Ch.5 - Exorcism (Devils in Bible College)


Devils in bible college

Ever since I’d become a Christian I’d had the feeling that I was not going to be a pew-hugging believer, but that God had called me to preach and to make a difference in the world. A sense of destiny, you might call it. This meant that I had no other career ambitions. The desire to be a fireman or ballerina man died during primary school. Dad was concerned about my lack of career focus and kept pressuring me about getting a job with a future. Dad and Mum’s generation had known the effects of the Great Depression. I was regularly reminded of Mum’s early school days when she would line up behind the rich kids to see who was lucky enough to be given the apple core when the rest had been eaten. The Depression creation of bread and dripping was something we still ate when we arrived home from school ravenous. No wonder that generation only ever wanted their children to have a job with security. I took the job at Macquarie University as a laboratory assistant for two reasons; I was working with two of my Christian friends, and I could save up to go to bible college.

I was keen to attend a bible college in New Zealand as the basic course only lasted four and a half months compared to being locked away in some boring theological college for three or four years. People in these establishments commenced with enthusiasm and a genuine desire to serve God, but after the period of being cloistered away, emerged totally out of touch with the real world. We often called them theological cemeteries instead of theological seminaries. No one was going to quench my spirit. It was important that I be trained quickly so I could get out and preach, as evil and unrighteousness was increasing in the world. The preaching I heard frequently focused on the urgency of the time, as Jesus was coming back soon and we had a responsibility to save as many people from hell as possible before He returned to earth. Even though the Second Coming of Christ had been predicted for nearly 2000 years, somehow it really seemed close.

I began dating a girl at Christian Faith Centre called Pam. We were so ‘spiritual’, and attended Christian meetings almost every night of the week, but the only real connection we had was our desire to serve God. Pam had already spent time working in the mission field in Papua New Guinea. Everyone in the church seemed pleased with this match. We were the perfect young Christian couple, always praying together, sharing Bible verses and making sure we were never in the vulnerable situation of sexual temptation. Good Christian couples don’t engage in sex before marriage. ‘Sex is like a fire’ we were told. ‘In the fireplace of marriage, it provides warmth and comfort but take it out of that situation and you have a wildfire.’ The problem was that, with Pam, I wasn’t even smouldering, not a spark. I’d hold her hand and give her a quick goodnight kiss on the lips but that’s as far as it went. This was very convenient for me, as I didn’t have to deal with my lack of sexual response to females and having Pam by my side also demonstrated that God had really healed me of homosexuality.

During 1970, I put every spare dollar away for my bible college fees. When I finally plucked up the courage to tell my parents, once again they were horrified. Dad made me promise that when I finished college I’d come back to Sydney and get a ‘real job’ as he called it. I said yes but secretly hoped to be launched into the mission field when I finished my course.

So at the tender age of nineteen I was planning to serve God for the rest of my life. Pam and I booked a passage on the Northern Star cruise ship to Auckland. I don’t know why we didn’t fly; I guess it was because I hadn’t travelled before and hopping on a plane was foreign to us. I’ll never forget the farewell, as we had a huge entourage to see us off— about thirty in all, of my family, Pam’s family and friends from church. Tears began to flow as ‘Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye’ filtered through the speaker system, most of us aware this could be goodbye for a long time, maybe forever. Obedience to God’s call would always be paramount.

The trip was terrible. After leaving Sydney Heads my stomach felt like it contained sour milk, but I was determined not to be sick as we believed all sickness was from the devil and should be resisted. Pam was encouraging me to have faith and believe that God could heal me. For days I lived with queasiness, burped with the consistency of a machine gun, and was always on the verge of vomiting. I felt such a failure running out of the dining room on the fifth day, gagging on the lumps of vomit forcefully making their way up my throat. Throwing up was a relief, but not as much as arriving in Auckland Harbour.

Driving onto the bible college campus I felt like bursting into ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’ as it was positioned in a beautiful rural setting, with a backdrop of a steep mountain spotted with fluffy white lambs. The college was only eighteen months old but already had successful graduates who’d become pastors and missionaries. The basic philosophy was that in order to serve God, you must firstly be ‘called’ and secondly receive short-term Bible training. After this, God would continue to teach while you served Him. ‘We give the training, God gives the exams’, was the motto. I liked the practical philosophy. The first week was exciting, meeting the students who’d come from Australia and all over New Zealand. Now I would be able to totally devote myself to Bible study and prayer, worldly things would no longer distract me and the final traces of my homosexuality could be dealt with.

The pattern that had developed in my life, of cruising along on a spiritual high for six months, then experiencing temptation and failure was beginning to manifest itself again. Masturbation was always the starting point of the downward spiral. Even though the Bible didn’t specifically condemn masturbation, it was understood that God disapproved. In the Book of Genesis a man called Onan allowed ‘his seed to fall on the ground’ and the ground opened up and swallowed him. The story is not actually about masturbation; rather that Onan was avoiding his responsibility for maintaining his brother’s descendants by having sex with his brother’s widow. God had said to Adam and Eve in Genesis, ‘Go forth and multiply’ and to have sex except for procreation was disobedience to His command. Semen belonged in one place—a vagina—and anything else was self-gratification and sin. To serve God I must be holy and how could I ever expect to serve God with this sin in my life? And also knowing my mind would insidiously creep back to thoughts of sex with men? Even though I knew it was wrong, I’d try to fantasise about having sex with a woman. Maybe this lesser of two evils might help me change so I’d experience temptation like any normal male.

Not that I fantasised a lot. In fact, I’d developed an incredible strength of mind in this area, knowing I couldn’t afford to play with any thoughts of sex with men. Even when I noticed an attractive guy, I immediately looked the other way and fought the thought by rebuking the devil, quoting scripture or singing a Christian song. When I masturbated, I did it as quickly as possible so that other fantasies wouldn’t take control, and if I managed to do this I’d be okay. Total freedom seemed close, so I kept a record of how many times I masturbated to ensure God was gaining control. Several times a week was totally unacceptable and even when I reduced the event to once a week I knew God was not pleased. It was like the first slippery step Satan used to take me back to my bad old ways.

The daily program at college was intense: we rose at 6am for a half-hour prayer meeting, then ate breakfast, and lectures went from 8am until 1pm. Then the afternoon was spent in private study and doing chores around the college. Monday night was missionary prayer meeting where we prayed for the world and ex-students, while other nights we were involved with the local churches, assisting in children’s afterschool Bible groups, prayer meetings and Bible studies.

Keeping my struggles secret, I thrived in this atmosphere and was a popular student at college. The ‘romance’ with Pam was suffering and she wasn’t getting the attention she’d previously enjoyed as I now had so many other young Christian people to share my time with. The tension between us grew until finally she went to the college principal for counselling. I was called to his office to discuss the situation, where we concluded that while at college we should both concentrate only on our studies. I was a good boy and gave her the Dear John spiel, ‘It’s best  we just be friends. I don’t believe God wants us to be together at this time. Maybe after college.’ The convenient thing about being a Christian was I could cloud my lack of commitment in spiritual terms.

The bible college principal lived on campus with his wife and children, had strong feminine traits and wore toupee. I’ve never understood why people make such obvious attempts to hide their baldness—their attempts only attract more attention. While attending bible college in the United States the principal and his wife had both discovered wigs, which were very popular amongst Americans in the fifties. In all the years I knew them I never saw their real hair, except for an occasional strand that rebelliously slipped out, like a weed in the crack of a cement path, seeking daylight.

It was obvious I was the principal’s favourite; he spent more time with me than with other students and took me on special trips when he preached in different parts of New Zealand. There were times when he did unusual things—like squeeze my knee under the table while we said grace or make comments about how attractive other men in the college were. He was always looking for a response from me, but I just thought he had a bizarre sense of humour. He appeared genuinely concerned about me because of my strong desire to serve God.

My speaking experience had been limited to children’s ministry and small Bible study groups, but I wanted to preach to crowds of people and be used by God in a greater way. Over the last two years, every time I heard someone preach on serving God I’d respond to the altar calls (the time at the conclusion of the service when people who feel they want to respond to God come forward for prayer) and plead with God to take my life and use me for His glory. Now I was getting close to having that desire fulfilled, or so I thought.

Within weeks of arriving at college I had my first opportunity to practise my preaching skills. Most of the students were petrified about the idea of speaking in public but I was champing at the bit. Every weekend we left the college in small groups to do ‘outstation work’, which involved travelling to smaller churches around New Zealand and spending the weekend taking youth meetings, Sunday school and the Sunday services. Many of these churches, being small, were unable to afford visiting speakers and so the congregations welcomed a different preacher to vary their diet. The majority of these congregations would never grow beyond a small handful of people because the local pastor lacked strong leadership and management skills as well as the ability to preach inspiring sermons. Lack of finance also meant most of the pastors had to work fulltime in some form of secular employment, never being able to move beyond their trade in order to devote all their energies to church growth.

As Pentecostal churches are fundamental and spiritually based, the source of our sermons was inspiration from God and the Bible. Once assigned for weekend preaching, we spent time in prayer asking God to give us a special message that would be particularly relevant to that congregation. During the week we developed the sermon by searching through our Bibles to find relevant verses and praying that God would bless the words we spoke. Some of the students were embarrassingly hopeless speakers, but others of us just needed the chance to practise on these poor, struggling congregations.

My first opportunity to preach was in a tiny church of about twenty people in Rotorua. I was convinced I’d received a message from God on the importance of unity in the congregation. I knew from my observation of various preachers that, when preaching, there were a number of indicators that demonstrated success. Was the congregation asleep or awake? Awake, good. Now look at the faces and see if they are bored or interested? The real measure of success was the ‘altar call’. If people responded by coming to the front of the church during the final song for prayer, I knew I’d successfully communicated what God wanted me to say, and returned to college elated that God had used me. Sometimes it worked and if it didn’t I reasoned it was because the congregation was unresponsive or hardened to the Spirit of God. Just one sweet, little old lady came to me at the end of that particular service in Rotorua, held my hand and said how much she enjoyed my sermon— then I found out she was totally deaf.

As college progressed I was having more difficulty with temptation, which left me feeling condemned and a failure, increasing my sense that I was unworthy to serve God. Living in an environment where everyone appeared so holy and righteous made me feel worse and it came to a point where my inability to suppress these thoughts made me depressed. It became increasingly difficult to attend the lectures or prayer meetings, so one day I quietly slipped away from college to try to get some answers from God. I wanted to spend the day alone, so climbed the mountain behind the college and sat staring at the view. After a while I noticed an unusual amount of activity back at the college, with students and staff scurrying all over the campus. Initially, it never occurred to me that they might be trying to find me. Finally, realising this flurry of activity was probably caused by my disappearance, I decided to come down and face the music. My welcome was like that of the prodigal son and I was immediately ushered into the principal’s office. Apparently the reason people became so anxious was that during the previous year a young male student had disappeared and was found drowned a few days later. Possible suicide was the coroner’s report, and I often wondered what his problem might have been.

The principal was in a frantic state, knowing the scandal of another possible suicide would not be good for the reputation of the college. Apologising for the trouble I had caused, I sat in his office, pouring my heart out but trying to disguise my problems in terms that wouldn’t indicate I was homosexual. It wasn’t working and the principal kept pressing for more details. Finally, I got the words out. ‘I have homosexual thoughts.’ It was better to say I had homosexual thoughts than say I was a homosexual, thus distancing myself from the reality of being an abomination to God. I detailed the reason for my conversion, the struggles I’d been through and the cycles that had occurred since becoming a Christian.

The principal caringly suggested that maybe I had demons in my life and that exorcism was the only answer to break the pattern. The reason I had not become totally free, he suggested, was that these demons needed to be cast out. It sounded logical to me because I’d tried everything to break the pattern and yet the desires only seemed to leave for a while, always returning stronger than ever. This must be the answer I was looking for; at last I was going to be free.

‘You’re not alone in the struggles you’re having,’ he said, as the expression on his face changed. I wondered if he could be talking about himself, but surely a man of God with such a well-known ministry would never experience temptation like I did.

Deliverance and casting out demons was a controversial doctrine in the Pentecostal churches in Australia because it was believed to be impossible for Christians to have demons. Once Christ has come in, how can demons continue to have possession? ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’, it said in 2 Corinthians 5:17. During the early weeks at college, the doctrine of exorcism had been taught and I was beginning to see things from a different perspective. I was hoping the principal would take me through the exorcism and save me the embarrassment of telling another man of God I was a homosexual. However, it was decided I should be taken to Auckland and have the top deliverance ministers in New Zealand pray for me. The next few days were torturous, as I walked around college believing demons were inside of me. I couldn’t understand why I had to wait so long. If I had demons, why didn’t they cast them out immediately? How could they leave me in this state?

I’d heard frightening stories about people screaming, contorting and frothing at the mouth when devils were cast out of them but whatever it took to get rid of these terrible thoughts, I wanted to do it. Word spread around the campus, ‘Anthony’s demon-possessed’, adding to the condemnation I was already feeling.

I travelled to Auckland the following weekend with Paul, one of the married students, so that a pastor of a large Pentecostal church could pray for me after the evening service. The pastor was like a Christian mystic who regularly spoke of his visions, personal encounters with angels and ability to see into the spiritual world. Apparently, during the services, there was a special powerful ‘anointing’ that made the exorcism easier.

Normally, I’d be excited to be at this church as it was famous for the miracles and the growth experienced during the ‘Jesus movement’, but I felt very uncomfortable during the service. Tension began to build in me when the service commenced. I feared the possibility of the demons inside me taking control and making me a public spectacle. When the preaching came to a close and the pastor asked people to come forward for prayer, it felt like the demons were rising up inside me wanting to come out. I stood sweating and shaking while I watched several people scream and convulse as the pastors yelled ‘Come out, you devil!’

The altar call seemed endless and when the service finally concluded forty-five minutes later, the pastor walked towards me and introduced himself. He looked at me sadly and seemed genuinely concerned. This poor young Christian man, possessed by a demon of homosexuality. I tried to smile and look appreciative that this great man of God was willing to help but it didn’t work; I burst into tears.

The pastor, his assistant and my friend Paul led me up the stairs to the hall above the main auditorium. Cold and empty, our footsteps amplified and echoed as we walked across the polished wooden floor. The only comfort I had at this point was that no one was going to see me manifesting demons. What was going to happen? How long was this going to take? Was it going to be painful? I was becoming even more anxious. A seat was placed in the middle of this huge hall and as I sat the others walked to different parts of the hall, picking up chairs for themselves and returning to surround me like Indians around a wagon train. I noticed one of the pastors had an old newspaper but I was unsure what it was for.

‘The first thing you need to do is confess all your sins,’ the pastor said. So I confessed everything I could think of beginning with the sin of homosexuality. ‘Now don’t pray,’ he continued, ‘it will stop the demons from coming out.’ They began praying and speaking in tongues while I sat passively, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. The assistant pastor, who was being apprenticed, began commanding the demons to manifest themselves and come to the surface. Still nothing. ‘Start breathing out, expel the demon, you have to want to get rid of these things.’ My breathing became heavier, and I felt something begin to happen, like a tingling sensation in my fingers and around my mouth. This must be the demon coming to the surface.

The pastors became more excited and began yelling and shouting, louder and louder. ‘Come out, come out, you unclean, foul spirit from the pit of hell! You have to obey us, we have the authority of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Name yourself!’ Apparently it was important to know the demon’s name. When Jesus had difficulty casting a particularly strong demon out of a man, he asked it to name itself. ‘Legion’, the demon said, ‘for we are many.’ Surely there was not a multitude of demons living in me? The pastor said he could count them as they left. The more they yelled the stronger I felt the sensations, until my hands, fingers and face became contorted and tight and I fell off the seat onto the floor. The pastors became more excited and commanded the spirits to leave me. This continued to build to a crescendo as I began to moan trying to expel the demon. I began to cough and at this sign the newspaper was produced and laid on the floor next to me. After thirty minutes or so, I finally coughed up some phlegm and spat it on the conveniently placed newspaper.

‘That’s it, come out you devil, you must obey the name of Jesus!’ the pastors screamed. For another twenty minutes I continued to cough and moan, encouraged by the delight of the pastors as they began to praise God for His power. But this was not the end; apparently I had many devils. The exorcism went on for almost two hours until I was absolutely exhausted. What a relief it was to hear them praying for God’s peace to fill me. I thought it was over.

‘How do you feel?’ the pastor asked when all the activity had died down. I felt a sense of relief but not totally free. ‘I think you need more prayer,’ he continued. So the next three Sunday nights I travelled to Auckland and endured a similar performance. Over the next three weeks, at the pastors’ prompting, I confessed everything I could think of—homosexuality, masturbation, spiritism, witchcraft, stealing a Violet Crumble bar at the local shop when I was ten years old—until I was unable to think of another thing. I even had to renounce my father’s and grandfather’s involvement in the Masons because the Bible says that ‘God visits the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generations’ and the Masonic Lodge was considered a satanic group. All kinds of demons were cast out—every sexual perversion imaginable, spiritism, witchcraft, necromancy, spirits of fear, deception and insanity—until finally it seemed they were all gone.

Although this leading pastor was considered to have great spiritual gifts, several years later he had to leave the church under a cloud of accusations of false teaching and having an affair with his secretary. He moved to Australia and began a new church.

I felt much better returning to bible college on the Monday morning after the final deliverance session. Everyone was glad to see me and commented that I looked different. Being free meant I could get on with my calling and serve God with a holy life. This new experience placed me even higher in the popularity stakes at college. No wonder the homosexual desires had kept coming back—it was those rotten demons. But now they were gone and I certainly wasn’t going to fall back into the old traps of the devil. The rest of college was a breeze and whenever temptation came my way, I just said, ‘Devil, I resist you in the name of Jesus, I won’t let you in.’

I never spoke publicly about my experience for fear of people’s reactions. Also, I still wasn’t sexually attracted to women so didn’t have the evidence I was totally healed.

After graduation, before returning home, I travelled south with the college registrar and a few students to spend a week with some friends in Wellington. We parted company at Hastings, as I was to travel further south. It was late at night and I booked into a local caravan park, planning to hitchhike to Wellington the next morning. For the past four and a half months, I had been constantly surrounded by Christians and as the others drove off, I felt alone, vulnerable and restless. I walked into the town to get something to eat, and passed the local cinema. At the time, attending the cinema was frowned upon in Pentecostal circles, as was dancing, wearing make-up and listening to ‘worldly music’, but I felt I was fairly safe considering the movie was G-rated. I bought my ticket and sat alone in the middle of the theatre. While the previews were showing, a man in his early thirties sat next to me and we nodded a casual hello to each other as he sat down to watch the movie. I felt a touch against my leg. I drew my leg away. He moved his leg over again to touch mine. The hot sexual feeling that had been extinguished over the last few months began to rise again, but I didn’t want it. My legs began to shake and it was difficult to concentrate on the movie as I battled. I’d been delivered, how could this be happening? The demon of homosexuality was gone and no longer had control over me. Don’t go back, Tony, you’ve got the power to beat this.

When the movie finished, I got up and shuffled slowly with the crowd out of the theatre. Part of me wanted to get away but another part wanted what was being offered. In the brightness of the foyer I paused, allowing my eyes to become accustomed to the light. I sensed the man was hot on my heels and looking around, I saw him standing just a few feet away, staring at me. When our eyes met my resistance fell—it was the point of no return I was so familiar with. I’d learnt through many experiences not to play with temptation—if a time factor was involved then I was destined to fall. I was too weak. We said hello and walked out onto the street. I was surprised at what came out of my mouth as we walked away from the theatre together.

‘Would you like to come back to my caravan for a coffee?’ I asked with a trembling voice. It had been nearly twelve months since I’d had sex with a man and as we walked to the caravan park, the battle continued in my mind, the thoughts of resisting slowly overtaken by thoughts of yielding. I couldn’t believe the lies I gave to his questions about who I was, why I was here and where I was going. The words I’d often heard, ‘the life of the homosexual is a life of deceit’, kept playing in my mind. Once inside the caravan I made a cup of coffee and was hoping that if I stalled, somehow, I might become strong enough to say no, just have a conversation, maybe even tell him that Jesus could set him free and he should become a Christian. That would be a wonderful victory. While I was making the coffee, he moved from the galley seat and started kissing the back of my neck. That was all I needed; I was gone. The sexual play was awkward, amateur and quick—all over, for me, in a matter of minutes. The many thoughts running through my mind ensured I couldn’t focus on pleasure. As usual, I wanted to get away from the person immediately; the sense of guilt and failure had settled in.

The man was obviously very dissatisfied and kept pressuring me to let him stay the night but I resisted, making up every excuse I could think of. I was getting worried about being alone with him in the caravan and wondered if I could resist him if he tried to attack me. What a fool I’d been to once again place myself in such a vulnerable situation. Finally, realising that I was totally disinterested, he left.

I had something else to contend with now—the thought that the demons that had been cast out of me would come back in again. Jesus said that if a person who had been delivered allowed the demons to come back they would bring many more with them, so that person’s state would be worse than before. I fell into a restless sleep, crying and pleading with God to forgive me. Could it be possible that I’d become demon-possessed again? I really didn’t know.

Copyright © 2007

Copyright © 2007 - 2012 text: Anthony Venn-Brown

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