I’ve never ventured to share this story before. It’s one of my my “naked faith” experiences I had while on the mission field in Asia. As you will see (if you bear with me through the long narrative) it is “Outside the Box” of normal human experience, at least in the Western world…TRUE STORY.
In the summer of ’88 we spent two months ministering up and down the Philippines, conducting open air outreaches in remote villages, sleeping in grass huts and abandoned houses. Our team, which consisted of 14 people from about 7 different countries, was a “special ops” ministry team of sorts, trailblazers who endeavored to press the envelope and establish contacts for future ministry. We used drama, pantomime, personal testimony and preaching to communicate God’s love to all we came in contact with—drawing crowds ranging from 20 to 1000 or more, depending on the time and place.
What a beautiful and colorful country, the Philippines! The culture there is outgoing and gregarious, the people warm and very open to the Gospel. Everywhere we went conversations abounded. The afternoon and evening meals were always sumptuous affairs where half the neighborhood showed up to meet us: these young, intriguing people who had travelled so far to be in their village. Pit smoked pig, “Lechon Baboy” (head included), was the centerpiece of the spread, which also included a large serving bowl of baby coconut milk, a potpourri of dishes made with shrimp, rice, noodles and vegetables and fruit.
One highlight of our trip was the day we boarded a motorized banana boat (40 ft long by 8 ft wide) on the island of Cebu and sailed for the Camotes Islands, which sit like tiny freckles east of Cebu, so inconsequential that they don’t even show up on a standard map. (There are over 7000 islands in the Philippine chain.) We began the trip at 9pm, and during this 12 hour overnight joy ride we experienced the full range of emotions. The waves were choppy most of the way and at times we were certain the boat was going to capsize. Only an hour into the trip our daughter Brittany, just two and a half, vomited all over my lap. By the time we reached land the next morning, typhoon warnings had been issued all over the Philippines, adding to our anxiety. But we had been getting used to it. Having been in this beautiful island chain just over three weeks by this time, we had come to realize that what for us was living on the edge, was for the Filipino people simply a way of life.
It was a bright morning when we pulled into port. No one was there to meet us. All we saw was jungle. When contact was finally made with our hosts, we were carted several miles inland, where the king and the entire island population (we were told) awaited us. It was party time!
After a 3 hour celebration our team was introduced to their hosts. The plan was for team members to pair up (guys with guys and girls with girls) and stay with different families on the island. Being the only married couple on the team, efforts were usually made to keep us together. On this occasion it didn’t work out—so I paired off with a 19 year old guy from Sweden (the youngest team member). They stayed in the home of an elderly couple and their grandson, in a thatched roof house tucked away in the woods. The hospitality was warm and the grandson, Bayani, spoke English. He was 11 years old and loved playing chess. He was very frail and it was clear to me that he had some kind of affliction. I did not let the opportunity pass to play chess with him and to strike up conversation and share the Gospel with him. The more we talked, the more I realized God wanted to do something special for Bayani.
The warm, open reception to the Gospel I encountered up and down the Philippines was amazing. Having been a youth pastor and a minister of evangelism for several years in the states, presenting the Gospel one-on-one was something I was very accustomed to teaching and doing. I loved striking up conversation, building bridges, handling objections, asking good questions, quoting the scriptures, and leading people to a point of decision for Christ. Watching the light go on in people’s eyes was a priceless experience for me.
In the Philippines, where the whole culture seems to thrive on conversation, sharing the Gospel was easy. Everywhere we went, our team would set up the sound system, present dramas and give testimonies. One of us would close the program with a simple 2 minute Gospel message. At that point, we would fan out among the crowd and further share the Gospel one-on-one. So often, instead of one-on-one, it was one-on-six or eight or ten. These groups of people would be hanging on the words that came out of our mouths and often tears would be flowing down their faces as the Holy Spirit brought truth and conviction to their hearts.
As we sat on his grandparents’ veranda, I shared the Gospel at length over the chess board with Bayani. At some point in the conversation, I felt like the Lord showed me that evil spirits were living inside him and were intent on taking his life. I did not share this with him. It was, after all, just a thought that came to me. What if I was wrong?
It was clear something was wrong with him. His breathing was labored, pointing to a serious respiratory condition. He was very frail and small for his age. He said the doctors had diagnosed him with a severe case of asthma. Whatever it was, this condition appeared to be choking the life right out of him. I told him the Lord would heal him if he would surrender his heart.
When I asked him if he would like to pray to receive Jesus, he hesitated.
“I want to,” he said, “but something inside won’t let me.”
I’ll never forget the pitiful gaze he gave me when he told me that, his eyes conveying both longing and despair.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I think I have evil spirits inside of me.” He replied.
I got goose-bumps at that point. And before we could go any further with the conversation, our team leader arrived, announcing that I had to come with him right away so we could conduct an open air meeting on the other side of the island. I told Bayani I would be back before we left the island. I wanted to pray for him because I believed God was going to deliver him from these evil spirits and heal his condition. He told me he would like that. Then I left.
Several days later, the afternoon before we left the island, I visited Bayani. Once again I explained the Gospel to him, then told him I was going to pray for him and ask Jesus to free him from the evil spirits. It took about an hour. I ordered the spirits to leave in Jesus’ name. I believe there were seven of them, because seven times Bayani’s convulsed and spat up mucus all over the table. Stephan, the Swedish kid who was with me, was wide eyed in amazement. He had never seen anything like that before. I was praying like crazy, feeling like I was in a spiritual wrestling match, and excited because I knew we were winning!
After each incident, there would be a silence and then more prayer—and the process began again. Finally, Bayani came out of his trance and looked at me. His eyes sparkled. He started breathing deeply and blurted out “I am healed! Jesus has healed me!” We all started jumping up and down with joy. His grandparents, who had been in the house, came out and joined us in the victory dance. Before we left I prayed with Bayani and he invited Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Why not? At that point, apparently, He already was!