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Targeting cities with 'spiritual mapping,' prayer

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 23, 1999


Can the 'spiritual DNA' of a community be altered?" That's the question posed in a Christian video called "Transformations."

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Kenyan pastor Thomas Muthee is convinced that it can be. In 1988, he and his wife, Margaret, were "called by God to Kiambu," a notorious, violence-ridden suburb of Nairobi and a "ministry graveyard" for churches for years. They began six months of fervent prayer and research.

Pondering the message of Eph.6:12 ("For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world..."), they prayed to identify the source of Kiambu's spiritual oppression, Mr. Muthee says. Their answer: the spirit of witchcraft.

Their research into the community revealed that a woman called "Mama Jane" ran a "divination clinic" frequented by the town's most powerful people.

After months of prayer, Muthee held a crusade that "brought about 200 people to Christ." Their church in the basement of a grocery store was dubbed "The Prayer Cave," as members set up round-the-clock intercession. Mama Jane counterattacked, he says, but eventually "the demonic influence - the 'principality' over Kiambu - was broken," and she left town.

The atmosphere changed dramatically: Bars closed, the crime rate dropped, people began to move to the area, and the economy took an upturn. The church now has 5,000 members, he says, and 400 members meet to pray daily at 6 a.m.

From just such experiences, a global movement of evangelicals has developed over the past decade that seeks to free cities and neighborhoods from social scourges even as it "takes them for God."

Through "spiritual warfare" and an in-depth research effort called "spiritual mapping," they aim to bring people to Christ and, in their words, "break spiritual strongholds" holding communities in their grip, whether they be vices, "false religions," or "territorial spirits."

The more aggressive, potentially confrontational aspects of these practices raise concerns within and beyond the evangelical community.

Spiritual warfare

C. Peter Wagner, head of Global Harvest Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo., is in the vanguard of the movement. He defines three levels of spiritual warfare: "Ground-level" involves casting demons out of individuals; "occult-level warfare" involves more organized "powers of darkness" [They target here New Age thought, Tibetan Buddhism, Freemasonry, etc.]; and "strategic-level warfare" directly "confronts 'territorial spirits' assigned by Satan to coordinate activities over a geographical area."

Spiritual warfare has been practiced most vigorously in other countries - particularly in Latin America and Africa - where the idea of demons has greater parlance. But its influence is growing in the United States, along with spiritual mapping.

Even as conferences on the subject attract larger numbers, these practices serve as a source of controversy. Among evangelicals, some question how much of a biblical basis there is, and just how far such prayer should go.

"A lot of people in the conservative camp say Scripture is fairly unclear about how aggressive one is to be, particularly in praying directly against demons or territorial spirits," says Jonathan Graf, editor of Pray! magazine. "They say, 'Just pray to God.' But more charismatic believers say, 'Scripture says we have all authority in Christ and can come against principalities and spirits, and we need to do that.' "

Mapping is the research tool - "the discipline of diagnosing the obstacles to revival," and it answers the questions: "What is wrong with my community? Where did the problem come from? What can be done to change things?" says George Otis Jr. Mr. Otis, president of The Sentinel Group, in Seattle, produced the "Transformations" video and has written a handbook on mapping: "Informed Intercession: Transforming Your Community Through Spiritual Mapping and Strategic Prayer."

He has visited cities worldwide and offers pastors a road map, including questions on the spiritual history and dynamics of their cities. They should gather, for example, detailed information on the status of Christianity, prevailing "social bondages," historical events that caused trauma, predominant philosophies and religions, and human groups and demonic powers that pose spiritual opposition.

Otis points to vivid examples in the Americas: