Molecule Man by Jonathan Borofsky on the Spree River, Berlin

"Go Where the Battle Is Raging:" MTW Missionaries Share Stories of Spiritual Warfare

By Chelsea Rollman, Oct 3, 2023

MTW missionary Eowyn Stoddard had only been asleep a few minutes when she was jostled awake by something shaking the bed. She turned to see her husband, David, thrashing against something they couldn’t see.

Something unnatural was going on and it wasn’t the first time this had happened. On several occasions, David said that he felt an evil spirit either strangling his neck or placing an enormous weight on his chest. “Either way, the effects at the time felt life threatening,” said David, who serves as MTW’s international director for Europe.

This is just one example of the way the enemy assaulted and intimidated the MTW missionaries serving in Berlin. Whether it was a personal attack or dealing with the pervasive darkness in the city, each missionary experienced different forms of spiritual oppression.

Yet against a bleak spiritual backdrop, God equipped them to help push back the forces of darkness. Through a robust ministry of prayer, the Holy Spirit protected the team from Satan’s schemes and enabled them to advance the Church around the city.

Stepping Into the Battle

Don’t forget what Martin Luther said: ‘Go where the battle is raging.’”

So said Eowyn’s father, former MTW missionary and seminary professor Peter Jones, encouraging her and David to serve in Berlin after they both graduated from Westminster Seminary California. The Stoddards knew that every Christian, no matter where they are, is engaged in a spiritual war. But they were unprepared for the all-out brawl that awaited them in Berlin.

When they arrived in East Berlin in 2001, the city met them with a feeling of dejection. The legacy of World War II clung to the city like a persistent stain. East Berlin had just emerged from the oppressive thumb of the Soviet Union. The communist government had successfully stifled all public displays of worship and the few believers in the city had been forced to meet underground. Atheism was the primary belief system, and Satan-worship was a prevalent practice. All of this contributed to a climate of spiritual darkness that Berlin team member Pamyla Burrack said “hung over the city like a wet blanket.”

If Satan’s goal is to blind people to God’s kingdom of light, it seemed he had Berlin exactly where he wanted it. It made sense that he would put extra effort in preventing Christian missionaries from spreading the message of the gospel.

According to Pamyla, an inexplicable sickness was one of the enemy’s main tactics to keep the missionaries from focusing on ministry. Just after the Stoddards arrived in Berlin, David got sicker than he had ever been in his life and had to be quarantined. The devil unleashed a violent assault on Pamyla when she went into a coma due to a life-threatening infection in her right lung.

The doctors were able to treat Pamyla’s infection while she was in a coma but they never found the cause. She wants to keep the details of what she experienced during the coma private, but Pamyla has no doubt that it was a Satanic assault that forever changed—and strengthened—her faith, and her belief in the power of prayer. Though no one experienced an illness as intense as Pamyla’s, every family on MTW’s Berlin team came down with a sickness the doctors had trouble diagnosing.

“Obviously there might be a naturalistic explanation for [the sicknesses]” said Eowyn. “But what we noticed is that when weird things start piling up you start to think that maybe something is off here.”

And weird things started piling up.

David and Eowyn Stoddard in Berlin

The Stoddards had liters of urine poured into their baby stroller and blood splattered across their apartment door. Another missionary family’s daughter was randomly hit by a bus. (She thankfully walked away unscathed.) Their cars would break down for no apparent reason. Everyone struggled with poor sleep and the enemy used vivid nightmares as another form of attack on the Stoddards’ 2-year-old son.

“For many months he’d wake up screaming bloody murder, and we could not easily settle him back down,” Eowyn wrote in a 2013 article for The Gospel Coalition. Eventually, he was able to describe his dream. He said that a woman with red eyes and black hair dressed in a bra and black pants would offer him a basket of rotten fruit and force him to eat.

While dealing with these personal attacks, MTW missionaries also had to navigate the darkness that permeated Berlin. For instance, it was common for the team to find unraveled cassette tapes around the city. Satanists would record curses on the cassettes, unravel the tape, and attach it to the places they wanted to curse.

Visiting Christians also perceived the darkness. MTW’s missionaries often took visitors on prayer walks around the city. There were several times when participants were unable to approach certain places—a bridge where Jews were funneled to concentration camps, a children’s playground covered in demonic symbols—before they knew about their significance.

Wielding the Power of Prayer

How did the missionaries deal with so much darkness? As Eowyn said there is no “Demon 101” seminary class.

Led by the team leaders, Ken and Tammie Matlack, the team combated the spiritual opposition with prayer. And they prayed like they never prayed before.

Tammie Matlack leads a time of prayer during a Berlin vision trip

When the Stoddards’ son was experiencing nightmares, team members came over and prayed that he would sleep peacefully and God would not allow any evil to enter his bedroom. They consistently prayed over Berlin’s darkest locations on their prayer walks. Everyone—missionaries, national pastors, church members—came and prayed for Pamyla while she was in a coma. Whenever someone sensed an evil presence near them, they refused to be intimidated. They just prayed.

And God answered their prayers.

The Stoddards son’s nightmares became less frightening and eventually stopped. Pamyla survived her infection and the spiritual attack. And they refused to give in. If a child on the team fell sick before the evangelistic meetings the Stoddards held in their home (and someone always did), they didn’t cancel.

According to David, witnessing answered prayer during personal encounters with darkness emboldened the team to pray for the spiritual oppression that weighed down the entire city.

“You’re just overwhelmed. You’re dealing with personal attack and just feeling helpless. Then when you looked at the church you saw so little happening. to realize that there is absolutely nothing that is going to happen here—and especially nothing that is going to happen here through us—unless the Holy Spirit does something very powerful.”

Just like God used their prayers to protect them in particular instances of spiritual warfare, He also used their prayers to push back the forces of darkness that gripped Berlin. And He answered their prayer for the spirit of the city in concrete ways—the closing of an occult shop after years of prayer, for example. But mainly they saw prayers answered through the growth of the Church.

After years of trying to plant a church in the northern part of Berlin, the team established one in the old quarters of the East German communist government. The church plant met in a former neo-Nazi bar that had been empty for seven years.

“Everyone knew what it was and knew why it had been empty. And then to see a church being planted in that space to me reminds me that is what God is about—pushing darkness back. And He often does it with redemptive humor,” said David.

God also used the 2016–2017 European refugee crisis to breathe new life into Berlin and increase the Church’s influence. First, the government supported the Church’s relief efforts giving it a public platform it never had before.

The church actively reached out to minister to refugees.

Second, the refugee crisis helped another MTW church plant flourish. Iranian and Afghani Christians flooded to this multi-cultural church plant saying God had led them to the church through a dream. The Christian refugees were eager to engage in the life of the church and outreach to the city.

These are just two examples of the church ministry MTW’s Berlin team was involved in. Over the course of 30 years, they helped plant five churches, start a refugee ministry, and establish a campus of Martin Bucer seminary.

Leaving a Legacy of Hope

The battle is still raging in Berlin and like any battle, there are casualties. Not all the church plants are healthy. It is still considered the atheistic capital of Europe. It has not shaken all the elements of spiritual darkness. And earlier this year, God made it clear that it was time to wrap up MTW missionaries’ ministry in the city.

But they leave knowing God did not and will not waste their time. From 1993 to 2023, they were faithful to pray against the evil forces present in their own lives and throughout the city. They can point to specific ways God used their prayers to snuff out the darkness and advance the Church. While there is no way to measure the correlation between their work and the greater kingdom impact, they can confidently say that it is a more spiritually hopeful place today than it was when they arrived. 

Chelsea Rollman

Chelsea Rollman is a marketing specialist and staff writer at MTW. She formerly served as the girls’ discipleship coordinator at Village Seven in Colorado Springs, and as a marketing assistant at The White Horse Inn. Chelsea graduated from Covenant College in 2016 with her B.A. in English. She and her husband, Hudson, live in Jacksonville, Florida, and attend Christ Church Presbyterian where Hudson serves as the youth director.

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