Witchdoctors and demons are real. They have real power. Their power is inferior to the Holy Spirit, but they have power nonetheless. As we’re nearing October 31st (observed by many as “Halloween”), I thought it would be appropriate to tell you about light overcoming darkness during my recent visit to Uganda.
While traveling throughout the rural villages, I met many Christians whose testimonies started with being bewitched by the witchdoctors. One man I met used to be completely mad. Before coming to Christ, he was admitted to a mental institution–all because of a witchdoctor’s curse that was put on him just before graduating from school. But he visited a Pentecostal church, and Jesus set him completely free. Today, this man is a pastor who operates a church, a school, a hospital, and a Compassion International center (for sponsoring children). He is also a student in one of Pastor Paul’s Bible schools where I taught.
In America, we tend to think of witchdoctors as quirky clowns–superstitious nuts who mix tree bark and animal bones to help people fall in love. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In nations like Uganda, the witchdoctors run shops where they sell potions and cures. And to bring the customers to their shops, they curse them with demonic powers and cast spells on them. The bewitched people then come to the shop and pay the witchdoctors to liberate them from their own curses.
The demonic realm is real, and it is no laughing matter.
On the very first night of my time in Uganda, I was awakened at 2:30 in the morning. At first, I thought it was just jet-lag, but then something strange happened. One of these witchdoctors appeared in my room in the form of a vision that I saw with my physical eyes. I won’t go into detail about what he looked like, but the point is that he was trying to scare me. So I said, “No. You don’t scare me. In Jesus’ name, leave.” Then he disappeared.
I thought the problem was solved, but I still felt wide-awake (even though I was completely at peace). I decided to spend my time praying and worshipping, and that’s exactly what I did for the next two hours. That’s when a second witchdoctor appeared, and I realized that they had been trying to keep me awake and make it difficult for me to minister the next day.
Perhaps this was the wrong way to solve the problem, but it was the first idea that came to my mind. I looked at that second witchdoctor and said, “Thank you for keeping me awake so that I could pray and worship God. It’s obvious you’re losing, so you might as well let me sleep.”
The vision immediately disappeared, and I fell asleep within a couple minutes.
Jesus told His disciples, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (See Luke 10:19, NIV.) The Greek word used for “power” is the same one used in Acts 1:8 when Jesus talked about receiving “power” from the Holy Spirit. Demons have real spiritual power–Jesus said so Himself. But that power is utterly inferior to that of the One True God.
On days 4 and 5 of my time in Uganda, we were visiting an all-Muslim village overrun with witchdoctors–in fact, the head witchdoctor for the area lived in this village. It’s not uncommon for witchcraft and Islam to coexist in these villages. The people will revere Muhammed and worship shrines at the same time. This doesn’t surprise me because both groups in Africa generally unite in their hatred of the true Christians. I met many orphans who had been chased away from their Muslim homes for converting to Christianity. Pastor Paul was one of these.
Pastor Paul had recently sent a young pastor–Fred–to plant a church in this spiritually dark village. The church “building” consisted of some upright poles and three mildly worn tarps. During our first meeting, the only people who came from the village were school children. Pastor Fred patched the holes in the tarps with banana leaves so they would have shade. They were on their lunch break; and since it was a Muslim fasting day, they had nothing else to do. Several children were healed, and several came to salvation.
We were also to hold a large evangelistic meeting in this village. Word came during my first few days in Wanenga that there was a lot of opposition to the meeting. I smiled and told Pastor Paul, “Good. That means the devil is scared of us!”
As confident as I was in my spirit, I have to admit that my flesh was easily intimidated. Here I was–a white American with no bodyguards, preaching the message of Jesus to a Muslim village overrun with witchdoctors. To tell you the truth, I honestly expected to be persecuted. And to make matters worse, before I left home, one of my friends asked, “If you get killed in Africa, do you want to stay in Heaven, or do you want us to pray for your resurrection? I just felt like God prompted me to ask.”
And it especially didn’t help that the name of the village–Buwanga–means “spear-makers.”
There I was, standing on a makeshift stage in a field full of some 200 villagers. A group of 15-20 stone-faced men sat in the shade of a small building on my right. I wondered at what moment they would rush the stage and start beating me. Pastor Paul told me the witchdoctors and imams (Muslim teachers/leaders) were at the meeting, but they were dressed in plain clothes to blend in with the crowd.
Call me stupid, but I knew this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I actually started hoping for persecution (after all, I told my friends back home to pray for resurrection if I died!). So with boldness from the Holy Spirit, I declared, “If you’re a witchdoctor or an imam, I want you to come up here and join me on this stage. Bring your biggest demon. Bring your Muslim god. I will prove to you that they have no power. Muhammed has no power. The Koran has no power. Your idols and shrines have no power. Jesus Christ can do absolutely anything.”
I waited a moment. No one came. To be honest, I was a little disappointed because I kind of wanted to see something weird happen. But no one came, so I continued, “Looks like they’re afraid. In that case, I will simply have to show you the power and love of Jesus. If you have pain in your body, a sickness, a disease, an injury, or anything else that needs to be healed, place your hand where the problem is.” I paused for a moment and then declared, “Be healed, in Jesus’ name… Now test it out. If you’re healed, raise your hand and wave it at me.”
Scores of hands went up all over the field. I told the people to look around. “Do you see that Jesus has all the power and authority!?” This was especially significant since many of those who were healed had likely received their condition from the curses and incantations of the witchdoctors.
That day, nearly fifty people from that village counted the cost of discipleship and came to Jesus for salvation. Many demons were cast out. The love of Father God and the deity of Jesus were boldly proclaimed and demonstrated. Pastor Fred later told me that during the next few days, over a hundred people came to him asking for more information about Jesus. That Sunday, his church was packed. One woman said, “I never knew demons could be cast out with words. When I saw the demons taking over the bodies of those people, I expected the Christians to beat drums or sacrifice a goat in order to calm the demon. But instead, they spoke with authority. I see now that Jesus has all power!”
As worldly people celebrate fear, witchcraft, and evil this Halloween, do not think of it as mere cuteness. Recognize that the devil has real power. We’re not in a game; we’re in a war. Demons aren’t cute. They’re horrible. But compared to Jesus, they have no power of any significance. We simply need to take the matter seriously and walk in the authority, power, and love of Christ. Jesus Christ has all the power.