*Names have been changed.
When I met her she was in hiding, terrified that the coven she had recently broken from would find her and wreak vengeance on her and her family. But I wouldn’t know that until several weeks later.
When they walked into the craft shop where I worked, I felt like I knew them. But as I helped them find a latch hook project they could work on together, played peek-a-boo with the baby in her stroller, and finally rang up their purchase, neither one gave any indication they knew me.
About three weeks later they were back, looking for another project. As I worked with them, I couldn’t figure out how to ask, “Do we know each other?”
This time they opted to pay with a check, so after they left, I took that check out of the register. As soon as I saw the names, I knew I had to contact them.
Hidden inside my Bible lay their names, written in the corner of my prayer list. There had been no other space to write when a visitor to our Sunday evening fellowship had asked for prayer for his neighbors. There hadn’t even been room to write the reason for the prayer request, but I still prayed for whatever their needs might be.
The next day, my letter to Charlene and Roger Briggs* explaining how I knew their names and asking them to call me was in the mail.
When the Briggs family came in the shop four days later, they were not looking for another project. Charlene stood quietly, eyes glued to the floor, while Roger yelled at me. “Just who the h— do you think you are? What gives you the g—d— right to f— pray for people you don’t even know? How the h— can you live with yourself?”
Finally, Roger jerked his thumb at his wife and said, “She needs a friend. You can talk to her.” Then he stalked out, leaving wife and daughter with me.
Charlene was delighted to count me as her friend, especially because I was a Christian, and she knew I was praying for her. On my second visit, I asked Charlene if she would like to have Bible study with me. Her response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
A week later she had read the entire book of Mark — twice — and had a multitude of questions. Surprised, I told her she didn’t have to read the whole book at once. We could just take it chapter by chapter along with the study guide I’d given her.
“But I can’t stop,” she told me. “I’m like a kid in a candy shop. I have to keep going.”
Into the Dark
Over the next few weeks Charlene gradually admitted me into her confidence and was soon telling me her life story.
She grew up in a church where almost anything was permissible, as long as you made amends with the clergy by going through their prescribed methods of compensation. Faith was not nearly as important as actions. God was not personal; He was more like a get-out-of-jail-free-card to be used whenever you messed up.
So when Charlene’s aunt, a woman she sat with in church every week, took the impressionable pre-teen into her workshop to teach her the fundamentals of witchcraft, Charlene was neither surprised nor distressed. Auntie taught her it was all about using certain powers available to the practitioner to make things work out right. Not really that much different from what they did in church.
Charlene soon discovered her special gift was the ability to fix any kind of mechanical problem with just a touch. Stalled cars were never a problem for her. One touch brought the most stubborn engine to life. The same held true for household appliances. Surely, such power was a good thing. As she matured, Charlene’s powers grew stronger, and she became a competent witch in her own right while still faithfully attending her church.
One day, Charlene ran into a problem her powers could not fix.
In her senior year of high school she discovered she was pregnant. One thing her church had taught her was life is sacred from the very beginning. Under pressure from both families, the two teenagers got married.
Roger did what he was supposed to do to provide for his family, but he also continued living his own life with several male lovers. Soon after baby Crystal was born, they were on their way to Tennessee to a job on a chicken farm. That lasted just over a year. Then they moved to Georgia.
Charlene was no longer a practicing witch by the time I met her. After they arrived in Georgia, she found a church like the one she grew up in and sought help there to truly put witchcraft behind her. But the temptation to continue using her power was strong, especially when things broke down.
“I know I can just reach there and touch the power, and I can make anything work again without having to pay someone. We can’t afford new electrical appliances. It’s hard not to reach for the power. But I know I mustn’t,” she explained.
The problem was her church wasn’t really helping Charlene find a way to overcome the temptations. She was fighting hard but felt she would give in one day and be in serious trouble. So she threw herself into Bible study with an abandon that thrilled and startled me. And the questions! Charlene had so many questions I didn’t know how to answer. So we studied and prayed together, but she felt things were getting worse.
“I’m under attack,” she said. “There’s a demon in my house. It stays in the hall.”
That afternoon we prayed specifically for God to show us the answers to all her questions because I did not really believe demons still afflicted people like they did in the Bible. And God provided just the perfect answer — Ian.
Ian was a new classmate at the Bible college I attended, and he was from the same church background as Charlene. With her permission, I invited him to join our Bible study so he could answer her questions.
The following week, Ian and I sat on the sofa, and Charlene sat opposite us, pouring out her questions. Ian knew exactly how to answer her. I sat back and listened to their conversation, willing to learn as much as I could.
Suddenly a blood-red line bisected Ian’s cheek, from just under his eye to his chin. Then the flesh crinkled around the edges and rolled back like burning paper. The muscle was completely exposed! Then the muscle burned back, exposing first ligaments and tendons, then teeth and tongue. It all happened in a second.
And Ian kept talking, calmly explaining some theological point.
I blinked, then closed my eyes. I must be really tired, I thought.
When I looked up, Charlene was staring at me. “You feel it too, don’t you?”
Ian looked from one of us to the other, thoroughly perplexed. I had neglected to tell him about Charlene’s demon. She had no such reservations, and told him about her years as a witch and the demon in the hallway.
Ian listened closely, then asked if she had kept anything she used as a witch.
“Yes. I kept my book of shadows, where I wrote all my spells and potions. It’s downstairs in the van. I didn’t want to keep it in the house.”
Ian was already on his feet. “We have to burn it.” It was an order Charlene was more than willing to obey.
She and Ian went together because Charlene was afraid of a demonic attack if she went alone. That left me alone with the sleeping baby — and the demon — frantically praying for protection.
The notebook was quite thick, too big to burn all at once. So we ripped out a few pages at a time and burned them in the stainless steel kitchen sink. After all the ashes were washed down the drain, we three fell to our knees and prayed for God to cleanse that house and make it safe for everyone in it.
A great weight that none of us had actually felt before suddenly lifted from our heads, necks and shoulders. Even the air felt different — cleaner and easier to breathe. And Charlene had a look in her eyes I had not yet observed — a look of peace.
Out of Darkness Into Light
Two weeks later was Halloween. Things had been slow in the craft store that evening, and I was surprised when Charlene came in with Crystal.
“I thought you’d take her trick or treating,” I said
“I don’t dare. It was one year ago tonight that I broke coven,” she answered.
“I see.” But I didn’t. In my mind Halloween was a fun time for kids. Charlene looked like anything but fun. “I get off work in about fifteen minutes. If you’ll wait for me, we can take Crystal to McDonalds.”
Because I really want to understand why you’re so afraid of Halloween, I thought.
While Crystal enjoyed her french fries and milk shake, Charlene’s dam finally broke.
All Hallow’s Eve is an important thing among witches. For last year’s rituals, her coven met on a riverbank not far from the Tennessee chicken farm where the Briggs lived. And that night, Satan personally confronted her.
As they chanted, everything directly in front of her disappeared. She could see the river and the people peripherally, but everything in front of her was gone.
Then Satan spoke into her mind. He told her if she would bow down and worship him, he would give her even greater power.
That was the first time she knew for certain Satan was at the root of everything she had ever done as a witch. And she was terrified.
She jerked her hands away from the witches on either side of her, broke coven and ran. There are ways to officially break with a coven, but to just take off in the middle of a ritual is something no one is ever supposed to do.
Back at the house she woke Roger. They threw their clothes into the van, grabbed the baby and drove all night. When dawn came, they were in Georgia.
“I wasn’t running from people,” she said. “It was the devil. But Satan uses people, and I’ve been afraid all year they would find me and make me pay for breaking coven. Some of these people are not nice. They could have sent the demon into my hall. I keep waiting for the next bad thing to happen.”
“But another bad thing doesn’t have to happen, Charlene,” I told her. “Don’t you remember what Ian and I told you after we burned your book of shadows? You need to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior and serve Him. He will protect you. Bible study alone is not enough. Jesus wants a relationship with you.”
“I know,” she answered. “And I’m ready now. That’s why I came to you tonight. I think it’s time I was baptized.”
It meant calling my pastor in the middle of the night to unlock the church building, but he did it with good grace so I could baptize Charlene. A couple of weeks later Roger started attending the Bible study, which now included supper. And weeks after that, just before Christmas, he also came to the Lord.
Once an abusive, homosexual, partially absentee husband and father, the change in just a few weeks into a loving, humorous man devoted to his family was astonishing.
One evening I asked Roger how he had changed so fast. He just nodded towards Charlene, happily preparing supper, and said, “After that witch got wet, I had no choice. Her change was so awesome, I had to change too.”
That was more than 40 years ago. Although I have lost contact with the Briggs, I will never forget the impact Charlene’s conversion had on her husband.
Paul warned against the dark spiritual forces that Christians battle. (Ephesians 6:11-12) May Charlene’s story serve as a reminder to all of us that the battle is real, and we need to be prepared.