You know the horror movie stereotype of a ghostly woman in a white dress with long, black hair?
Arielle Yang, 38, has seen them. She has since she was five years old. Her parents, elder sister and neighbours have also had such occasional sightings, so Arielle assumed it was common and normal.
Her parents thought it was either due to their kampung-like Changi neighbourhood being “dirty” or the opening of Arielle’s “third eye”. They brought their young daughter to various Chinese mediums hoping to bring her some relief.
But things became worse.
When she was seven years old, she began having nightmares, insomnia and episodes of oppression where she would experience an unseen force pressing on her chest and neck, resulting in her being unable to breathe.
She believed the disturbances to be periods of ups and downs in her “luck cycle” and learnt to manage them whenever they occurred every two weeks.
She would get nightmares within nightmares that would leave her screaming.
“I kept it as a secret and did not tell my friends about it,” she said. “I was afraid they would not believe me and would judge me if I were to tell them.”
Later as a university student, the night terrors increased in frequency and intensity. She would get nightmares within nightmares that would leave her screaming, breaking out in cold sweat and having goosebumps all over.
Her family members also started to experience weird happenings at home. The cup on the table or stool would move by itself in the day and the volume of the radio would turn up on its own at night.
At that time, Arielle sought many mediums and worshiped a plethora of gods. One of the mediums advised her to perform certain rituals and chanting, and make a donation. Each time the oppression happened, she would chant in her heart as she was not even able to breathe or speak.
In 2006, two years after she graduated from university, the attacks evolved into strangulation. Every night for three months, whenever she tried to drift off to sleep, she felt an unseen force tighten its clutches around her neck and choke her until she was breathless.
At that time, she was helming a regional role in brand management in a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).
“In the day, I was this professional office worker and my career was progressing well. Yet at night, I was terrorised by all these episodes of strangulation. I tried to compartmentalise my life and continue functioning normally at work, because I felt I couldn’t tell people about it, they would think I was crazy, and even if I did, they would not be able to help me,” said Arielle.
To deal with the fear and dread of facing such nightly trauma, she turned to clubbing and binge drinking as an outlet to destress.
“I thought that if I was drunk, maybe I will be able to fall asleep without being terrorised,” said Arielle, who by then was becoming disillusioned with life.
“I thought that if I was drunk, maybe I will be able to fall asleep without being terrorised.”
All the religious items given to her for protection and visits to apparently powerful spiritual masters did not seem to help. Feeling helpless at her predicament, she harboured suicidal thoughts.
Easter weekend rolled around and Arielle loved long weekends. It meant she could party three nights in a row and forget her troubles.
That night, she was partying at The Butter Factory at Robertson Quay when she noticed a young man on the dance floor.
“He caught my attention not because he was tall or handsome. I saw a glow around him, especially his face. The light wasn’t like those other flickering lights in the club, it was a consistent glow. I put it down to ‘good vibes’ and energy,” said Arielle, who later realised it was the glow of the Lord in his countenance.
She was partying when she noticed a young man on the dance floor. “I saw a glow around him.”
She introduced herself to him and they became friends. Later, she learnt that he was a Christian.
“God knew I was always in a club so He had to find me in the club,” she said, only half-jokingly.
When she stumbled home in her half drunken state that night, she switched on the TV, and a documentary on Jesus was playing on the National Geographic channel.
“Why am I watching Jesus being baptised in the Jordan river at 3am?” she wondered. At that point in time, she was not receptive to Christianity as it felt foreign to her, being brought up in a traditional Chinese family.
Yet when her nightly attacks continued to assault her, she confided in her Christian friend. He met up with her and brought along an older woman, who shared Christ and the Gospel with her.
Arielle was not convinced and was even offended at the idea that Christians believed that Jesus was the only true God, given her own background of worshiping many gods.
As he drove her home, her friend said to her: “When the attacks happen tonight, just call out to Jesus in your heart. You have nothing to lose.”
She gave him a skeptical look but went home thinking that what he said did make sense – she had nothing to lose.
She muttered: “Jesus ah, thanks for helping me. But please don’t expect me to convert.”
Usually either her mother would sleep next to her and hold her hand to reassure her, or her father would also accompany her by sleeping on another mattress in her room.
That night, she happened to sleep alone and, as if on cue, the strangulation came upon her again.
This time, she decided to call out to Jesus in her heart.
“Jesus, help me,” was all that she could manage.
Immediately, the force that was exerted on her neck eased.
She did not scream this time as she felt no fear. Instead, she calmly sat up on her bed and felt the atmosphere changing in her room.
“I felt peace descending upon my room,” said Arielle.
That night, she said her first prayer.
She did not know how to pray and so, looking up at the sky, she just muttered: “Jesus ah, thanks for helping me. I appreciate your help but please don’t expect me to convert. As you know, I have been seeking help from many sources and each time, the solution was temporary.”
She continued: “If You are the real God, You will reveal it to me. Then we will see how it goes, maybe I will become a Christian.”
These were casual yet heartfelt statements to God, and in spite of herself, she began tearing.
That weekend, Arielle went to her friend’s church, Lighthouse Evangelism at Tampines. She sat alone.
She wanted to go to church, but at the same time felt a strong resistance within her. To quell her complicated feelings about going to church, she brought along a new-age book on non-Christian philosophies with her to read whenever she wanted to.
“Why are you so rude that you can’t even stand up and show me respect?”
While others around her were standing up to sing during the worship segment of the service, she continued to sit down and read her book. It felt like “Christian karaoke” and she wanted no part in it.
Then she heard a male voice in her head that chided her, albeit in a gentle manner: “Why are you so rude that you can’t even stand up and show me respect?”
She broke out of her reverie and stood up.
The sermon was a simple one on the book of Genesis which tells the story of how Man became separated from God and how Man is given the choice to accept Jesus as God.
“I teared because I knew I have denied Him all my life, from the time an American missionary came knocking on my door when I was young to invite me to church.
“My mother allowed me to go because she wanted me to learn English,” said Arielle.
She raised her hand when the audience was asked if anyone needed healing. A church leader walked over. Matter-of-factly, Arielle told her she needed help with the unseen forces which were disturbing her at night.
When the leader prayed with Arielle, she felt touched by God’s presence.
Arielle’s encounters with being strangled at night stopped.
She began attending church regularly.
In the next two months, her irritable bowel syndrome (which she had had for seven years prior) and chronic knee injury were also miraculously healed. Occurrences of oppression and nightmares still happened once in a blue moon but they no longer bothered her.
As she read the Bible, one verse that described her nightly encounters, spoke to her deeply:
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!” (Psalm 116: 3-4)
She took up weekly Bible study classes to learn more.
Three years later, Arielle, then 27, was puzzled to discover that her nightly terrors were coming back – at a new level of intensity.
She could feel someone pulling her hair and kicking her off her bed. The situation became so bad that she moved into her sister’s house but her sister also began witnessing unusual things happening in her house.
In a nightmare, a male voice spoke to her: “Don’t think you can run away or escape from me. I am following you.”
Traumatised, she shared this with a friend from Bible study.
“My mind was clear but there was another force overpowering me.”
Her friend told her that Pastor Mike Connell, known to minister to people who experience spiritual attacks, would be visiting Emmanual Assembly of God.
At that time, Arielle had not heard about the concept of deliverance from dark spirits, but she went to hear the pastor speak. She was desperate and had lost about 4kg during the four months when the attacks had redoubled.
As Pastor Cornell prayed for her, she fell to the ground and began manifesting.
She was growling and shouting so much that she was brought into a separate room to be prayed for.
“I was totally aware of what was going on but I found it hard to control myself. My mind was clear but there was another force overpowering me,” she said.
In the room, her fingers clamped up and she kept scratching herself. A pastor from the church commanded the monkey spirit to get out of Arielle.
A male voice replied from within her belly and said: “Why should I leave her when I have been protecting her for 20 years?”
She had consulted so many mediums and made so many ties with them that she had lost count.
At that time, Arielle was terribly confused and thought she was having a conversation with God in her head.
“Jesus, what is this? What monkey? What 20 years? I came here for help but end up acting like a madwoman in front of strangers. I have never experienced this before. Tell me now what is going on or I will walk out of this faith immediately,” she prayed.
At that moment, a flashback came to her and she recalled that when she was seven years old, her mother had taken her to a medium who was possessed by this spirit and he had asked her to eat a peach for the spirit to protect and bless her.
“I had no idea that such a seemingly harmless act could still affect me two decades later,” said Arielle.
She had needed God to reveal that episode to her because she had consulted so many mediums and made so many ties with them that she had lost count.
Subsequently, she went through 10 months of deliverance sessions to sever those ties. She was set free in 2010. She now worships at Emmanuel Assembly of God.
“I could sense a new level of inner peace and clarity of thought,” said Arielle, whose parents, sister and grandma also came to know the Lord thereafter.
During several pauses in the interview, she wiped away tears when recalling how God had rescued her.
She also felt the prompting to go on specific mission trips.
Since 2010, she has been to Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Thailand and Cambodia to reach out to the homeless and raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking to people in the slums.
Two years ago, she quit her job in a headhunting firm to be a freelance recruiter in order to free up her time to do more missions and advocacy work in tackling issues such as human trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography.
Arielle’s cell group at Emmanuel Assembly of God.
Having wrestled with the unseen before, she realises that some obstacles to breakthroughs in the dark world of human trafficking and child prostitution may also come from the spiritual realm.
On her plans for the future, she puts it simply: “Because the Lord has healed me, I now have capacity to help others.”
This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.