February, 2013- From the journal of Greg Von Tobel
“I Will Seek Revenge”
We landed in New Delhi and had to make another connection to fly to Lucknow where our team had been asked to participate in a Christian Leadership Conference. It was an exhausting flight as it never gets easier flying from one side of the world to the other. Once we landed in Lucknow we were expecting someone, who we had never before met, to meet us and take us to the location of the conference out in the country side of India. As we exited customs, we looked for someone who would be looking for 4 Americans. Waiting outside, I relished in the fact that I was back in India; one of my favorite countries to visit.
The sights, the smells, and the feeling of home gave me a calmness that settled into my very innermost being. As my team and I continued looking for someone who might also be looking for us, it became ever so apparent that this might turn out to be one of the first times I ended up outside of a foreign airport with no one there to meet my team. It was somewhat of an unsettling feeling as I always feel very responsible for the well-being of those who travel with me overseas. Not having someone meet us caused great angst among the team members. I decided to make one last walk the length of the airport outside of the terminal hoping to find someone who was holding a sign with my name on it, but to no avail. The next step, I took out the cell phone and started making some calls.
Upon making connections with Pastor R., I found out our driver had been detained and would not be showing up to take us. I was then instructed to get a cab for our team and head out to the city of “L” where our hotel reservations were set. What I didn’t realize was that our cab ride would take over 3 hours just to get to this city. On any other trip I would have been a tad bit more on point, however I totally trusted my friend Pastor R. that we were on the right track and he was watching out for us.
Once we had arrived at our hotel in the city of “L”, I could tell our team was feeling the strains of travel. Travel across the world, coupled with another intra-country flight along with a 3-hour road trip, will zap the energy out of even the most seasoned traveler. We decided to turn in early for the day and recharge.
Prior to going to bed, we were told that other team members from other churches in America would be arriving at the hotel throughout the day and that we should be ready for our taxis to take us to the conference at 10am the following morning. We all sighed a deep sigh of relief as we knew that would give us a few extra hours of sleep that evening.
Getting up the next morning with a full night’s sleep underneath our belts gave the team and me a new lease on life. Smiles replaced tiredness. Laughter replaced the primal grunts of the previous day. A sparkle in the eye replaced blank, zombie-like stares. Our team was back “in the groove.”
We met the other team members from other churches arriving. We were refreshed in our hearts by the warmth of the sun that beat down on our faces on the veranda of the hotel. Everything seemed so tranquil as we enjoyed the sunshine, not knowing that tranquility would be pierced within hours by the face of sheer evil from hell’s gates.
As we took our turn in the Indian taxis, I looked around at the impoverished city where the people seemed imprisoned by their lifestyle of idol worship. We drove for what seemed like an hour to the depths of the countryside of India. I had seen the countryside by plane and by train, but never by car. There seems to be a universal principle that no matter where you are in the world, the countryside is a place of rest for the soul.
What seemed to be an hour drive really turned out to only be a ½ hour drive from the hotel. I was told to expect 3,000 people at this conference. I have grown not only accustomed to but also a tad bit jaded by inflated predictions of crowd sizes. If someone tells me to expect to be in front 1,000 inmates, I automatically halve the estimation to 500. If someone says we will be in front of 2,000 inmates, I mentally reduce that figure down to 1,000. My rule of thumb is rarely wrong. I would soon find out this week, my rule of thumb was grossly under exaggerated.
I was told to expect 3,000 conference attendees. Being the quick math wizard I am I thought to myself, “Ok, 1,500 may show up.” As we were driving out in the middle of nowhere in the countryside of India I was wondering where out here would accommodate 1,500 Indian attendees. I chuckled as I had images of an Indian Woodstock music festival. Little did I realize that when all was said and done, over 4,200 pastors and lay leaders from all over Northern India, some traveling for days, would attend this conference.
As I was in the front seat, I was scouring the horizon for anything that looked like a conference center. Off in the very far distance on the horizon I saw what seemed to be some small white buildings. As we continued on with this adventure on the back roads of India, I saw nothing but farm land, beautiful farm land. Finally, I saw the white buildings that were getting larger. The car seemed to be going in that direction.
As we pulled into the conference center I observed what seemed to be the small white buildings looming on the horizon. As we got closer and closer theses small white buildings on the horizon were no longer small white buildings but two, rather large 3-story dormitories. We had arrived. Much to my surprise, I found myself in a crowd of several hundred people with men, women and children walking here and walking there in a festive attitude. Don Szolomayer, a member on our team, mentioned that it reminded him of what it must be like to walk the city streets of Jerusalem in Jesus’s time.
We were quickly ushered into the main building by our hosts. This was the hub of operations, a place of normalcy and quietness for the speakers that would be presenting at the conference. We were instructed to make ourselves feel at home, to go out and mill around and be with the people. Our PFC American team consisted of Don Szolomayer, Mark Richardson, Scott Minter, and me. Both Mark and Scott asked if they could go out and take a tour of the 18 acres of land and take some pictures. I said, “Certainly. Go be with the people.” Don and I decided that after we got settled in with the leadership of the conference that we would do the same. The four of us agreed to rendezvous later at a set time.
Within minutes, we had split up. Don and I were on our own taking in all the sights of the property with so many people that had arrived early. We decided to head to the roof top from where we heard loud music coming. As we were climbing the three flights of stairs we took in so many more sights. It was sensory overload! We first ventured to the smaller roof top, took some pictures, smiled a lot and prayed for people who came up to ask us for prayer.
Don and I looked at each other and our minds met as if to say, “Yes, this is going to be a time of rich blessing.” Little did we know we would come face to face with evil in just a few minutes. I was thrilled in my spirit and excited to see what God was going to do with our team. We then made our way to the larger of the roof tops where I estimated there were between 500 – 600 people crammed in and sitting down. As I observed, it seemed as if there were 4 groups of people in each of the four corners of the roof top either worshipping or praying or listening to someone preach the Word of God. It was extremely noisy. I also observed that there were many people with torn and worn out Bibles in their laps praising the Lord and worshipping the Lord individually.
Don and I looked at each other and said, “Wow,” and tried to determine “now what.” I decided that I would find a seat among the people to watch, snap some candid pictures and be in a spirit of prayer for the conference.
I looked to the right and then back up again. Before I knew it, Don was gone. The Spirit moved him to seek out some Indian men and sit among them, so he did. There were about 50 men huddled, sitting on the ground listening to a very young pastor. He had their attention and they were intently listening to him. Don decided to be discreet and sit on the outskirts of the men and just listen. Being obviously white-skinned, he stood out from the crowd. It wasn’t too long before the young pastor engaged Don in some conversation. Much to Don’s surprise, the young pastor spoke very good English.
They conversed for some time and then the young pastor motioned to Don to speak to the men. Don moved from a sitting position to a kneeling position. Before I knew it, Don was on his feet and vibrantly preaching the Word of God. This brought a small smile across my face and in a split second I flashed back 15 years ago when the Lord brought Don to the ministry at the Shelton prison. I remembered his first day as if it was just yesterday. Don was invited into the prison by his good friend, Dan Johnson. They called their worship group “The Three D’s” which stood for Dan, Don and Dee, (Dee being Don’s wife.) These three were as green as blades of grass on their first day in prison. It was amazing to think that 15 years later Don was on the other side of the world ministering God’s Word in international prison ministry.
In 2002 I sent Don an email inviting him to come to Africa and preach the Gospel in the jails and prisons of Africa. Within a nanosecond of receiving that email, Don responded, “Absolutely!” From that point on, God made this man into a mighty warrior for His cause.
As I observed Don preaching on the roof top that day, I started to see an interesting thing happening. As Don preached, one by one, group by group, corner by corner, the whole roof top began listening intently to this white prison pastor deliver the Word of God. All 500 pairs of eyes were watching and ears listening intently to the Word of God.
After Don closed his time of preaching, he sat down. There were a few moments of awkwardness as the whole roof top was silent and somewhat looking at the young pastor for what next to do. The young pastor got to his feet and started looking around as if to find someone. It wasn’t too long until his eyes found me. He smiled and motioned for me to come forward.
I have been in this situation many times on the mission’s field. It was now my time to preach the Word and give a word of encouragement to my Indian brothers and sisters. I figured I had about a 30-second walk from the back of the roof top to where I was to stand. My mind was mentally flipping through my sermon Rolodex as I was praying, “Which one Lord?”
The Spirit immediately led me to Mark, chapter 5 which tells the story of the demon possessed man. I have preached on this passage many times and felt quite comfortable in delivering an impromptu sermon on this passage. Instead of standing where Don had, which was in the center of the rooftop, the Spirit prompted me to move to one of the outer walls so that I would not have anyone behind me. I would have my back to the wall giving me eye contact with almost everyone on the roof top. This led me to be smack-dab in the middle of group of ladies. I had about 12 inches of foot space thus preventing me from walking around. Why the Spirit led me to this exact location would soon be evident!
I opened my time by giving them some back drop to the story of the demon possessed man who ran through the tombs day and night cutting himself with stones. After about 10 minutes into the sermon I said, “Even the demons recognize Jesus.” I continued on with the sermon and witnesses later told me that as soon as I said the phrase, “Even the demons recognize Jesus,” a woman directly to my left began to convulse. This was a woman who was less than 6 inches away from my left foot. As she started to move around I could feel the movement of her body against my left leg. I thought to myself, “This is rather odd but I will keep going.”
I have been in many awkward preaching situations over the last 32 mission’s trips. I have learned to press on and not to focus on any distractions. However, this time would prove to be different. As I continued on, I noticed her movements were becoming more exaggerated. Everyone on the roof top was no longer looking at me but looking at this young woman. I stopped my message, knelt down next to her on one knee and started to lay hands on her head to pray for her. At the moment that I laid my hands on her, she immediately convulsed and shot straight backwards from a sitting position as if she was going to do a back flip, hitting the women behind her. Had I been any closer she might have knocked out some of my teeth with her head.
Startled, I jumped to my feet and instructed my young interpreter to ask for some elders to come forward to lay hands on this girl. I knew immediately what was happening. Much to my horror, no one came forward. I then told the young pastor to get some men up to her immediately to anoint her with oil!
At that stronger request, three men came forward including Don. He was sitting in the crowd and as soon as the words came out of my mouth, Don heard a low, guttural growl coming forth from this woman. The next thing he knew, he was on his feet moving towards her. Don and the other men made their way forward, picking their way through the crowd. As all three of them laid their hands on her she again violently convulsed. It took the strength of all three men to subdue this young women of maybe 90 pounds. I was shocked by the strength of this young, petite woman.
One of the men looked at me and held out his hand as if asking me for something. My new Indian pastor friend motioned to me that he was asking for the anointing oil that I had made mention of moments earlier. In the heat of the moment I had forgotten what I had said about the anointing oil. I began fumbling through my day pack, digging deep looking for it, half-panicked that I would not be able to find it.
The men had the young woman on the ground and I bent over to anoint her with oil. At this point she lunged at my face with her mouth wide open, baring her teeth, as if to rip any of my flesh where she could sink her teeth. Thankfully, the men had a good hold on her. As I looked into her eyes all I saw was death and destruction, full-on evil, straight from the pit of hell. Never before had I seen such evil so close to my face. Even Hollywood could not have produced anything more frightening. I get goose bumps even as I reflect back on those moments that were so up close and personal.
I looked into her eyes and only saw the whites of her eyes with a very small black dot as her pupils. She was growling and hissing and making all sorts of noises at me. She lunged at me one last time and said something that I did not understand. Once her forehead was anointed with oil, she went limp and stayed on the ground for the rest of the time.
After she went limp, the three men and I stood up and looked at each other with rather stunned expressions on our faces. We all breathed a sigh of relief thanking God it was over and that this young woman was released from her spiritual darkness. I was at peace that the demon had left her.
Within a split second of standing up, another woman not 6 feet away started into convulsions. I was utterly stunned at this point and was asking myself, “Is this really happening?” Don heard another guttural growl as he looked to his left. He remembers moving immediately towards her with the other two pastors. It was like the rest of the world didn’t exist for Don who was totally focused on praying for and releasing this other woman from the demon. All three men looked back at me for instructions. I motioned to them to move closer to this woman and do the same. Through my interpreter, I asked for the entire crowd to extend their hands to this woman.
As soon as the men laid hands on her she violently rocked back and forth, more so than the first woman. I noticed that the men had more difficulty in physically restraining this second woman. Only afterwards did I find out from the men that she was much stronger than the first. By this time the roof top became very loud as the entire group of 500 was fervently praying out loud in their native tongues. As I was attempting to lead the group in prayer to expel the demon, I actually could not hear myself pray. People got to their feet to stand and watch. Because I was about 10 feet away from her, I could only watch and observe the sheer strength of this second demon possessed woman. Only after anointing her head again with oil, did she then fall limp and stay limp for the rest of the time.
I now noticed the men who had laid hands on both of the women were profusely sweating. No sooner did we finish travailing in prayer over the second woman when a third woman to the right of me started to convulse. At this point I was utterly stymied as to what to do. Never before in my Christian walk have I been in a place of leadership with one demon possessed person, let alone three! I was once again asking myself, “Is this is really happening?” I was wondering if we had unleashed the gates of hell onto this unsuspecting crowd on the roof top by those five words in my sermon, “Even the demons recognize Jesus.” What would happen if these people started to panic? How much more could the crowds and I handle? Would this demon go from person to person? How many more would be afflicted?
The three men who had laid hands on the first two women were too far away to get to the third woman readily. What to do now? I didn’t have to ask even once this time as men voluntarily came forward to lay hands on the third woman. However impossible it may seem, this third woman was even stronger than the two previous women combined! At one point I noticed how forceful the men were in subduing this woman. Because of the level of force being used against her, I actually grew concerned that bones and spines would start popping. I called my interpreter over to tell him to tell the men not to use such force.
Once the men anointed her with oil, she too went limp much like the previous two women. In a short 15 minutes I was utterly exhausted, mentally as well as physically. I was spent. I was wondering if this demon was done with us or if it was going to torment person after person. Much to my relief, I felt the Spirit of the Lord say, “It is done.”
I stood up and motioned the crowd to sit down. That in itself was no small feat as there was much noise and commotion from the crowd. Once the crowd settled down I was once again able to speak through my young Indian interpreter. I spoke to the crowd out of a true heart of compassion for them as I knew that in a crowd like this there were many who were sick. I learned many years ago that in a crowd of this size to never forego two things; an altar call for salvation and an altar call for the healing of the sick.
I said to the crowd as loudly as I could, “We are not done yet today. We are not done doing battle with the spiritual darkness and the principalities of this dark world. We are now going to the Lord of lords to pray for the sick. If there is anyone who is sick, please come forward and we will pray for you.”
With that, about a third of the people on the roof top came forward for prayer for physical ailments. The crowd was crushing in a way that I had never experienced. There were people in the crowd who were too sick to come forward. Much like in the New Testament, a friend or family member carried them, limp and lethargic in their arms, a sight that brought tears to my eyes. The crush of people was extreme. Never before had I ever experienced a crush of people as I did on that roof top.
Because Don and I were the only two white people on the roof top, we were actually physically being pulled in opposite directions by our arms by people who wanted us to lay hands on loved ones or on themselves. Once we were done, Don and I attempted to leave the roof top. Because of the crowds, we could only slide our feet a mere 3 inches at a time. We shuffled instead of walking. It seemed to take 20 minutes just to get to the back entrance of the roof top.
As we were making our way to the entrance of the roof top, my young Indian interpreter grabbed my shoulder and turned me around in one motion in order to see him face to face. He said, “Pastor Greg, do you remember that first demon possessed woman who lunged at you with the open mouth and then said something to you? Do you know what she said?”
I said, “No, I thought it was gibberish.”
“She was speaking in her tribal dialect and she said, ‘I will seek revenge!’”
“I will seek revenge?????”
Those four simple words made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
“My friend, I guess you will need to be in prayer for me.”
We went back to the guest quarters where Don and I each found a bed and crashed for about an hour and half in a deep, deep sleep, utterly spent. After awakening, Don shared with me that the Lord had given him a word. The Lord said, “I am here, do not fear. Rest and be ready!”
And the conference had not even started!