What is the difference between being possessed by the devil and filled with the Holy Spirit? In the last five days I have witnessed both sides of the spectrum. An all-night, 21h – 5h prayer session entitled the Night of Change from Friday to Saturday gave me an incredible, but never again, experience in prayer. I witnessed dancing, singing, and jubilation, but also weeping, fainting, speaking in tongues, puking, and seizing. Upon inquiry, I was told, “this is prayer.” When at last pastors made rounds to cast out evil spirits (at around 4am) I could not tell the difference in a possessed person and a healed one. To describe the event as charismatic would be a drastic understatement. It was frankly frightening, yet it was also intimate.
In nearly 20 years of traveling back and forth to Africa, I have never felt so accepted. For once, I did not sense, nor did anyone point out, that I was the only stranger among them. Not only that, but the effects of the release of the tension, pain, suffering, anxiety, and hardship the people experience in their daily lives was to see true change. We took a break at about 1:30am and were given coffee and egg sandwiches. In any normal situation, the provision of free food and drink would have ensued chaos the likes of which are seen when someone throws out fifty dollar bills in a parade. However unexpectedly, we went out into the light rain and cloudy night to find a long line of calm people, waiting, greeting, chatting quietly, patiently waiting to receive their coffee, passing around sugar with kind words and benedictions.
In stark contrast to this event, Laura and I took a trip to the village, a place where fetishing is not merely a hobby. Although during the day and a half we spent there, she was not privy to the excess of poultry torture nor the not so paltry consumption of sorghum beer, she did acknowledge the, in the words of Dongui, ‘heavy’, atmosphere which surrounds the community (see her own blog post about it here http://shambus.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/the-village-is-heavy/). It is not that the people lack joy or are unkind, nor are they poorer or more malnourished than any other small village in a underdeveloped nation. In fact, the village is fairly well developed, with solar panels, a market, boutiques stocked with every need, and of course a plentitude of Fulani who trade milk and meat for various grains which are cultivated in the village. It is just that there is some odd feeling there, difficult to pinpoint. When we attempted to describe this quality to our collective family of Malians and Burkinabɛ back at our house in Bobo, they simply said, “you just told us they have tons of fetishes, what else are you looking for as an answer as to why the village is heavy? That explains it.”
I, too, have come to the conclusion that the difference between the outcomes at the very least of worshiping of God and the Devil (if fetishes are to be interpreted as Devil worship) is one of peace, joy, and light. In fact, I believe this indiscernible quality that was experienced in both situations can be interpreted as proof of an unseen world that greatly influences this one. While patience and perseverance are a necessity in the worshipping of a God who may at times seem distance and intangible, the long term results are worth the wait. Though it may appear as a more productive sign to sacrifice chickens until one finally falls on its back with its wings spread, it is actually more important to open our hearts and truly converse with God and in this way He will reveal Himself to us. His will may not be what we want, but it is always what we need.