Night Sweats

Lee’s shoulders drooped. His feet grew heavy as he slowly trudged home to report the news. I’m too young to die! he thought. And how can I tell my family?

The Hmong family sat around a low hand-hewn table. Lee’s wife, Bee, served rice on a banana leaf with bowls of meat and vegetable soup. Each person used their fingers to tear off a cluster of rice from the pile, then spooned some soup.

Lee swallowed hard. “I had two bad dreams last night.” He reached for more rice, then drew his hand back nervously. “l asked the witch doctor for the interpretation.”

“What did he say?” Bee asked.

“The ghosts are angry. I don’t know why. We’re going to die.” There, he had said it!

“Is there something we can do to appease the ghosts?” Lee’s wife sounded hopeful. “Maybe they’ll change their minds.”

“No. The witch doctor said we’re to prepare to die.”

“I don’t want to die!” Bee protested.

“Neither do I,” Lee sighed sadly. “But the ghosts say we’ll die.”

“So we will die.” His wife nodded matter-of-factly.

Death house trip

Some days later, Yang, Lee’s sister, complained of being hot, although the day was cool. Sweat beaded on her forehead and trickled down her cheeks. Yang was being burned up by an unseen fire. She could only lie motionless and moan. Lee knew the ghosts had struck.

Lee’s wife found a branch with dead leaves and tied it to the doorpost. This told the neighbors, “If you visit our family, you might get sick and die!”

Only one man dared visit the hut–Pastor Sae. “Is someone sick?” the pastor asked.

“My sister’s dying,” Lee said. “The ghosts said in dreams that our family will die.”

“Do you believe the ghosts?” The woman nodded.

“The ghosts are always right. If they say we die, we die.”

“You’re right. ‘Ghosts’ have some power, but Christ is more powerful than ghosts!”

“I don’t believe in Christ,” Lee informed the pastor. “I’m a ghost worshiper.”

“If you’ll let me take the ghost house out of your house, and if you’ll become a Christian, your sister will get well. Your family won’t die. The ghosts cannot harm a Christian–” Lee slammed the door in the pastor’s face.

Yang’s breathing became irregular. Each new breath was a frantic search for more air. And then her breathing stopped.

Lee built a bamboo stretcher for carrying his sister to the village death house. In the death house, a drummer beat out a rhythm and a pipe player blew on his bamboo pipes. Lee’s eyes followed the pipe player, who was circling a bamboo column. Lee knew the ritual well–he had seen it countless times before. But today was different. This was his sister.

He glanced at the ghost house. Why do I worship the ghosts? What do they do for me? he asked himself. They’ve killed my sister. They’ll kill us all soon!

The music stopped. Lee tied his sister to the stretcher and splashed sacred red dye on her forehead. He thought, Who will die next? He and his friends formed a parade and carried the body away for burial.

Desperate decision

Some months later Lee awoke with a fever. Sweat poured down his forehead, stinging his eyes. His brain felt like burning coals. “I’m sick,” he announced.

His wife squatted beside him, wiping his sweat away and crying. He knew he was dying.

Is Christ more powerful than ghosts? I was a fool not to give my sister a chance. His mind reeled with his thoughts. But I was afraid I’d die if the pastor touched the ghost house. Yang might be alive today if I’d listened to the pastor.

He turned feverish eyes toward his wife. “Do you think Pastor Sae would come again after what I did?” he asked. “Please ask him to come. Tell him I apologize for slamming the door in his face. He’s my only hope!”

“I’ll go!” Bee hurriedly obeyed her husband’s dying wish.

Pastor Sae’s smile faded when he saw how sick Lee had become. “May I do something for you?”

“The ghosts were right. I’m dying.”

“Christ can heal you. The ghosts promise you death; Christ promises you life,” the pastor encouraged.

“Take the ghost house out of my house!” Lee whispered hoarsely.

Pastor Sae’s eyes sparkled. “Everyone come around the fire,” he ordered.

Everyone moved to the center of the house except Lee, who was too weak.

Pastor Sae looked from face to face. “Do you agree to become Christians?”

Everyone nodded solemnly. Lee wondered what the ghosts would do.

Pastor Sae continued, “Let’s pray. I know, Jesus, that You’re more powerful than ghosts. I thank You for this family who have decided to become Your children today. Bless them. Don’t allow the ghosts to kill them. Please live here. Make their home Your home. Amen.”

Pastor Sae got up. He tore the ghost house off the wall. The family held each other tightly as the pastor rolled up the ghost house and touched the tip to the fire until the paper burst into a blaze. “Ghosts, leave this house!” he called loudly. “You cannot live here anymore; this is a Christian house now!” Turning, the pastor walked out the door with the flaming ghost house in hand and set it on the ground.

Ghosts hate fire, Lee knew.

Pastor Sae reentered the hut. “Do you have anything else ‘ghost’ here?” he asked, eyeing their necklaces.

The family quickly took off their necklaces and handed them to the pastor. Lee was sure unseen hands would choke out his life. But nothing happened.

The pastor shook the necklaces over the fire and said, “Ghosts, leave these necklaces,” and set them beside the ashes of the ghost house.

Pastor Sae looked around the hut.

“Anything else?”

Bee produced a dirty burlap pouch with two gourds and a bone-shaped stick inside. The pastor waved the bag over the fire. “Ghosts, leave these things.” He walked outside and set the bag of gourds beside the necklaces and the ashes of the ghost house.

Pastor Sae asked about the branch.

Lee watched his wife untie the branch of dead leaves from the doorpost. He thought, This pastor really believes I’ll get well!

Pastor Sae shook the branch over the flames. “Ghosts, I’m going to shake you out of this branch!” He went outside still shaking the branch, and set it beside the bag of gourds, the necklaces, and the ashes of the ghost house.

The family joined him outside, looking at the symbols of ghost protection. Lee gratefully took back the pure silver necklaces. They were valuable. But Pastor Sae kept the worthless branch of dead leaves and the bag of gourds.

The pastor left the hut.

Still shaking the branch, he shouted, “Goodbye, ghosts! Christ is more powerful than ghosts!”

Lee’s family didn’t die. Instead, they are happy Christians, free from the ghosts’ power. Lee knows Christ is more powerful than ghosts.

Reprinted from the September 13, 1986, issue of Guide.

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Night Sweats

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