A miniature hand is cupping the side of my cheek softly as a large soft weight thuds onto my legs. I open my eyes to see Hannah’s cherub cheeks puffing out beneath her honey colored curls, it’s her hand on my face. Josiah in his hunter green dinosaur pajamas is crawling up the length of my body, bunching up the sheets and blankets as he goes, and lands on my chest with a snicker of joy. Golden ribbons of sunlight are streaming through the slits in the blinds on the window to my right. It’s daylight already?! I think to myself.
“We’re hungry,” Hannah whines softly.
I hear Hope’s voice before I see her leaning against the bedroom door, her raven hair knotty and disheveled hanging down to her waist, “We were going to ask Krystal, but she gets mad at us when we wake her up the morning.”
Josiah is still lying on top of me, pressing down on my lungs making it hard for me to breathe but he’s just too cute, I can’t ask him to get off.
I stay lying for a while, with six little eyes of anticipation on me. Lethargically wiping the crust from the corner of my puffy under-rested eyes I ask, “Eggs or Oatmeal?”
Josiah giggles loudly when I pluck him off my chest and sit him down while I’m struggling to pull myself out of the warm bed.
From the top bunk across the room, Shaina looks up in a daze, half consciously taking in the source of the noise before pulling her sheets up over her head and rolling over.
The whole house was up late the night before in a drawn out counseling session. One of the members of the Exodus House was showing signs of demonic possession. He had been caught watching porn late at night and the elders of the house discovered he had been smoking when he was supposed to be running errands for the group. It was reprehensible. Mom gathered all of the women of the house together earlier that afternoon to tell us he had been sneakily snatching up our underwear and wearing it himself, warning us to be cautious and vigilant. It wasn’t that he was a bad person, he was just under the influence of very strong demons due to past transgressions and we had to act fast to prevent them from spreading about in the house and infecting more individuals.
That evening as the sun fell and we directed the children upstairs, Hope began pouting. She had been expressing her feeling of exclusion from adult conversations for many months. At ten years old, she felt too old to play the games the younger children liked but she was too young to participate in some of the discussions the group had. Mom and Bill whispered quietly to one another before Mom said, “it’s okay, you can stay. Josiah, that means you need to listen to Hannah upstairs. You guys play nice.” She patted him on the butt before they took off through the kitchen toward the stairs.
Once we heard the bedroom door fall into its frame upstairs, Bill began pacing back and forth, uttering the language of the Holy Ghost. He always seemed to stand even taller than he was, commanding authority with his broad stature. He summoned the guilty one of the group to move towards the center of the room. Inherently, we all circled around him, hands outstretched towards him. Hope stayed close, mimicking our movements. Many versions of tongues were introduced to the room one by one, a ripple effect.
“Ooooooo, Humanuh, Humanah Adonjanawa”
“Adabu, Adabu, Adabu”
Some in the group had been gifted with more words of the spirit than others. Tongues were rolling and our mouths took the form of words we of which we knew not the meaning. The recipient of our prayers began twitching. His arms were outstretched because he wanted to be relieved of his strongholds as much as we needed him to be. He was open to the release and healing; he had to be or he could not stay. Bill lead the group in the prayers and commands, “In the name of Jesus, COME OUT! Satan, you and your demons have no place here. This is a house of God, a temple of the Lord.” He was unwaveringly certain. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you, with the power of God that lives in me, COME OUT OF HIM!” He pointed at the possessed, “you, the enemy, YOU MUST OBEY. There is power in the name,” He began chanting then and we all joined in, “JE-SUS JE-SUS JE-SUS!” The Bible states that demons tremble at the name. The guilty one began convulsing violently, collapsing to the floor. From the ground, he barked hateful unrecognizable words, his eyes flickering black. One moment, he was our fellow beloved group member, the next he had lost control and became vile and angry, attacking each of us. Hope helped me hold down one of his legs while other members penned down the rest of his limbs. Bill hit the floor with his fist beside him and wailed, “COME OOOUUUTT COME OUUUUTTT!” Over and over again while we continued uttering unknown words. A wave of calm came over him and we all paused to catch our breath.
At some point during the frenzied praying, Hope had drifted away from the group. She was sitting on the couch with a sketch pad and pencil. When asked what she was doing, she turned the picture around. It was drawing of a hideous demonic monster, its arm stretched up and out. She was such a natural talented artist. The muscles in this being’s arms were defined in such a way that you knew he was pushing out with his arms. “He’s caught in his throat. We need to be louder,” she said. God had given Hope a gift of visions. When she was as young as 2 years old, I remember her dragging me about from room to room, across streets, trying to show me what she was seeing. As she got older, this developed into her depicting her visions with art.
Bill pulled our blameworthy brother to his feet before motioning Hope to come over and lay her hands on his chest. She obeyed and everyone prayed loudly, thunderously demanding the devil to surrender. For nearly an hour we were relentless. Mom sang under her breath in The Spirit, swaying back and forth in that motherly way, keeping a watchful eye on my little sister. The evil inside him fought back perilously, he was forceful with strength as he wildly swung his limbs and body around, occasionally lunging at us. There were periods of time when he was completely exasperated, without enough energy to move, and we’d loosen our grip just before the writhing would start again. Decisively, Bill made one last statement, “Your strength is no match for that of my God’s,” and finally, his body went limp. He was sobbing uncontrollably, snot dripping from his nostrils to the pink carpet beneath his back. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” he managed to ask forgiveness between sobs.
Every one of us let go and backed away, dropping our guards and allowing our physiques to unclench for the first time in an hour. We let him rest there for a few minutes before Bill reached out his hand to help him up. “Welcome back, brother,” he said warmly and pulled him in for a long embrace. Hope moved to the couch and sat beside Mom, her brown eyes wide. She grabbed ahold of Mom’s hand for comfort and leaned her head against her soft shoulder.
We gave our brother-in-God a few moments to rest before the counseling session began. In appearance, it was incurious, just a group of people sitting on the various random mismatched pieces of furniture that made up the living area, chatting together. It was, in fact, a very peculiar and grim ritual performed in The House. Mom and Bill asked most of the questions and guided the conversation, scrutinizing every pause in response, every out of place breath, every movement of the eyes. The rest of us rarely participated unless we felt a nagging at our hearts (the spirit of God), to say something, even then, we looked at Mom and waited for a nod of approval before speaking. It was hours and hours of accusations, harsh questioning, crying, confessions, and begging. Even after conceding and pleading with God and the group for forgiveness, the interrogation continued. This was common during our counseling sessions. No leaf could be left unturned. By the end of it, there’d be no secrets, not a single private thought was permitted. The devil preys on our thoughts so we had to share all of them with our leaders so they could help us stay pure and maintain the impenetrable spiritual wall of protection around the house.
It was late into the night, more like early morning before our leaders deemed it resolved. Hope had long since fallen asleep on Mom’s lap. The rest of the kids were passed out upstairs. We all took to our respective beds with an eagerness to end the day and start fresh again tomorrow, knowing the house was once again safe and clean.
As I sleepily walk hand in hand with Hannah towards the stairs to make them breakfast, I check Hope’s face… she is changed. There is a sense of maturity, she participated just like the adults. But there is something more, understanding… distrust. For a split second a pang of guilt punctures my gut, I contributed to that, simply by being there, by participating. With a practiced urgency, I hasten the feeling away.