Set Free from the Darkness of Nightmares
“There were people looking possessed and shrieking and shouting, dancing, and walking through the fire. They would walk towards you and touch your head. They would tell you, ‘You are chosen by the gods’ ‘you’re chosen by the ancestors’ and ‘they will appear to you in the form of a beast.’ Look out for the lion. Look out for the snake,” said Jahan Berns.
Growing up in Uganda’s capital city, Jahan Berns clearly remembers the witch doctors, their rituals, and the images that haunted her dreams. “I would wake up, just gasping for breath like I was being attacked by a lion; just being scratched all over. I would wake up and I’d actually feel pain.”
She was 7 years old when her father, a high ranking officer in Idi Amin’s army, was killed in an ambush. The loss was devastating, and the nightmares got worse. “I woke at night, sweating and sometimes screaming. I was seeing my father’s corpse. When my father left my world everything lost meaning and a part of me died.”
She prayed to her ancestors and consulted the witch doctor. He told her she had a spiritual guide who was always with her, especially at night. “Sometimes I felt these cold fingers touching the back of my neck. Then I always felt like someone was always sleeping in my bed.”
The restless nights persisted for another five years. At 12 years old, Jahan converted to Islam, hoping that would bring a relief. “I was willing to become a Muslim because I was desperate. I was tired of the nightmares. I was tired of the fear. I recited those prayers very religiously, but I never heard a response.”
The following year, her mother secured a grant for Jahan to attend a boarding school in Gayaza, Uganda. The school was run by British missionaries. “I just did not adjust well at all. The nightmares increased. This was the first time too that I was around Christian students, and I absolutely detested them because I didn’t understand what they were happy about. I didn’t have the feeling they had. I felt like I was always wanting to explode. I became so angry and so hateful.”
Even then, the other girls treated her with kindness. One day a girl told Jahan about a dream she had. “She said, ‘The Holy Ghost appeared to me last night and He said ‘Jahan is going to get saved.’ I was so mad and I just started yelling at her like, ‘I hate you!’ The table in between us rocks and her pencil rolled down to the floor. I shove the table as she’s bending to pick her pencil and it falls on her neck.”
While injury wasn’t serious, the girl needed time to recover. When she returned to class days later, Jahan expected her to retaliate. Instead, she forgave her. “I was so moved. She was giving me mercy when I didn’t deserve it. I walked away. But something in me broke, seeing that girl’s kindness.”
Just days later, another classmate told Jahan that her dad had died too. She gave her a Bible and told her what she did when she was scared. “She said, ‘You get your Bible and you just sleep with it. When you wake up and you are afraid, you hug it and it chases the fear away.’”
When the nightmares returned that night, Jahan opened the Bible, and came to Psalm 91.
“‘You will not be afraid of the terror by night. No harm will come near you for He will give His angels charge over thee. You will trample on the lion and the serpent.’”
She stayed up all night reading. “I said, ‘God,if you will take away this darkness, if you will set me free, I will serve you for the rest of my life.’ I began to sob. When the tears finally stopped I felt so clean, so pure.”
“The more I read the Bible the more I fell in love with Jesus. I said, ‘Jesus come into my heart.’ Jesus began to replace my bad dreams with good dreams.”
Jahan immigrated to the U.S. in 2004. She graduated from law school and eventually married. These days she has no trouble sleeping, but for this wife, mother of two, attorney, active church member and volunteer, the problem is getting enough sleep!
“God came in and became the father that I didn’t have. I would have been a good candidate for a mental institute had it not been for Jesus, but He healed me. He set me free. He restored me. I have a good life because of Jesus. He can do it for anyone.”