Shapes and shadows

If you would have asked me just five years ago about spiritual warfare, I would have given you a stilted and clunky western bearded white guy answer. Sure I believe in spiritual warfare, but then all the qualifiers would flood my reasoning and answering. Fast forward five years and I have a radically different, albeit certainly not exhaustive, view and experience when it comes to spiritual warfare.

As I moved from the business world to ministry, most specifically church planting in the North, I began to be exposed to people and scenarios regarding spiritual warfare that demanded attention. There truly is too much to tell in a simple blog, and most of it includes hearing stories from church planters and missionaries. Stories that you simply walk away from thinking that this cannot be the world I live in. Stories that even Hollywood couldn’t dream up. Stories so common place for some that they don’t even flinch at the thought of the demonic reality. Stories told in the shadows about the shadows. Not only were these stories common, but they themselves had common realities. It was crazy. Turns out, everyone in the world of missions and church planting seemed to have a story about spiritual warfare but were very cautious about telling them.

I get the pushback. I get why we tell these stories in back rooms and private conversations. There have been those that have hijacked beautiful aspects of Christianity for profit and power, so we recoil from some things. May the church be stronger and more glorious as a result.

One story of Spiritual warfare. 

We were finally here. In Minnesota. The state I’d dreamed of being all my life. Even better, doing ministry in the city I’d wanted to live all my life, Minneapolis. Even though our moving truck broke down just outside of Normal, IL causing us to spend a week in a hotel while Budget figured things out, we had made it. We didn’t move right into the city. We couldn’t afford it. We’d taken a big leap of faith coming here and the small family farmhouse about 60 miles south gave us the opportunity to live and work here with little to no rent. I put over 50K miles on my little Honda Insight that first year driving back and forth to the city, but it was great. We stayed in that house until around August of 2014, so about a year. While that year was a flood of ministry realities, the one reality I wish hadn’t formed was a deeper understanding of the spiritual warfare of the kingdom. I say I wish it hadn’t formed, but it was necessary I think. It’s just not the sort of thing you can un-experience.

It was August of 2014. The church plant was taking shape in the Cities. We knew we had to be in the city we were doing ministry in, so we began to pray because we didn’t have the money to move. Between my wife and I, we were working 4 jobs. So we prayed. Not long after that, I received an unexpected call from a new friend and ministry partner from the Twin Cities. He said, “Joshua, we’ve had someone anonymously give us 10K, and they want a third of it to go to your family to move into the Twin Cities.” What! I can’t say I’d ever experienced God at work like that. On one hand, you hang up the phone thinking you can conquer the world, while on the other you’re met with the reality of things you simply cannot explain.

From August 2013 to August 2014 we’d learned a lot. We’d been exposed to a lot. Things that shape you. Things that are only whispered regarding missions and church planting.

This whole year had a running thread that I haven’t even mentioned. From the first night in that old farmhouse built in 1900 we woke to shrills and shrieks from our middle daughter. Writhing in terror she would cry out. Listen to me, every single night! I shared this story about her constant terror and our inability to handle it with a couple trusted and well-seasoned ministry friends. They advised that the next time she wakes, go into her room, turn on the lights, and pray scripture over her and the room. We were at such a loss, I agreed without hesitation, though in the back of my mind I’m skeptical. So we did it, and we did it again the next night. Then, it stopped. A year’s worth of waking the whole house in terror had stopped, or so we thought. In reality, it had just begun.

A few nights later I was startled awake. Not by the sounds of a terrified 11-year-old. No, I was startled awake by something I will never forget, and something I used to only whisper to trusted friends for fear of sounding like “that guy”. I woke up, looked around the room, and you could almost feel terror in the air. It was dense. It was startling, and I couldn’t move. I know what you’re thinking, we’ve all had the dream where we can’t move. Yes, and I have too. I was wide awake. As I looked to my right, there by my bedside was something I, to this day, cannot quite describe. Sort of a black, shape-shifting, blob type of thing. I tried my best to reach for it, but couldn’t. Then it was over. It would seem that whatever was terrorizing our daughter, didn’t like our response. Certainly none of this can be real, right?

There was only about a week left of that first year, and it was time to move to the City. God had literally worked a miracle. I was working in our room upstairs preparing for the move when all of a sudden, that same feeling from a few nights earlier, in broad daylight, swept over me again. There was no audible voice, but the message impressed into my soul, or at least if felt that way, was simple, “we’re not letting you leave here alive.”

What does that even mean! I didn’t know, but I’d been exposed to enough at this point that we kept packing and we kept praying. That night, I was awakened again. It’s about 2 am, and my kids were literally playing in the hallway, or at least that’s what it sounded like. Loud children chattering and running up and down the hallway. So I’m furious! What are you guys doing, I’m thinking. I throw open our bedroom door to the large farmhouse hallway. Nothing. No one. No children. No one running up and down the hallway. There simply was nothing there. My first thought was that we have got to get the hell out of this place. I think I may have meant that both literally and figuratively.

We did leave, but before anyone of us set foot into our rental home in the Cities, I spent the day praying over every square inch of that house. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was an absolute lunatic as I even prayed all over the yard. We’d left in such a hurry and had limited space for all of our belongings that we had to leave many things behind. About a year later, it was time to get the rest of our stuff. We came down for the weekend. My parents live in the house now, so we visit often. The trailer was ready for the last bit of our life there at the farmhouse. Out of nowhere, a very large tree, topples over, landing right in front of the trailer. That trailer wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Could’ve been mere coincident, but it certainly didn’t feel that way.

Fast forward a few long experience riddled years later to the end of 2016. As my middle daughter again was struggling deeply with a host of realities, we asked her just to draw out what she’s experiencing and feeling. She is an amazing artist. I wasn’t ready for what she drew. What she drew was the very thing that had startled and terrified me awake in that old farmhouse just a few years earlier.

I wish I had the answers to all of this and the many stories I’ve heard and realities I’ve experienced since I’ve been in missions and church planting here in Minnesota. I don’t, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

1- Abide in Christ– This stuff is no joke. I recall a man coming up after one of our services at our church plant and saying these exact words, “Pastor Josh, I really wanted to hear the sermon this Sunday, but I couldn’t.” Of course, the church planter in me is wondering how to fix it technically. He goes on, “Yeah, the demons were talking in my ear way too loud this morning.” What do you say to that? Well, you lean into prayer and scripture. You abide in Christ and call others to do the same.

2- Accept  it — This stuff is real. I cannot explain it, and I certainly don’t want to make these scenarios more famous than I do Christ, but they, and a thousand other situations like them, are real. One of our Nigerian church planters told me once, “Joshua, people migrate both body and soul. They bring their spirits with them.” The spiritual darkness of the world is nesting down in North America. It’s happening whether we like it or not.

3- Hope — Fortunately for me, my hope in the victory of Christ leading to the global glory of God keeps me more than just a little above water. I cannot explain these things. You see many of these same realities in scripture. I abide in Christ. I accept this bizarre reality, but more than anything, I know that Christ is the second Adam and true Israel who was enthroned as King, giving His promised spirit to the world, so that His authority, through His people would bring about the ancient and only mission of God. God’s global glory.

One thing I have noticed is that these overtly bizarre realities seem to be at their height when God’s people are at their most courageously obedient. When I trace back this and other situations like it, I found that they are closely connected to specific points of courageous obedience. Maybe others would say the same. Not sure.

Our family has a motto, “It is what it is.” This is the reality of the world. A world that the West hasn’t often seen or been ready to accept, but it’s real, it’s here, and it’s growing within American metros.

*The featured picture of this blog is the picture my daughter drew that I referenced.

BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL. 

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