A light breeze carries the scent of cloves in through the open windows. To live on an island that smells this good could seem like a dream. Add to that Bali’s startling beauty and color: lush rice fields rimmed with coconut palms, waterfalls plunging down mountainsides and volcanic lakes with deep, clear waters. It sounds like paradise but obscures a deeper darkness.
“It is a blessing to live in a beautiful place,” International Mission Board worker Amy Kreisky* said.
Built in 1663, this temple is used for offering ceremonies to the Balinese water, lake and river goddess Dewi Danu.
“We’ve lived in places that weren’t,” she said. “But the reality of it is once you get away from the tourist areas, there’s a real spiritual darkness here – a real spiritual heaviness that’s more part of our reality.”
Amy and her husband Clay,* have caught glimpses of the darkness during the years they’ve worked in Bali. Before they were married, Amy served in a remote village in an unstable African country.
“Sometimes we compare [this to] Amy’s time in Africa,” Clay said. “It was a difficult place to live, in a mud hut, with a war going on, and not too far from the sounds of gunshots. It was a difficult place to live, but [there was] a lot of spiritual fruit.”
Amy noted, “People there were hungry spiritually. Here, life is good. Life is easy for the people of Bali. They may say they’re poor, but compared to Africa, they’re not poor. And they’re not spiritually hungry.”
It isn’t a sense of complacency, however, that the couple feel is a serious barrier to Balinese understanding and accepting salvation through Christ. It is a spirit world that has to be reckoned with.
“I think we’ve been awakened more to that spiritual reality, that there’s something keeping them in darkness, something keeping them blind, something keeping them from hearing the truth,” Amy said. “We’re more aware that there is a spiritual reality that we don’t see, but it is very real to these people and very real to this island.”
Things not seen
Dukuns, or shamans, are spirit mediums in Indonesia. In Bali, they are called “balians” and are often sought for healing if Western medicine has not solved an ailment. Because they are believed to be in touch with the spirit world and able to communicate with spirits, balians also are consulted for a variety of life issues, from infertility and physical ailments to matters of business or the heart. Some are also practitioners of dark magic.
Family and guests bring special offerings of flowers and food to the gods when they visit a temple to attend a coming of age ceremony for young Balinese women. The offerings and ceremonies are meant to retain a harmonious balance between invoking good and averting evil spiritual influences.
Additionally, Balinese say there are people who can see the spirit realm. Clay and Amy have met such individuals, including one who became a Christian last year.
“This one girl who became a believer says she can still see into the spirit realm,” Clay said. “She says she has seen [spirits of] dead people – hopeless, wandering, meandering back and forth trying to find offerings. They haven’t found peace. So the Balinese say,
‘I’ve got to help my ancestor.’ To them, it’s very real.”
Amy said, “The more and more stories we hear from Balinese themselves, there’s got to be something behind it. We’ve got to accept the fact of spirits, demons, whatever, that are blinding and bothering them and keeping people afraid.”
She said in Bali, there is a keen awareness that there are good spirits and bad spirits.
“[Balinese] spend their lives and their energy trying to appease both,” she said. “They make offerings to the gods so that the gods will be happy … and they make offerings to the demonic spirits so that the demonic spirits will leave them alone.”
Amy and Clay have been told stories of Balinese who have left Hinduism for Christianity only to have catastrophe strike them. “Something happens to them in the family – a wreck, a baby dies – and people think, ‘The gods are angry. I’ve upset the natural balance of things.’ They revert back to Hinduism because the gods are angry,” Clay said.
Balinese Hindu rituals are a constant in daily life. Girls are brought up to carry out the offering rituals for their family as they grow up and continue them in their own home after marriage.
“They’re afraid of the ancestral spirits that [they believe] still live on this earth,” he said. “They’re afraid of being made sick by or bothered by the ancestral spirits. Even if somebody becomes a believer, it’s difficult to leave that fear behind.”
Amy said, “It’s something in their worldview that has to be addressed when you share the truth with them. You can’t just jump to Jesus. They need to know that God has power over these spirits. They need to know that these lower spirits are in submission to the one true God.”
On a recent visit to a village, Clay had the opportunity to talk with a Balinese man and explain how God created the spirits to worship Him. He explained how Lucifer became prideful and God cast him and a third of his spirits out of heaven.
“They’ve never heard that story,” Clay said. “The man in the village said, ‘So, it is enough just to worship the Most High God? I don’t have to worship the evil spirits?’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S. Indonesia is the country of focus for the current International Mission Study by Woman’s Missionary Union. IMB workers featured in this study are supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: imb.org/give. Find IMS study resources at imb.org/ims and wmu.com/IMS.)