Locating the Battlefield

Shortly after 9/11, former EPA executive director Ron Wilson reminded us that our real enemy doesn't live in a terrorist camp, but in the spiritual realm.

by Ron Wilson
I recently spent a week in Sierra Leone, on assignment for Media Associates International, where I taught writing to 12 men and women, all of whom were working on book manuscripts. The obstacles to writing and publishing which these folks face are huge and daunting.

The country is struggling to recover from 10 years of civil war and nothing works. Daily power outages plague writers and printers. Printing supplies are in short supply. There are only three printing houses, and their equipment is old and in disrepair. I found only one English language bookstore, other than the Christian bookstore, and there is no Christian publisher in the country. That's probably because fewer than one out of five people on the street can read.

Everyone in Sierra Leone has a story of atrocities and hardships they experienced when the rebel groups invaded their communities. I saw many burned out buildings, including churches, and the bullet-scarred homes of the people I worked with.

Many of these writers were working on manuscripts which focused on the spirit world. I've noticed over the years in visiting mission fields in developing countries a deep awareness of the spirit world and of spiritual warfare. In our materialistic society we focus on what we can see, touch, and acquire. We could take a lesson from these folks whose prayers focus not on material things but on defeating the enemy.

I like the way John Piper puts it, "Very few people think that we are now in a war greater than World War II, and greater than any imaginable nuclear World War III. Or that Satan is a much worse enemy than Communism or militant Islam. Or that conflict is not restricted to any one global theater, but is in every town and city in the world." (from a message given at ACMC meeting, Denver Colo., July 29, 1988)

When I travel overseas, I recruit a lot of prayer. In remote places, especially when I'm traveling by myself, I'm often tempted to move from faith to fear. I'm more apt to act like an orphan and not a child of God when my flight is cancelled, or when the immigration officials start asking questions about why I've come to their country, or when I have difficulty communicating because of the language. Prayer is the means of calling in the heavenly artillery. Piper likens prayer to a walkie-talkie by which we call in the heavy artillery. But, he says, we have reduced it to an intercom by which we ask the maid to bring another pillow to the den.

We are so caught up with our high speed computers and scanners and e-mail and air conditioning and the physical comforts and conveniences that ease us through a work day that we're distracted from spiritual warfare. Spiritual conflict, however, is not limited to West Africa or Thailand or Haiti or other places where people worship spirits with strange rituals. Those of us who publish the Word are engaged in a war, and a very real enemy is out to defeat us. My writer friends in Sierra Leone know this well, and they have the stories to prove it.

Recently our national leaders have told us that we are engaged in a new kind of war with an enemy that we can't easily see or name. The good thing about this is that it has focused the nation's attention more on values and virtues than on physical comforts and possessions, more on the unseen than the seen. (Note the networks' willingness to forego several days of advertising revenue in favor of straight news.) In fact the recent tragedy has heightened the sensitivities of most everyone in public life to reflect what is lasting and unseen. As a friend of mine wrote, "A real danger today is that we actually increase our belief that the enemy lives in a terrorist camp and not in the spiritual realm. This could lead to an even stronger commitment and attachment to our personal peace and prosperity."

The evangelical press has a special part to play in focusing its readers' attention on the real enemy who walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Now is a good time to impress on the minds and hearts of North American believers that our real enemy is not flesh and blood but the spiritual forces of evil.

Ron Wilson is the former executive director of EPA.