Dr. Paul G. Hiebert, Professor Emeritus Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote:
"...much literature on spiritual warfare has been written by western missionaries who have been forced to question their Western denial of this-worldly spiritual realities through encounters with witchcraft, spiritism, and demon possession. Too often they base their studies in experience and look for biblical texts to justify their view. They fail to examine the worldviews they use to interpret both Scripture and experience....
"The Gospels clearly demonstrate the existence of demons or unclean spirits who oppress people. The exorcists of Jesus' day used techniques to drive spirits away. Jesus, in contrast, simply drove the demons out on the basis of his own authority."
Don't think that America is immune to such warfare. Though most of us may never encounter the scary demonic personalities that torment idol worshipers and fans of the occult, we are still vulnerable to Satan's onslaughts. Today's rising hostility toward Biblical Truth is simply another facet of the ongoing spiritual war against God's people and Biblical faith.
From beginning to end, God's Word tells us to shun evil, resist temptations and expose deceptions. Are we doing that? Remember, evil is mentioned 1461 times in the Bible. "Satan" is mentioned 552 times. And the "devil" is mentioned 448 times. But in these changing times, such truth may fast be dismissed as cultural myths -- even in churches.
The radical Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong illustrates this anti-Christian mindset well in his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die. His call for "change" includes rejection of the basic Biblical doctrines such as the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and His atonement for our sins. In fact, Spong's hatred for the true Church fits right into Satan's clever schemes:
“...[cultural and spiritual] change will probably be radical, if not total. Those whose lives are dedicated to serving the Church of the past will resist these suggestions with a vehemence that always emerges from threatened hierarchies and dying institutions… we will once again be able to see continuity between the Church of the past and the purged and opened church of the future.”
Such deceptions are speeding the ruin of our proud, postmodern America! We can't win this war when we deny the existence of our foe! The deadliest war is fought in the spiritual realm, yet few are equipped to stand firm in this battle.
But, in this blinded world, who still cares? Since a rising mass of "cultural christians" is rejecting God's Word and ignoring His guidelines, spiritual warfare makes no sense to them!
Yet, there are some exceptions. As the real foe is denied, an imitation is taking its place: the realm of violent games, books and movies. There, dark forces implant mind-twisting fantasies in today's youth -- and in many parents as well. Those forces are not simply confined to the imagination. They are real and often subtle, and they are undeniable factors in the transformation of America's ways and values -- whether we believe it or not.Biblical Christianity doesn't fit the world's addictive values. We have to make a choice, and we have two options:
Follow our Shepherd
and share His suffering -- or
God's Victory over evil
While God's Truth is fading from Western consciousness, faithful missionaries continue to spread the light across Africa. It reminds me of the wonderful news revealed by Isaiah about twenty-seven centuries ago,
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined." (Is 9:2)
By 1930, God had raised up an army of missionaries across Africa. Bingham's friend, Dr. Tom Lambie, started a medical SIM mission in Wallamo, Ethiopia. His team saw few conversions the first few years. But that would change! This amazing testimony should bring joy to your hearts!
"...in 1935, when the Italian military forces [sent by communist Mussolini] moved against Ethiopia, the situation became grim. The American and British embassies advised all their citizens to leave immediately, but the SIM missionaries stayed on—with the blessing of their general director, Rowland Bingham, who wrote.
“You are under higher orders than those of the King of England or the President of the United States. Get your instructions from Him...”
"At this time there were only seventeen baptized believers in Wallamo, and the missionaries realized that their days were numbered, 'Because we knew our time was short,' wrote one missionary, 'we did everything we could to teach the Christians and get the gospel message out.... It was unsafe to leave the mission compound, but the urgency and importance of using the little time which remained to further train the young Christians warranted the danger.”
"The last nineteen missionaries and seven children remaining in Ethiopia were forcibly evacuated in 1937—giving them nearly two years of 'borrowed time' to build the little Wallarno church. But even with the added time the number of believers remained small—only forty-eight—and the missionaries left with a deep sense of sadness and doubt:
"As we turned the last corner around the mountain and saw in the distance the wave of their hands in farewell, we wondered what would happen to the little flickering flame of gospel light that had been lit in the midst of so much darkness. Would these young Christians, with no more of the Word of God in their own language than the Gospel of Mark and a few small booklets of selected Scripture portions to guide and teach them, be able to stand under the persecution that would inevitably come?"
"And persecution did come—severe persecution that tested even the most faithful as it had in the early church. But despite the oppression the church rapidly grew. 'The warm love displayed by the Christians toward one another in the times of severest persecution made a great impression on the unbelievers. Word of such love...spread far and wide.”
"By 1941 the war in Ethiopia was over, and the following year the first missionaries were allowed to return....The forty-eight Christians they had left five years before had grown to some ten thousand, and instead of one fledgling church there were nearly one hundred congregations spread out across the province."
You don't find this information in contemporary history books. It's not politically correct in a world that is bent on squeezing religions into the UN blueprint for global solidarity. (See UNESCO's declaration on religion) The new global standards for tolerance have virtually banned references to supernatural evil in Africa or elsewhere. Perhaps the only belief system that is freely criticized today is uncompromising Christianity.
When we see our faith mocked and vilified through movies, video games, books and schools, the reality of dark forces that hate our God becomes increasingly real. A trip to Africa's more remote villages can bring the same awareness.
In November, 1962, Andy and I traveled up the Nile through Sudan on a barge pushed by an old-fashioned, mail-carrying paddle boat -- the kind that once paddled up and down the Erie Canal. We slept on one of four large barges and explored the others. The one next to ours carried Dinka and Shilluk natives who slaughtered and cooked their food on the deck. Their tattooed faces helped us identify their tribes.
We stopped at a Sudanese village just in time (surely God's perfect timing) to providentially meet a missionary who was sharing the gospel in a nearby village. He asked us to come to his home and meet his wife who hadn't seen "a white woman" for two years. Later, he would use his little motorboat to catch up with the mail boat up river somewhere.
We happily hopped into his old jeep and bounced along the dirt "road" to his "inland" village. We were met by his wife and the welcoming smiles of their Christian "neighbors." Those who were inside their huts came out to greet us. Their faces radiated the joy of freedom from fear and demonic bondage. God had truly accomplished great wonders in their midst.
The "food" section of another village we photographed from our barge:
When His life brings such love, why would anyone turn away? It doesn't make sense unless we acknowledge today's raging spiritual war. So let us take a stand against the evil, put on the whole Armor of God, and practice resistance through His victorious Word!
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
Our Spiritual Warfare Series:
The Unseen Foe Behind Rising Evil
Perilous Partnership with China
Hating Truth and Primed for
Part 1: The Unseen Foe Behind Rising Evil
Perilous Partnership with China
Hating Truth and Primed for
Part 3: Hating Truth and Primed for Deception!
Part 4: Post-Christian Culture Welcomes Witchcraft!
Part 5: Behind the Peaceful Scenes of Christmas
Part 6: The Misguided Aims of the Counterfeit Church
Part 7: Good or Evil - Who Wins? (Open)
Part 8: Rising Persecution in the "Land of the Free"
Part 9: Transforming the World through Violence, War, Deception & Chaos
Part 10: A Devious Plot for a Blinded Nation
Part 11: Marching toward Global Solidarity
1. Walter Gowan's Life Drained out for Sudan at http://www.christianity.com/churchhistory/11630546/print/
2. Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, Zondervan, 1983), p.222.
4. Quoted in Samuel Escobar, "The Legacy of Orlando Costas," IBMR (April 2001), p.51.
5. Dr. Paul G. Hiebert, "Spiritual Warfare and Worldviews," Global Missiology, Featured Articles, January 2004, www.gIobalmissiology.net
6. John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), pps. 198-199.
7. Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, Zondervan, 1983), p.345.