The jiaks are some of the most feared individuals in Pnong culture. During the day, they’re normal people; they work in the fields, eat rice with their families, and live like everyone around them. But at night, something changes. Once the sun has gone down and the rest of the village lies asleep, the jiak gains the power to walk through the village, unseen, yet seeing the monkey souls and buffalo souls of each villager. They jiak can steal someone’s monkey soul, causing them to get very sick. If they jiak eats their buffalo soul, the person will die, suddenly, in the night, with no wounds or marks indicating foul play.
Jiaks are feared by all the villagers. Even if the villagers identify who the jiak is, they don’t often confront them, fearing that the jiak would eat their buffalo soul in retribution. But the jiak, and his/her children, who also become jiaks, live very lonely lives, abandoned by the rest of the villagers, feared, and sometimes threatened.
Jendra is a jiak, as was her mother, and her grandmother. She was single when I met her; her fierce temper makes it hard for her to tolerate a husband for long. She lives with her children in a small, dirty house. I mentioned them in a previous blog post; sometimes the children are forced to eat whatever they can find, while Jendra is out selling peanuts and trying to earn enough money to feed her kids for another day. They’re thin and malnourished, and because of the fear the rest of the village has of them, they live unaided and friendless.
Until recently, that is. You see, there is a small group of villagers who have become Christians, and meet every Sabbath to worship God together. Jendra and her kids found a welcome here. The Christians no longer fear the jiaks; they recognize them for who they are– people unmercifully controlled by evil spirits. The Christians recognize that their God is stronger than Satan and any of his spirits. Jendra started worshipping with the Christians several years ago. For a couple years, she studied the Bible with one of the missionaries and was finally baptized, yet for some reason, she hasn’t fully surrendered her life to God.
I’ve still seen her out in the village on some Sabbaths, selling peanuts. She knows she shouldn’t work on that day, but it’s hard for her to trust her finances and her family’s needs to God. She worries a lot; she often takes out her worry and frustration on her kids, yelling at them or beating them for minor offenses. Soon before I left Cambodia, she remarried. We had advised her against marrying a non-Christian, and explained the consequence of having a home divided spiritually, but she decided to marry anyway. Last I knew, her church attendance had fallen.
She reminds me a lot of Mary Magdalene in the Bible. Mary was caught in sin, seemingly unable to escape. She was cast into the dust at Jesus’ feet, but instead of condemning her, he lifted her up, forgave her, and exhorted her to “go, and sin no more.” But not just once– seven times he had to free her from the same demons, lift her up from the same sin. Mary had a fierce temper, too, as I imagine her: single, accepted by no one. But finally, through Jesus’ help, she had victory over the sins that bound her. It was she who sat at His feet as He taught, who anointed those feet, who stood at the base of the cross, who was first to find the empty tomb on resurrection day. And, do you remember? On resurrection morning, Jesus appeared to one person, and one person only. And that person was Mary.
I believe Jesus has a special place in His heart for the forsaken. Though it hurts us to see the path Jendra has taken, I know that Jesus hasn’t given up on her. Will you pray with me for Jendra and her kids, that they’ll open their hearts to Jesus and surrender fully to Him?
Photo: one of Jendra’s kids in front of the tiny, dusty house where they live.