About fifteen years ago I was in Afghanistan and was taken with a group to visit a cemetery with a shrine; the resting place of a famous Muslim leader from many centuries before. The weather was beautiful and there were few people in the graveyard, all of whom had come to see the shrine and had remained to pray. Some Muslims even pray to those who have died before, such as the famous man in the shrine, hoping they will carry their prayers personally to God.
The cemetery was crowded with graves and there was just one path to the exit, opening up into a nice area of beautiful flagstone, smoothed down from hundreds of years of foot traffic. Sitting in this area were many women, all dressed in burqas, gathered in a circle around a person lying on the ground covered by a black sheet. The person underneath was small, lying on left side, knees pulled up but with lower legs somewhat extended. He, or she, didn’t move in the least.
Afghanistan is a dusty place but the clothes that these women were wearing, and the shroud draped over the body, were perfectly clean in colors of powder blue, pristine white and pitch black.
As we passed, one of the women in black spoke to us, asking if any of us were doctors. I couldn’t see her face, but she was older. The woman lying on the flagstones was her daughter who had been angry, depressed and sometimes irrational for many years, often cutting herself with a knife. When her family tried to stop her she because violent, she spoke in another voice, she used vulgar language and she had remarkable strength—four of them were unable to hold her. She had been to many doctors but had never shown any improvement with the medicines they gave.
I looked over the medical records that the mother handed me showing that her daughter had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been put on Thorazine, Haldol and Ativan, each added in succession in hopes of alleviating her symptoms. All of these drugs can be used in a patient with schizophrenia, and all three had the side effect of sleepiness.
Now, I knew why she hadn’t moved; she was snowed under with drugs.
While the other guys stood, I squatted at the foot of the patient and leaned in to speak with her family members. “This is not a condition that can be treated by any doctor, anywhere in the world,” I said. “This is not a medical condition. The problem is spiritual. She has a demonic spirit.” And all of the attending women quickly nodded their heads in agreement. “She cannot be helped by any man alive, nor from prayers to the famous man in the shrine. Only God can help her.” And, again, every woman nodded in agreement and leaned in to hear what I would say.
“Jesus healed many people when he was on earth,” I went in a new direction. “Can I pray for her in the name of Jesus?”
The question was met with a simple and pleading, “Yes, please.”
In Afghanistan, it is inappropriate for a man to touch a woman that is not a family member.
I began to pray for the girl’s healing and reluctantly placed a hand on her ankle. She was completely still as I prayed but, after a time she began to kick her leg, although not forcefully. I concluded my prayer, we said our goodbyes, walked a bit further and I felt compelled to return asking if I could pray a second time. Again, I gently put my hand on the girl’s ankle during the prayer, she was completely still for a time and then moved her leg back and forth. After a second prayer we said goodbye again, and we left the women behind.
Ordinarily I end each blog post with a few sentences related to, “Main point,” and “So what,” but I’m unable to do so this time. I remember this story well, but only have partial understanding of the lessons that I learned. Therefore, I ask you, Dear Reader, to reply with your thoughts in hopes that you will teach me, and all of us, the lessons from the demon in the graveyard.