May 12, 2016

In Laos, Casting Out Spirits Is a Key Church Ministry

The bent-over elderly woman saw the demon-possessed young man as an answer to prayer.

Boi hobbled past the man, chained to a house, as she began the customary 9-mile (15-kilometer) trek from her village to the nearest Seventh-day Adventist church in Laos’ capital, Vientiane, one Sabbath.

Boi, who has no last name, had been praying for a travel companion.

An evil spirit had possessed the young man, Seuth, on the day of his wedding, leaving him violent and with incredible strength. His family believed that a female spirit had entered him in a fit of romantic jealousy, and had taken him for treatment to hospitals, temples, and various churches. Finally, they had given up and chained him to a house post.

“But this old woman rescued him through the power of Jesus,” a leader of the Adventist Church in Laos said in an interview. 

Today, Seuth is the pastor of an Adventist house church in Boi’s village. Nearly all of the 50 Adventists who attend the church were once demon possessed or have a mother, brother, or another relative who was once possessed. Attendance has grown so high that believers spill out into the small courtyard outside the house church’s open front door during worship services.

Seuth’s story is not unique in Laos, a predominantly Buddhist country in Southeast Asia where public evangelism is restricted in most places. Although the Adventist Church is one of the few officially recognized religious denominations, its 1,300 local members cannot evangelize through traditional methods and instead share their faith through life activities — weddings, funerals, heath expos, and prayer meetings to cast out demons.

“We cannot do evangelism in a normal way, so we have to think outside the box,” the local leader told visiting Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson at the church’s Laos Attached Field headquarters in Vientiane this week.

The Adventist Review is not identifying this leader because of certain sensitivities involving his work in Laos. 

Wilson, who is on a nearly seven-week trip through countries in South America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Africa, stopped in Laos for three days to encourage the small flock to remain faithful and to keep thinking outside the box. The visit was the first to Laos by a president of the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist Church, after the reorganization of the church in the country.

“We have been praying and praying for the coming of the GC president,” Buonaparte Vannadee, president of the Adventist Church in Laos, said as he welcomed Wilson and his wife, Nancy, to the Laos Attached Field headquarters. “We are so glad now that he and his dear wife are with us today.”

He said the first Adventists, missionaries Dick Hall and his wife, had arrived in Laos in 1957 but left amid growing unrest four years later. The church, which had no official presence in Laos during decades of unrest, re-entered in 1992 and is now one of the few recognized religious denominations in this impoverished country of 7 million people.

Casting out evil spirits is a busy ministry for the church, with church members being asked to pray for eight or nine people every year, Vannadee said. Nearly all later become Adventists.

Wilson, speaking in an interview Wednesday as he headed to the Vientiane airport to fly to Rwanda for the final leg of his trip, noted that spiritualism has existed for much of Earth’s history and that Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White predicted that spiritualism would link with apostate Christianity in the last days.

“We see rather strong indications of this in many parts of the developed world, but spiritualism has always existed in very overt forms in parts of the world where Christianity is not very strong,” he said. “In Southeast Asia, where ancestor worship is accepted in society, it becomes a very strong problem with everyday living.”

He said casting out evil spirits is an important ministry in Laos.

“Church members are humbly coming before God and asking Him to relieve people from this torment,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is responding in a powerful way. That’s why our church is very much on the forefront of combating what has been and still is a strong force of evil.”

How Boi Found a Church Friend

One of those stories of healing emerged through the prayers of Boi, affectionately known as “Grandma” in her village outside Vientiante.

Boi learned about God from an Adventist acquaintance at a time when she was desperately seeking solutions to problems with her daughter and other family members. Boi, who has never gone to school, accepted Jesus as she attended church and heard the Bible read out loud by new Adventist friends. She faithfully attended church every Sabbath even though it was a four-hour walk each way when she didn’t have bus fare and a two-kilometer walk to the bus stop when she had the money, church leaders said. But she also began to pray for someone to join her.

“Lord I am the only one here. I need a friend to go to church with me,” she prayed, according to an account shared by church leaders.

Ten years passed, and then one day she saw Seuth chained to the house. She saw him as an answer to her prayer, and began to pray: “Lord, free him. I would like to take him as my friend to church.”

On a Friday night, Seuth somehow came to his senses and said to his young wife, “Let’s go to see Grandma.”

But his wife protested, saying it was 10 p.m. and Boi was sleeping already.

But Seuth felt a strong urge to go. “I must see Grandma today,” he said.

He knocked on her door, and Boi greeted him by saying, “I’ve been praying for you. Come inside.”

She prayed for him inside and said, “If you want to get well, come with me tomorrow to church.”

So he and his wife went to church with her. The pastors at the church prayed for Seuth and cut off the amulets and other trinkets related to devil worship that he wore. He felt much better after the first prayer, and left the church in his right mind, church leaders said.

He kept coming to church with Boi until he was baptized.

Seuth, now 29, was among the pastors who met with Wilson at the Laos Attached Field headquarters this week. Wilson also visited the house church that Seuth leads in Grandma Boi’s village. No sign of his former struggles remained on his clean-cut countenance. Seuth has a gentle, easy grin, and a sense of purity radiates from his face. He sat with his wife and their young son on the floor with about 50 church members as Wilson encouraged them to be faithful in sharing their love for Jesus.

“After he became a leader, he has helped many demon-possessed people,” said the local church leader.

Speaking about the members of the house church, he said: “This group basically is made up of formerly demon possessed people. They are a very caring group, a very family oriented group. One Wednesday and Friday nights they take turns hosting meetings in the homes. Many miracles have happened in this group.”

Buonaparte Vannadee, left, president of the Adventist Church in Laos,  studying the Bible with the man who was delivered from the spirit in the hospital, right, and his family. (Laos Field)

One Prayer or a Month of Prayer

People typically get possessed by trespassing into the devil’s territory or by owning amulets or other devil-connected items that they may have bought or received as a gift, church leaders said. Sometimes the spirit leaves after the first prayer. Sometimes it can take a month.

Church members were once called to the hospital to pray for a male patient who was so aggressive that doctors feared to enter the room. When the Adventists arrived, a doctor warned them: “We cannot guarantee your safety if you want to enter.”

The church members went into the room and prayed over the man, who lie unmoving on the floor. The man came to his senses and, to the surprise of the doctors, was able to return home.

But it took a month of prayer to free one woman completely. Every time church members prayed, the demon left. But when they went home, the demon returned. Church leaders dispatched a group of young pastors to stay in her house and keep praying for her. They also looked through the house to find any objects linked to the devil. They found several trinkets and destroyed them in a fire.

The whole family has now given their lives to Jesus, church leaders said.

The Adventist Church has gained a reputation as the place of last resort for families with loved ones who are demon possessed.

“Whoever has problems with demons comes to us,” the local church leader said.

He told of how church leaders were holding a meeting at the Laos Attached Field headquarters the other day when a pickup truck pulled up with a man bound in chains in the back.

“He was very, very strong,” the church leader said. “Five young pastors tried to hold him while we were praying.”

After the prayer, the man was able to sit up and communicate. But when the church leaders prepared to return to the building for their meeting, he exclaimed with horror, “Oh, he’s coming back again!”

It took three days of prayer for the man to be freed of the evil spirit.

Vannadee, the field president, said his first experience with demon possession occurred in southern Laos in 2014. The demon would possess the man for 20-minute spells, causing the man’s tongue to roll out of his mouth and appear to hang down to the lower part of his chest.

“Many people tried to catch him and control him, but he was so strong,” he said.

A group of church members prayed and sang at his house until the spirit left him.

“He didn’t know anything when the devil left him,” Vannadee said. “He asked, ‘What happened? What happened?’ And we told him. He was very scared. He realized he needed to trust in Jesus, who is more powerful than the devil.”

Today he is an Adventist, as are many people who were freed of evils spirits through prayer.

“Most people, not all, but most people who are freed became Adventists,” the local church leader said. “They know that if they don’t give their lives to Jesus, then the devil can come back any time.”