Feature

When Darkness Pushes Back

‘Being light’ can be dangerous

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“It was literally a battleground that day,” says Richard Herring, regional director for the C&MA’s Asia and Pacific region. “There’s no question in my mind that it was a spiritual attack. I knew it from the moment the elephant hit me—I knew it before I hit the ground, when I was still flying through the air.”

On November 4, 2009, during a visit to a crocodile and elephant park with participants of an Asia and Pacific Regional Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Richard Herring and Pieter Theron, who was then serving as the Mongolia field director, were seriously injured when an elephant attacked them while they posed for pictures. The animal flung the two men more than 10 feet into the air and onto the pavement. Richard suffered a shattered hip and broken pelvis; Pieter, who landed on his head, sustained a fractured skull and other injuries. Both men required an extensive recovery period beyond the weeks they spent in the hospital.

The attack happened just after Richard had talked with two performers in a crocodile show at the park. As the party was leaving to go to the next event, Richard says, “the Lord stopped me and said, ‘I want you to witness to those two crocodile guys.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ I sat down with them and their trainer and had a wonderful time sharing the gospel—pretty much the whole nine yards—and I gave them some excellent tracts. They didn’t accept the Lord that day, but they certainly heard a clear word.”

As an administrator, Richard had been feeling disconnected from the “front lines” of the mission. “I had been asking the Lord to give me opportunities to be involved and share, because that’s what I really enjoy doing—sharing the gospel with people who have no clue. Thai people are in such darkness. They have very little understanding. They’ve heard the name ‘Jesus,’ but that’s it. They have no idea who He is and what He’s done.”

In telling the crocodile performers about Jesus, Richard believes he entered territory that belonged to Satan. “As we push back the darkness, the darkness will push back—it’s just normal. There’s nothing special about me or Pieter or anybody else. We should just expect it.”

The elephant attack was not the only time the enemy has pushed back, Richard says. While in New Jersey, he and his family narrowly avoided injury (or death) when a tree fell directly in front of their car. And in a Bangkok mall, someone dropped an umbrella from the fourth story, grazing Richard’s wife, Wendy.

“The fascinating thing is [that there is] the evil dimension, but the sovereignty of God is so much more powerful,” he says. “And I would never want to emphasize the evil thing apart from God’s sovereignty and how He uses [bad things] to open all kinds of opportunities to share [His truth] with people.”

As a result of the elephant attack, Richard was able to give the good news of Jesus to medical personnel during his hospitalization and to people who came to visit him, including the owner and the manager of the park.

“From almost the time that [the attack happened] in November 2009, I knew that at some point I would have to go back to the elephant park and try to find an opportunity to share the gospel with the people there,” Richard says. “Because it was such an unusual thing that happened, people knew about it—they all knew the story.”

After Richard’s release from the hospital, however, the idea of returning to the park was pushed to the back of his mind. “I kept putting it off, probably because I just didn’t want to go back to that place of trauma and pain. Then one morning during my quiet time, the Lord spoke to me so clearly; it was like ‘POW!’: ‘Richard, if you don’t go now, you’re going to lose an opportunity.’”

Because of what had happened to Richard and Pieter, the park management had given them a lifetime pass, so Richard called to arrange a visit. “They haven’t refused me anything,” he says, so he added a special request: Could he meet with the staff as a group, including the mahouts, the trainers who ride on top of the elephants?

In December 2010, Richard took a group of Thai believers, including a former national church president, to the park to show God’s love to the staff and to explain the meaning of Christmas. “I know that no man could have controlled the elephant that day. He’s too big, he’s too strong, and I have nothing in my heart against you,” Richard assured the mahout who was riding the elephant that attacked him. “In fact, I’m actually glad [the attack] happened, because I can be here today with my Thai friends to share with you the best news that you’ll ever hear. We’re here because of God’s love for you.” Richard and the Thai believers gave gifts to each staff member to illustrate God’s gift in sending His Son to die on the cross.

Afterward, the manager and the owner’s son treated the believers to lunch at the park restaurant, where the group was invited to sing for the other diners. “There were a few hundred people there that day, and they all heard the gospel message,” says Richard.

Richard hopes to return to the park again, “because it takes many times for people to hear the gospel [before they respond]. But what happened a year later is just one of many opportunities that God opened to share the good news as a result of that painful experience.

“If God was using me at all, it was all Him; it wasn’t me—I just tried to get out of the way.”

The Elephant in the Room

Before going to the leadership conference, Richard had sat on a plane next to two men who were reading pornographic magazines. “It was horrible stuff,” Richard recalls. One man said, “This looks like the one we had the other night. This other [girl] . . . well, we had her in Chiang Mai.”

Richard told the men how they could find salvation in Jesus and left some tracts with them. When he disembarked, the men stayed on the flight, which was headed to London. As he walked down the runway, Richard did something that surprised him.

“I clenched my fist and pointed to the window where those guys were sitting and I said, ‘In the Name of Jesus, in the Name of Jesus, I rebuke the enemy that’s controlling their lives! May the power of the Holy Spirit come upon them as they read [the tracts] and think about what I said to them.’”

The men Richard encountered may have been returning from a “sex tour”—a vacation in which agents prearrange sexual encounters for clients in exotic locations, just as easily as one would sign up for a tour of the Holy Land or a safari in Kenya. Living in constant fear and hopelessness, most of these sexual “destinations” are between the ages of 12 and 18; some are as young as 5. Sex trafficking is a lucrative industry fueled by poverty, inadequate law enforcement and ease of travel—though there are thousands of victims right here in North America. UNICEF Canada estimates that sexual exploitation yields $3 billion a year and is the third largest organized crime in the world, trailing only illicit drug and arms trafficking.

In the next 12 months, 2 million women and children will be forced into prostitution. Some are kidnapped. Others are sold by their own families, desperate for money. Still others are duped into the sex trade by promises of a better life. In the United States, for example, they are offered work as au pairs, secretaries, waitresses or maids. But the job is merely a ruse to bring the worker to America, where she will be forced to pay off her travel “debt” through sex.

While sexual slavery proliferated virtually unchecked for years, a new generation of abolitionists has arisen to combat trafficking worldwide. Faith-based organizations—including International Justice Mission, the Salvation Army, World Vision, World Relief and The Christian and Missionary Alliance—are working to prevent sexual exploitation and to bring healing to its victims. In Spain, Alliance international worker Betsy Blanchard has established Cinderella’s House, a ministry for women exploited by sex trafficking and prostitution. Carl Ralston, an Alliance layperson, founded Remember Nhu, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter for girls who are at risk for being sold into a life of degradation, abuse and disease through sex trafficking.

Ultimately, only the gospel has the power to end the sex trade. And only Jesus, who came to set the captives free, can bring healing to women and children who escape the nightmare of sex trafficking (see vimeo.com/32095780). But anyone can become involved in helping victims of this modern-day slavery. For more information or to learn how you or your church can make a difference, check out the following Web sites:

www.remembernhu.org
www.ijm.org
www.camaservices.org

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