Friday, April 1, 2016

Bitten by a Ghost

"I must obey my father (in life) so that he won't bite me (in death)."

Perhaps no saying better summarizes the underlying spiritual fears of the Enga people than this one. Traditional Enga culture teaches that every person is born with a spirit, which is received from their father. At death, this spirit leaves the body and becomes a ghost. The ghost then wanders through the clan's territory, often accompanied by whistling or rustling sounds at night. It perceives human thoughts and influences human events, usually in malevolent ways. It can even kill an individual by 'biting' him. Although, much like a honey bee, the ghost can do this only once. Usually the ghost will bite a close relative with whom he is displeased. After 'biting' someone, the ghost then descends through a hole in the ground to join the realm of the ancestral ghosts, who act together as a whole to influence the entire clan, also in malevolent ways. So if you don't want to be bitten by your father after he dies, you better obey him while he is alive. And if you don't want the fraternity of ancestral ghosts to disrupt the livelihood of your clan, you better maintain good relationships among the clan and uphold the traditions of the ancestors.

How different the Enga worldview is from our own! I thank God that I don't live in fear of being bitten by the ghosts of my recently deceased ancestors, who can read my thoughts and destroy my life. Rather, I thank God that He sent his son Jesus, who, by his death, gave us the hope of eternal life, freeing us from fear and death.

A man dressed as an evil spirit at the Enga cultural show

One criticism that is often leveled against missionaries is, "Why don't you just let people believe what they want to believe instead of forcing your beliefs upon them?" Criticisms like that incorrectly assume that people are living their lives in a perfect spiritual harmony, which Christians disrupt by forcing Christianity upon them. The reality is, however, that people are often held in great fear and bondage by their belief systems. And without the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have nowhere else to turn and end up living their lives in spiritual darkness.

In the past, the Enga people would perform various rituals to try to manage the spiritual forces that were always working in malevolent ways against them. Today most of those rituals have been abandoned, however the underlying fear of the spiritual world is very much alive. Next month, I will share a recent example of how this fear of the spiritual world is rearing its ugly head in Enga, and just how much people need the hope and freedom that comes from believing in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Speaking at Covina Assembly
We will be speaking at Covina Assembly of God (our home church) on April 24 at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services, and again with a different message at the 5 p.m. service. We invite you to join with us and hear our story of what God has been doing among the Enga people.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Paul Brennan for his anthropological research among the Enga people, which has proven to be quite valuable in understanding the traditional Engan worldview.