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Danger! Land Mines!

The toughest armor is woven of words

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I followed the Khmer children down a narrow path lined with red skull and crossbones signs that screamed their warnings: “Danger! Land mines!” We climbed a mound of dirt to get a better view of the minefields. Dozens of men clad in blue KEVLAR® vests and blast-visor helmets oscillated metal detectors as they crept forward. Some of them knelt down, carefully digging around a clump of earth before skillfully disarming a discovered mine.

Entering the town, I couldn’t help but notice how many men, women and children were missing limbs. Free land for anyone willing to clear his or her own mines is resulting in many casualties. This is Poipet, the “Wild West” of Cambodia during its equivalent “Gold Rush” era. I walked back to the thatched hut in faith, keenly aware that although many had already trodden the path, it was not yet cleared of land mines. With every vigilant step, I prayed for protection.

Burning Down the House

I had come to Cambodia to film the church-planting efforts of a group of Alliance missionaries and their national colleagues. My first evening in Poipet, a couple from the Alliance church invited us to come with them for a time of prayer as they removed the spirit houses and fetishes from their home. It was Chinese New Year, a day set aside to pay special homage to the ancestor spirits. Tawan, the husband, gave his life to Christ a few years ago and faithfully prayed for the salvation of his wife and daughters. His wife, Tanny, listened to him pray and read the Bible every day but would not risk becoming a Christian for fear of the spirits. But that morning, Tanny had given her life to Christ!

It was after dark when we gathered at their home. As Soueth Lao, an Alliance church planter, read from the Bible, I could hear the crackle of firecrackers and the laughter of boys down the street. After prayer, the couple began to fill large rice sacks with the shrines and fetishes that had been passed down to them over many generations. The rice sacks were loaded on the back of Lao’s truck and taken to a fire pit behind their home. The couple doused the idols with gasoline and set them ablaze.

I gazed in wonder. This was not the story I had come to Cambodia to tell. I suddenly realized that I was standing in the middle of a spiritual minefield. “Wow! This is real. Am I prepared to be standing here on the front lines of this sort of spiritual battle?” I asked myself.

We watched the idols and spirit houses burn to ash, and then we went back to the mission guest house as the couple returned home. But the battle was just beginning.

Battlefield Maneuvers

It was late when Tanny’s mother banged on the door of Tawan and Tanny’s house. She wanted to know what the couple had done to offend the ancestors because the spirits were upset. Tanny boldly approached her mother. “Mom, I love you. I respect you,” Tanny said. “But I’ve found the true God. I don’t need to worship the ancestors anymore.”

The mother began to speak in strange voices and a language that neither Tawan nor Tanny recognized. Then she said, “I am not your mother. I am the spirit of your ancestors!” She pleaded with Tanny to come back and worship the family spirits.

“I belong to Jesus,” Tanny told her mother. And then she explained that she had already burned the idols.

At that point, the voices began speaking to each other. One said that perhaps it wasn’t too late for the family to turn back to the ancestor spirits. Another voice said, “Oh, no! It is too late! Their names are already written in the Book.” Yet another voice agreed. “It’s true. The daughters were singing that they are the seed of Abraham. It’s too late.” Tanny remembered watching her daughters sing “Father Abraham” that morning in church, a place her mother had never visited.

I shuddered as Tanny retold this story to me. I asked her if she thought the spirits of her ancestors were speaking through her mother. “Oh, no!” she responded. “I believe they were demons meant to deceive us.”

Spiritual Kevlar®

As fascinated as I was about this incident, this was not the story I had planned to film in Cambodia. I didn’t like the idea of associating with angry ancestor spirits or demons or whatever it was that was happening around me. Was I prepared to be a spiritual war correspondent? I couldn’t help but think of the minefields. What foolish person would wander around a minefield without KEVLAR® and a metal detector?

Then I had a revelation that sank deeply in my spirit. Before taking this trip, I had done something I have never done before—I had asked my church to pray for me. Many of my brothers and sisters surrounded me, laying their hands on my shoulders and praying for the protection of our team. I was anointed with oil and blessed to do God’s work. It occurred to me that in a sense, I was already wearing KEVLAR® and a blast visor. I was armored in prayer.

I have no doubt that God will accomplish His work with or without me, but could it be that the degree of my participation in the harvest is in direct correlation to the prayers of His people?

Poipet is in a season of great harvest, but the spiritual battle is on. It is not enough that we send workers to the harvest fields; often, those fields are laden with land mines. Our prayers are needed to sustain, protect and guide His workers as they maneuver through spiritual minefields.

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