Bless This House: The idea of angry spirits in a member's home was a new one to our congregation

Let me tell you about my friend Fou Luang. Fou Luang came to our country amid the vast exodus of refugees from Southeast Asia in the 1970s. He and his family fled from their home in Laos and from the people they loved in a hill-country tribe called the "Mien" (pronounced mee-enr). Like most refugees from those war-torn countries, Fou Luang had experienced more trauma in the weeks and months it took him to reach the U.S. than most of us will know in a lifetime.

When we heard about the arrival of the refugees, our congregation offered to help. We supported the Laotians by helping them find jobs and providing them with training, housing, transporttion, language lessons and so on. NOW, over fifteen years later, those basic supports are no longer needed. Fou Luang's family—along with others from his village in Laos—have established themselves in their new homeland.

When our congregation first starting helping the Mien refugees, we also invited them to worship with us. And a good number of them accepted, even though their own religious background was so different from ours (the Mien people revere their ancestors, using animist practices to express this respect). In the last few years, as their children have grown up in the church family, more and more of these Laotian people, including Fou Luang and his family, have requested baptism and joined our congregation.

It's difficult for most of us to imagine what a serious step this represents. For a Mien person, embracing Christianity means leaving behind ancestor worship and its practices and being eyed with suspicion by those Mien people who have not become Christians.

A Troubled House

About a year ago Fou Luang and his family moved into a brand-new house. Our whole church staff and many friends—Mien and non-Mien—went to help them celebrate their new home. But in the weeks that followed that celebration, it became clear that all was not well. When I saw Fou Luang, he always looked haggard.

"Fou Luang, is everything OK with your family?" I asked one day.

"Not sleeping," he replied.

"Oh, that's too bad," I said, "I hope no one is sick."

"No, no sick," he said, "spirits."

"Spirits?" I repeated. I had no idea what he meant really, but I could tell he was about to take me into an important confidence.

"Yes," he replied, "We have dreams. Spirit on our bed and we can't move. My wife say that house must have been built over graves of Indians and their spirits coming. We both have same dream—children too."

That reminded me of an earlier problem the Luangs had faced. Fou Luang's wife had some difficulty adjusting to the new culture. But after she and Fou went to a Mien shaman and sacrificed a chicken in a Mein ritual, she recovered. I wondered if that approach might work again.

"Have you had a Mien ritual?" I asked.

"No!" he responded, in an uncharacteristically forceful way. "We Christians now! Don't do that now!"

The light began to dawn on me. These people had left behind the ways of their ancestors of hundreds of years for a faith they could understand mostly in a nonverbal way. The fear that their ancestors would be angry certainly must have preyed on them. And they had left their ancient religion to become Presbyterian, of all things—a denomination that does words very well and symbols very poorly. Right now words weren't working very well for them. It seemed to me that we needed to reach toward them with physical symbols they could understand, symbols that would help them believe that their new faith could help them.

I asked Fou Luang, "Would you like the pastors to come and have a blessing of your house?" I didn't know what on earth that would come to mean exactly, but I decided I could think that through later.

He brightened, "Yes! Who else come?" The Mien people like to do everything in community, and I knew he was hoping to invite as many of his Christian family members as possible to support them and give strength to whatever it was we were going to do.

"Urn, well, my wife and the other pastor's wife will come," I said, hoping that this really would be possible. "And how about other church friends?"

"Yes, many!" he said.

So we were on our way. We set a date, and then we pastors sat down to figure out what we would do. We decided, first of all, that we did not want to deny the perception of spirits in the house or think of them as false or silly. After all, Jesus spent a lot of time talking about spirits and casting them out. We accepted as fact that the spirits Fou Luang and his family feared were indeed present in the house. And we recognized that Scripture clearly affirms that Jesus is Lord of all spirits and that no one recognizes this faster than the spirits themselves. This gave us courage.

We decided that the main task we needed to accomplish was something it might be good for every Christian family to do: We needed to claim Fou Luang's house in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord of all spirits.

The Day of Blessing

When the day of the blessing came, we two pastors arrived at the house with our pulpit robes, a large Bible, and the cross that the Presbytery had given me to wear during my term as moderator. We seated about forty members of the church—everyone but the family—in the living room of the house. Then we took the family through the house, room by room, to claim it for Christ. In each room, I touched all four walls with the cross, saying, "We claim this house for Jesus Christ, Lord of all spirits." Then the other pastor held the Bible high and said, "By the Word of God, Jesus is Lord of this house."

We went to every room, starting with the garage. When we thought we were finished, Fou Luang asked, "What about bathroom?" Of course, this room too must be claimed! So we crowded into the bathroom, all nine of us, and claimed it for Christ. Then we rejoined the others in the living room for a brief, formal Service of Christian Blessing for a Home, complete with bulletins for everyone (it's hard for us to get too far from our attachment to words!).

As we prayed the final prayer, the cross we had carried was passed from person to person, and each one touched some place in the room with it. Afterward, of course, we remained to sample some delicious Mien cooking that Fou Luang's family and other Mien friends had prepared.

To my knowledge, the dream of the angry spirit on the bed has not returned, and Fou Luang's family is safe and happy in their new home. Jesus truly is Lord of all spirits!

Excerpt

SERVICE OF BLESSING FOR A CHRISTIAN HOME

Call to Worship

We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built with human hands (2 Cor. 5:1).

Opening Litany

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses,
nor the offenses of our ancestors.
Spare us, good Lord.
Spare your people whom you have redeemed with your blood.
Spare us, good Lord.
From spiritual blindness;
from pride, envy, hatred, malice;
from lack of loving-kindness—
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all deadly sin;
and from the deceits of the world,
the flesh and the devil;
from all spirits, past or present, who harass us—
Good Lord, deliver us.
Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,
as a haven for those who live here;
as a refuge from the evil one who taunts us;
as a hospitable place where strangers may find welcome.
Make this house your own, Good Lord.

Hymn: "Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound" PsH 462, PH 280, RL 456, SFL 209, TH 460

Words of Good Will from Those Assembled

Scripture

Psalm 127:1
Matthew 7:24-25

Meditation

Hymn: "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" TH 616

Prayer of Consecration

Peace be to this house, and to all who enter here;
Peace be to all who enter and depart from this place.
O Lord, grant that in this house the name of Christ may be
honored above all names;
that in times of worry or distress, those who dwell here may
call upon the name of the Lord and find peace.

Here may weariness be met with peaceful sleep.
Here may the hungry be provided with food.
Here may live the love of your human family.
Here may your name be praised above all names.
We dedicate and consecrate this house, O Lord;
to the glory of Jesus Christ, who is our Lord for ever and ever.
Amen.

Benediction

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For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.

Robert J. Elder is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Salem, Oregon.