“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12
Make no mistake about it, if you are a Christian you are engaged in spiritual warfare. The more serious you are about following Christ, the more intense the spiritual attacks will be. That has certainly been our experience. My name is Jamie Smith and I am a church-planting missionary in Zambia, Africa. We have been full-time missionaries here for only three months, but have done short-term ministry here off and on for 12 years. From 2005 to 2012 I was the associate pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Parkersburg, WV which is now our sending church.
We are thrilled to be here in Zambia. God has been doing amazing things here as we see souls liberated from the bondage of sin, experience forgiveness from their Creator, and walking in new life. We are seeing churches planted and strengthened. Obviously God is blessing….but Satan is not happy about the territory where he has had a stronghold for generations being permeated with the Gospel. He will not release his grip without a fierce fight. Allow me to share a few of our experiences that illustrate this truth with you.
On our first trip out to the remote village of Nambaaza in 2010 we found ourselves on the front lines of a major spiritual battle. This village 5 ½ hours outside of the nearest town had been contacted by our teammates a couple of year’s prior and around 200 people had made a profession of faith. Until that time the people of this village had never heard the name Jesus Christ. There were no churches and no gospel witness. However, after that time a cult called the Zionist church started spreading to this region as well. They combine Old Testament teaching with traditional African animism. Their priests call upon the spirits of ancestors and find themselves dealing with demons. They are not a group to take lightly.
After darkness fell on our first night in Nambaaza we heard the beating of drums and chanting coming from the nearby Zionist church. My wife had gotten our children to sleep and I was at the campfire where I was sharing God’s word with the young believers in that area. Suddenly our 18-month-old son started crying hysterically. My wife could not find anything wrong with him physically, but he was writhing around as if in pain and would not calm down no matter what she tried. He would not even let her hold him. Instead he would crawl to the other side of the tent and claw at it as if trying to get away from something terrifying. My wife recognized the connection between the Zionist church and what was happening to our son. She began praying, but it only got worse. When I came to the tent I too started praying for God’s protection in the spiritual battle, but there was no relief. I thought about it and recognized that this battle was meant to intimidate the new believers. So, I asked the Zambian pastor to have all the Christians pray so they could see God prevail in this battle. We brought my son out to the campfire and Pastor Arthur explained the situation. As they began praying our son stopped crying within 30 seconds. Within one minute he was sleeping peacefully. One minute later the Zionist church drum beats and chanting stopped. The rest of the night was peaceful thanks to the protection from God.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” – 2 Corinthians 10:4
Two days later we hosted a meeting in Nambaaza for the headmen of 7 surrounding villages that had never heard the Gospel. Our desire was to be start churches in these villages as well and this meeting was intended to earn the trust of the leaders so we would be invited to do just that. The morning of this meeting my family stayed at Nambaaza to prepare for the meeting and greet the headman as they arrived while our teammates drove to the furthest villages to bring those headmen to the meeting. As my wife and I worked on things our children played happily in the village. However, as the first headman and his advisor arrived the next round of the spiritual battle began. First, our 3-year-old daughter started feeling sick. We put her in the tent to rest. Within minutes she was projectile vomiting all over everything. As my wife tended to her another headman and his advisor arrived. I was holding my 18-month-old son when I greeted him and shook his hand. Suddenly, my son vomited all over me. Two down and one to go. About an hour later as the meeting was about to begin our eldest daughter also got sick. The vomiting continued every 10 -15 minutes for 6 hours as we held our meeting with the headmen. We tried to keep them hydrated and give them medicine but nothing worked. It was getting to the point that we thought we would have to leave early to make the 3 ½ hour drive to the nearest hospital. The Christian ladies were praying and trying to help Mandy, but they were all quite certain that our 3-year-old daughter would die…and it was a real possibility. Yet, as the meeting ended we saw God do amazing things in the hearts of all the headmen. Each one gave permission for us to start working in their villages and one even asked us to come the following day to share the gospel with his family (which we did and 10 people trusted Christ that day). At the end of the meeting as the headmen left, my attention turned to getting my children to safety. However, I was surprised that within minutes of the last headman leaving the vomiting had stopped and all three children got up and started playing as if nothing had ever been wrong. Our teammates, who were veteran missionaries of 20 years, had never seen anything like it either. As it turns out, some of the advisors who came with the headmen were witch doctors. Satan was trying to derail the work in this spiritual frontier, but his best efforts only strengthened the faith of the young believers and helped open the eyes of those who put their faith in Christ just a few days later.
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4
The spiritual battle that everyone called by the name of Christ faces is nothing to take lightly, but it is also nothing to fear. The all-powerful God of the universe resides in all those who have received Jesus as their personal Savior. We have nothing to fear from the schemes of Satan, but we should know that as a roaring lion Satan is seeking whom he may devour. In Africa, lions are known for picking off the young, sick, and weak. In our experience Satan tried to derail our ministry not by attacking me or my wife; but our children. He knows what we hold dear and he will not fight fair so we must count the cost, take up our cross, and follow him no matter the cost. We must trust God’s leading. We must also trust God to do what is best and to protect those we love.
Those two spiritual battles were certainly intense, but they were not the only ones.
In the last three years we have had the mission board that we served on close due to financial difficulties and had to find a new one.
Our daughter fell and broke her elbow during the week of one of our mission conferences in West Virginia while we were raising more funds.
Our son chased a spitting cobra and did not get bitten.
I was in a major car accident in America, but was unharmed.
We’ve had several close calls on the road, and perhaps the most shocking of all…I was accidentally shot by a .22 caliber rifle while fishing on a farm in Ohio by the neighbor of the farmer when he thought he was shooting at some varmint animals. The bullet hit me in the left calf and broke my leg. This happened in the final stretch of our fundraising part of ministry before coming to Zambia. It seemed that Satan tried to pull out all the stops to prevent us from coming here, but God sustained us and prevailed!
Of course, we still experience spiritual battles and will until Christ, our commander in Chief, returns to take us home. As I write this, my oldest daughter is battling her first bout of malaria, my middle daughter has anemia and an infection, and now my son is coming down with croup. I worked with some church leaders today on a house that needed repair. As I walked out the door I found that I was covered in fleas. The house was totally infested. I have been meeting with Zambian pastors about problems from the past with missionaries that actually brought disunity rather than the gospel. A shipment of supplies that was supposed to arrive a month ago has stalled in Johannesburg and no one from any of the shipping companies seems to know why or how we will get it back on track. Our employment permit has not been granted yet and we are tied up in government beurocracy. Communication to America has been tricky as the rainy season has brought about major problems with the Internet. Yes, there is a day-in-and-day-out battle.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:37-39
But, God is doing amazing things.
Sixty-seven people have put their faith in Christ since we arrived 3 months ago.
The churches we are working with are getting stronger. Leaders are being trained.
We have a good reputation with the Zambian leaders. God is meeting all our needs.
We are learning to speak the Tonga language.
Up until recently we have had surprisingly good health.
We are making great strides in bringing unity out of the past struggles that happened long before we arrived here.
We have been able to start the building project out in Nambaaza. We now have a well dug there and will be starting to build a development center and our house in June once the rains stop. Once we get out there we can really begin training the local leaders and do what we came to do – facilitate a church planting movement.