Stars glinted over Bali like light off the polished horns of a water buffalo. Under the August night, our pony cart bounced us nonchalantly out of the city toward a date with dry terror.
For Diggie Dee and me, expecting only the merriment of an Indonesian festival, the evening promised wonderful things. As our silent Hindu host flicked the reins, we listened delightedly to the gentle jingle of the pony's bells.
Only these bells and the rhythmic clopping hooves disturbed the whisper of the trees along the road. In the loneliness of the dark countryside, the sounds of our cart were comforting.
My grandmother--dubbed Diggie Dee by my brother Tim--and I were strangers in Indonesia, finding it had a charm and mystery all its own. Diggie Dee had surprised our family by flying all the way from Madison, Wisconsin to meet our ship in Den Pasar, Bali. Used to rolling pastures and cattle, she quickly came to love rice paddies and water oxen.
Malayans, in turn, loved this spirited lady in her late sixties who was so unpredictable. Her white hair caused a sensation. Full of fun and easy to please, she made friends everywhere she went.
One couple offered Diggie Dee a ride to a yearly harvest festival which few tourists get to see. They spoke little English and filled the gaps in conversation with earnest smiles that did the inviting for them.
She wanted to share the experience with me so we read up on the Hindu religion before we went. We discovered that the festival was held to give thanks to their gods for their crops. We found that Hindus worship the sun and the moon. They burn incense to rough stone idols. Some idols are hideous animals with human faces, others have wings on a human body, or wield an elephant's trunk.
Animal figures are carved into the walls of their temples; individual images sit in small shrines along the roadside and in private homes. At these, people offer dishes of food daily. Even on buses I had noticed god-shelves, with flies collecting on rotting cabbage or fish.
This religion seemed incredible to me. Dreading the capriciousness of nature, the people developed such a complex religion that hundreds of demons have been named and special powers attributed to them.
From the pony cart I could see dim shapes of chipped stone lions and bulls. Glaring at us from doorways, they were sometimes all that was left of a temple broken by Japanese soldiers during the second world war.
Of course, I did not believe in their idols. I knew that there is only one almighty God, who cannot be formed from stone with human hands. I knew that God created everything, including me. But at that time I worshiped in as much ignorance as the most devout Hindu.
No one had told me that God loved me enough to make himself known to me. No one told me that God knew my inability to be the kind of girl I should be. No one told me that God sent his son Jesus, God in flesh, to show me what he is like and to take away the sin that made it impossible for me to please God.
Most of all, Jesus provides escape from the devil's power. I know of Satan's power now. In deepest Bali I witnessed it as never before or since.
After trotting an hour or more, our host guided the pony into a rutted lane overshadowed by trees. He pulled the cart to a halt before a courtyard and helped us out.
Floating on the faint breeze came the distant sound of gamelin music. Unique to Indonesia, gamelin orchestras are made up of shiny brass tubes and drums of different sizes. Young men chosen by priests beat a three-toned rhythm. Sometimes they keep it up for hours without break or variation.
Over fallen stones we stumbled through one doorway after another toward the music. A flickering light helped us see enough to step over the last threshold into a courtyard full of people.
To the left and the right poles supported thatched roofs. Under these, on raised platforms, were dark-haired Malayans of all ages.
Women knelt in a building to our left. Their sarongs made of cloth pounded from wood pulp were dyed to make typical batik designs of brown or dark blue. Their thick black hair was braided or wound around their heads. Some wore flowers in their hair; others had anklets of flowers above their bare feet.
To our right were the musicians and a small group of men who wore loincloths. A kerosene lamp hung precariously over the instruments and threatened to set the entire orchestra on fire.
Motioned with our friends to a bench on one side, we waited eagerly for the harvest ceremony. It began with a dance. A dozen men and women formed a circle and followed each other in a series of complicated, precise steps. Each dancer held a golden bowl or lighted candle.
As they walked in graceful procession, the music's tempo increased almost imperceptibly. We sat on the edge of our bench, in peril of tipping it over, hardly remembering to breathe.
At the height of the quickened beat, a scream rent the air. From the shadows a young woman writhed in agony toward the dancers. Everything stopped suddenly as she fainted at their feet.
In consternation, two or three dancers rushed to her and dragged the limp body onto the women's platform, disappearing behind a curtain.
There was a pause. Chills running the length of my body were all that kept me from being totally paralyzed with fear. Diggie Dee and I stood shakily to leave. As we turned to our host to speak, a man leaped into view, brandishing a sword. He careened madly, thrusting the blade to his own chest in a frenzy. Despite his white-knuckled grip and wild movements, the sword did not penetrate the skin it pressed.
Beneath me, the ground itself seemed to sway and tremble--or was it only my knees? Terror left my mouth dry, my heart pounding. A second woman shrieked and collapsed. In the commotion our host whispered to us, "Devils enter into her. They choose someone every year--never know who. She belong to devils now. Soon they choose more."
Diggie Dee, far calmer than I, urged our host to take us home, saying that I didn't feel well and that it was late. They were surprised; the ceremony had hardly begun. But they glanced at me and nodded. I must have been ashen.
On the long, chilly ride home, the eerie pitch of gamelin music resounded in my ears. Its unchanging, ceaseless rhythm seemed to throb above the jangle of the cart bells and the brisk clop of hooves.
The shock, on top of Balinese germs, led to a week in bed, delirious.
Before I ever received Jesus, who conquers the devil and overcomes his hold on people, I saw demons at work. I saw them enter and claim the bodies of heathen Balinese; I felt their wickedness and knew their violence. My memories of Bali's mystery are interwoven with cart bells, gamelin music, and piercing screams.
Dabs of rotten food do not protect people from the evil spirits they fear. Chipped stone bulls do not flood people's lives with reassurance of deliverance from their sin.
Only Jesus Christ can free the Indonesian people from their superstition. He drove away my darkness and fear with his perfect light. That's why I surrendered my writing to him when I accepted him as Savior and Lord nearly three years ago in Tokyo, Japan. When I graduate from Multnomah School of the Bible (Portland, Oregon) this spring, I intend to serve the Lord as he directs, possibly in Japan in journalism.
Jesus saved me when I, like the Indonesians, was at the devil's mercy. I pray and know he will send some of his faithful friends to the Hindu idol-worshipers with his good news of freedom and joy.
(First published in Teen, January 15, 1967)