Eva was high on heroin, partying on a beach in Thailand the moment that Jesus got her attention. Her Swedish boyfriend had just proposed to her, but she had turned him down--and hell had followed her decision.
"We were on a hippie beach, drinking beer and smoking heroin cigarettes," Eeva says. "When I told him no and left the hut we were renting, he followed me and cried: 'I am a little devil! I am a little devil!'"
Immediately several things happened. The Buddha figurine Eeva's boyfriend wore around his neck suddenly broke off and dropped to the ground. "And I smelled a foul odor all around me," she says. "I also sensed the presence of creatures of evil around me, and they were laughing at me."
Despite the heroin high, Eeva knew a hellish presence was in the air and that right then and there, standing among the nude drug addicts on a hippie beach in the Far East, she had to pray to God. For the first time in her life she did.
"God, please, if You exist, please help me."
God heard her prayer--and answered. However, Eeva couldn't foresee that His answer would include a 16-year sentence in a Thai prison for heroin smuggling. But the desolation of the harsh imprisonment to come would seal Eeva's new commitment to Jesus and plant the seeds of the evangelistic ministry she would later embark upon.
That was 20 years ago.
Today "Drug Eeva," as she was nicknamed then, is better known as Glory Backman, a native of Finland and a fervent evangelist firing up people around the world in their pursuit of God. When Charisma met Backman recently during a women's conference in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, she had returned to her native country to do what she had been doing in Indonesia, India, Cuba and many other countries for more than a decade.
"Go for a double portion of the anointing, and don't let anything stop you!" she cries to the women, as she preaches about the prophet Elisha. Many women shake violently or fall over when Backman lays hands on them or simply breathes out through the microphone. It is a sight not too common in the cool Finnish north.
The ministry she has today, however, is not the immediate result of her first prayer. Soon after that day on the beach, while leaving Thailand, she was caught with heroin concealed in her camera and sentenced to 16 years and eight months in a Bangkok prison.
From Heroin to Glory
"One of my key messages is that we have to live in the light, not allowing any darkness in us," Backman told Charisma in Helsinki. "It is your secret life that determines whether you win or lose."
The lesson Backman herself had to learn right from the start was that being a Christian and lying do not go together--and she had to learn it the hard way, locked up with 1,600 criminals, most of them drug addicts, many of them murderers. It was an unspeakably disgusting and filthy prison, she says--and it was thousands of miles from her homeland.
The worst part of the confinement, the thing that seems to stand out in Backman's memory even today, was the overcrowding.
"There was no place to be alone," she says. "We could not even stretch out while sleeping. We were laying, stuffed like sardines, on the plank floor--the Thai women using three planks, the foreigners getting four planks."
The foreigners were privileged--having, as a rule, more money as well as help from their embassies.
"The Thai people got the most terrible food," Backman recalls with a shudder. "Brown rice with maggots, and rotten fish--the smell alone made me vomit. But as a foreigner I could order decent food and clean water, as long as I could pay for it."
And there were also rats, sick rats--"pinkish because of their fur falling out"--and myriads of lice, she says. A vast majority of the inmates practiced lesbianism. Still, this was the very place where Backman would find God's joy.
"I asked the people from the Finnish consulate to bring a Bible and to put me in touch with missionaries," she says. She started to read the Bible but found it terribly boring. "The first time I soon put it down, and the second time, too."
During her first months in prison, Backman was tried in court three times, and each time she untruthfully pleaded not guilty.
"I was afraid," she explains. "I thought they would never let me out if I confessed that the heroin was mine." Yet God used her futile attempts to declare her innocence to convince her it was better to tell the truth about her crime.
After praying with the Finnish missionary women who came to visit her, she says that she "confessed Jesus, but without any understanding." But then she received a prophetic exhortation that God would open the prison doors if only she spoke the truth. Backman changed her mind, and confessed her guilt.
When the court gave her a 16-year sentence it almost broke her, and she started comforting herself with heroin again. Soon she was caught by the wardens and put in what was called the "dark room" as punishment for using drugs in the prison.
Ironically, it was in the dark room that she finally discovered the light of the gospel and encountered God. While there, Backman tried reading the Bible again. This time something happened.
"The words seemed to leap at me from the pages, and I got the feeling the book had been written for me personally," she recalls.
"From then on I used every free minute to read God's Word, and the others thought I was crazy. Soon I began witnessing. I talked about Jesus to everybody."
Ulla Kuisma, one of the visiting Finnish missionaries and a charismatic Lutheran, told Backman about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and one day Backman realized she was speaking the strange words of her newfound prayer language.
"I was in a ghastly prison--and to the best of my knowledge I would be for another 15 years--but I knew God lived within me, and I was truly happy," Backman says.
Throughout the day she would sing praises to God. Her evangelizing started to bear results. "It was mostly Thais becoming believers. The Thai people are open to the spiritual world."
Set Free by the Truth
Ulla Kuisma, the Lutheran missionary, sits in the back row at the women's meeting in Helsinki, watching her "spiritual daughter" preaching and praying in a not-very-Lutheran fashion. Kuisma's face is lit with a big, happy and very warm smile.
"I was the 'midwife'--and see, the 'baby' has outgrown me," she says.
"All that it takes is that you are in the right place at the right time," she reflects. "I communicated a little bit of God's love to Eeva in the prison. Now she is traveling the globe multiplying the message."
Watching Backman as she preaches strongly, Kuisma says that a "fervor" was detectible in Backman even as Drug Eeva, but points out with friendly humor how Backman has changed: "This way of speaking fast and loud, Glory picked up in the U.S.A.!"
Against all odds, Backman was pardoned for her crime, and after two years and nine months in the Bangkok prison, she was released. Back in Finland she married Mats, a Pentecostal musician, and started visiting schools to warn young Finns about drug use. In 1987 she started traveling as an evangelist.
"My first trip was to Sri Lanka. I witnessed at a small house meeting in the countryside. A demonized lady wanted ministry, and when I laid hands on her, she was thrown across the room!" she exclaims.
"I am a 100 percent evangelist," Backman says. "I love campaign preaching, and signs and wonders. In the 1990s I spent two years in Indonesia and saw thousands of people saved, delivered and baptized in the Spirit."
In 1998 and 1999 Mats and Glory were based in Orlando, Florida, and ministered in Cuba. Last year they returned to Finland.
"We just planted a church in Turko, on the west coast, and started a missions school," Glory says. "We also plan to launch a Christian radio station in Finland." This year the couple also will begin visiting schools again with an anti-drug program, as the use of drugs is increasing among young people in Finland.
Foremost on Backman's heart, however, is the "empowering" of Christian women. "After all," she points out, "70 percent of all churchgoers are women. If they're encouraged in the right way they can be great evangelists and take the gospel to the whole world."
Finland, like the rest of Europe, needs "much encouragement," Backman points out.
"Many Finns love God but are fearful to take steps in faith. The mentality here is very different from America. There is much doubt and fear of false doctrine, and oftentimes people do not act out the faith they have," she explains.
"A few years ago I was on a TV talk-show in Finland, and the Spirit told me to warn against occultism. The host really got afraid that she'd run into difficulties for presenting a 'fundamentalist' with a platform--but the response was very positive, and now the host is a believer herself."
Backman says she is determined to "go after the strongholds of the devil" in her home country. Even though conversions and miracles are said to occur less frequently in Europe than on the other continents, she is convinced that God's power is sufficient to change that.
"Europe is the darkest place on earth," Backman says. But that fact doesn't stop her. Her own experience has convinced her that any "dark room" is the ideal place for finding God's light.