The year was 1919. My great grandfather had immigrated to America eleven years earlier and settled in the city of Pigeon, Michigan, where he pastored a German church that had grown from small meetings in his rural home. Growing up, I often heard the story of Matis Nagi, whose testimony had left an indelible impression on the minds of all who knew him. His wife was a faithful member of my grandfather’s congregation, but darkness lived in the heart of Matis that set him at odds with God and the church which he hated passionately.
From time to time, a strange power would come over him and he would be driven to do bizarre things. He was known to throw himself down from the loft of his barn headfirst without harm. It was apparent to everyone that demonic activity was at work in his life, and many times the church leaders warned him to no avail. My Uncle John said that he had told Matis, “The way you have chosen will lead you to destruction. You are in danger of being possessed by the devil fully. Stop this and humble yourself before God so you can receive help.” But he would not listen.
One evening after an argument, in a fit of rage, Matis gave himself over to the power that had been influencing him for so long. All the events to follow would be completely blocked from his memory, as the demonic power possessed him completely.
Mrs. Nagi had gone to the city to shop and when she returned at dusk on her horse-drawn wagon, she could see the silhouette of her husband standing on the porch in the shadows holding an axe in his hands. As she drew closer, a feeling of uneasiness came over her. Something was not right. Her anxiety turned to terror when she saw that her husband was covered in blood and his eyes were hollow and empty. She immediately rode away to the house of my grandfather.
“Come quickly,” she pleaded. When Matis saw my grandfather and the elders of the church approaching the house, he began to cry out in fear. He was mumbling cryptic phrases about how he saw them as being covered in red and could not come near them. And then in a moment, he ran away and disappeared into the forest. Together Mrs. Nagi and the elders entered the house where they made the grizzly discovery. Matis had brutally murdered his mother and three children in cold blood.
The news of the grizzly act spread like wildfire through the small farming community, which was gripped by terror. Farmers would accompany their wives to the barns to milk the cows and would not go into the fields to work for fear of the deranged demoniac that lurked in the woods.
Sometime later, the police finally apprehended Matis and took him to the jail, but he was so violent and uncontrollable that he had to be isolated in a cell by himself. Inside the jail, he tore all his clothes off and sat naked. He shouted terribly in his sleep and had to be prevented from killing himself.
The judge determined that he was so thoroughly insane that he was not fit to stand trial, so he was committed to an insane asylum a hundred miles away in Pontiac, Michigan.
The doctor sent word to Mrs. Nagi that her husband was incurably sick and that his condition was worsening each day. He feared that her husband would soon die and said that she should come immediately.
It was a very trying time for the believers in my grandfather’s church, and when my Uncle John arrived at the memorial service, he was met by Mrs. Nagi who said, “How sad it is that I have been robbed of my beloved children – the saddest of all is that my husband has become the prey of Satan and Satan is the victor.”
“No, Sister Nagi,” he said, “ Satan is not the victor! This seeming victory is only temporary. There is no doubt that the grandma who loved the Savior is now safe with Him. The same applies to the little children. And concerning your husband, there is hope to wrestle him from the power of Satan through prayer and faith. This we will do in the name of Jesus.”
The congregation shook themselves out of their despair and set themselves to pray. My Uncle John later wrote, “We all fell on our knees and prayed with fevor to God that He might destroy all attempts of Satan that even this tragedy will turn to triumph and that He also might deliver the possessed one from the power of Satan. Heaven seemed to open up for us. We were filled with a holy joy and with courage of faith so that we commanded the demonic spirits to disappear and to leave the possessed one in the name of Jesus. I remember very well how I was filled with a Holy Spirit given assurance of faith, and I shouted to the praying belivers, ‘Brothers and Sisters, it is finished! God has listened to our prayer. We can proclaim by faith that the possessed one is delivered.’”
It was my Uncle John who went to visit Matis in the asylum. Upon arrival, he was escorted to the office of the head physician, Dr. Christian. The doctor was silent for awhile and then he said, “I do not understand this case. Three days ago I wrote a letter to the wife of this man and explained to her that according to our tests her husband was incurably sick and probably would not live much longer. Yesterday morning a change took place, and it is so radical that his condition seems to be completely normal. Well, whatever this is,” he said, “it seems that a miracle has happened here.”
Dr. Christian rang the bell for a guard who escorted Uncle John to the visiting room. After a few minutes, Matis was ushered in. When he saw Uncle John, he rushed up to him, “Please tell me what has happened!” he begged, “I cannot believe what these people have told me!” The previous day, when Matis had suddenly and instantly come to his senses, he had no recollection of any of the events that had transpired. As Uncle John told him the whole story, Matis broke down and sobbed, overwhelmed with grief. He had loved his children very much and had been especially close to his dear elderly mother. “O Lord, have mercy on me… a sinner!” he cried. “I am the worst man who exists!”
It’s difficult to see how a story like this could have a happy ending, but God in His incredible mercy has a way of bringing triumph out of even the worst of tragedies. Matis had been used by Satan as a tool of destruction, and he would live with the unimaginable pain of this knowledge for the rest of his life. But through the power of prayer, Jesus broke the chains off of his mind like the demoniac of Gadara and set this captive free. Through the miraculous deliverance, something had changed in Matis’ spirit. He repented of his rebellion, surrendered to Jesus Christ, and became a true child of God. Not only was he delivered of demonic possession, but he was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit.
The doctors found this dramatic recovery so unbelievable that they were compelled to keep him in the asylum for more than a year under careful observation before giving him a clean bill of health. He was released and lived the rest of his days with his family as a faithful follower of Jesus – a changed man.
Uncle John recalled that more than 20 years later when passing through Detroit, he was preaching in a particular church and the believers were asked to testify of what the Lord had done in their lives. A little elderly man stood up and said, “If anyone has a reason to praise the Lord it is me.” It was Matis, now old and grey. He had lived many years with the regret of his past, but he was overflowing with thankfulness to the God who had shown him such incredible mercy.
With tears streaming down his face, he began to quote, “Psa 40:2-3 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. (3) And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
After reading this story, I began to think about what if they had prayed before Matis had committed the atrocities. Surely God would still have answered their fervent prayers!
I want to pray for our loved ones (and ourselves) for breaking of any addictions that the enemy is using in our lives to keep us from the perfect will of God. Let us pray fervently this personalized verse that Matis confessed:
(Psa 40:2-3) LORD, please bring us up also out of this horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set our feet upon that Rock, and establish our goings. Please put a new song in our mouths, even praise unto You, LORD, that many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in You, LORD!
Here is our assurance of God’s answer to our prayers:
1Jn 5:14-16 And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He hears us: (15) And if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him. (16) If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.