The devil inside
The people who attend this church swear they see miracles. Who's to argue?
Published: May 2, 2012
Around and around they go, walking in a circle, speaking in tongues, clenching toy swords and holding crimson flags aloft, as the music blares, absolutely blares, from the speakers on the altar.
There is no other church service in town like this one tonight. No Bible verses have been read, no prayers were led by the preacher at the pulpit, no choir is here to sing any hymns. People don't come here to listen to sermons. They come to be touched by the Holy Spirit, to be delivered, to witness miracles.
A priest from Nigeria is in town to see this. So is a man from France. And a husband and wife who flew in from Macedonia. Word has traveled far about what happens here.
This is the weekly service at Triumph Prophetic Worship Glory and Deliverance Center, a storefront church on West McNichols Road near the Southfield Freeway (18630 W. McNichols, 313-213-7544). It starts at 7 o'clock every Thursday night and often runs halfway until dawn.
The crowd is a blend of old and young and in between, black and white and shades of brown, people with homes and people with nowhere to go. They began the service by praying and walking in a loop, until one by one they start uttering strange syllables that believers say is the voice of the spirit speaking through them.
As if it weren't already loud enough in the church, a woman is on stage, shouting into a microphone in a full-throated voice. She's middle-aged and well-dressed and looks like she could be going to Sunday services at some staid old church in the city. Her words say otherwise.
"You will not go another night without the Holy Ghost!" Minister Gloria Hawkins hollers to the crowd as contemporary Christian ballads play at concert-loud volume behind her. "This is your night! Believe God is here! Believe God is here now! Let the Holy Ghost begin to leap inside your belly in the name of Jesus!" Then she too begins speaking in tongues.
"Okola basa," she yells, "Oboch-a-ta. Lobo see kay, la-ba fee-ah." The syllables tumble out one right after the other, as if she's fluent in the language of God.
Some in the audience spin off from the circular march and sit alone in their seats, praying intensely, with heads bowed. Others are crying their eyes out, standing along the wall, sobbing with their whole bodies, as others lay their hands on them, exhorting them to give in, to let the self melt away and allow the voice of the spirit to break through in the same unreal language being shouted by the woman on the stage. Everything is now a swirl of loud noise and quick movement and sheer intensity, and it feels like something's about to give, the room's about to burst, and everyone's just waiting to finally exhale or collapse in surrender.
And they haven't even gotten to the part where they cast out the demons yet.
Deliverance is the act of freeing someone from demonic possession. "The Catholics call it exorcism, we call it deliverance," says Apostle Daryl Davis, the 56-year-old head of this church. "That's the only difference." But while exorcism is an obscure Catholic ritual, deliverance is the very core of his church's services.
Deliverance churches developed on the charismatic end of the Christian spectrum in the 1960s, and are loosely similar to Pentecostal and Apostolic denominations, where, instead of praying to a distant deity known only through faith, there's a conviction that we can directly participate in the spiritual world, that a true believer can receive gifts from the Holy Ghost, be touched by God, and have real contact with the unseen. It's a belief in the daily reality of the supernatural.
Apart from a few nationally known evangelists, like minister Bob Larson of Arizona, whom many deliverance practitioners look to as an example, the deliverance movement has remained confined mostly to small churches in distressed areas, where they attract the poor, the homeless and the addicted, people whose troubles are so burdensome they feel their only hope lies in what amounts to magical intervention.
Most of the churches follow a similar method. The people seeking help are interviewed to learn their problems. Prayers are said for them. Then the minister directly addresses the demons they think might be within the victims. This usually causes violent retching, and buckets lined with plastic bags are supplied in case they vomit. Sometimes, believers say, the demon speaks back, just like in the movies, often in a hair-raising voice that rattles the unprepared.
"I'll be honest with you," says Hawkins, 57, talking about one of the first deliverances she held. "The young lady sat in the church, and her voice, it was like a lion's growl. I said, 'What's wrong with you?' and she said, 'I'm trying to get my voice,' and by the time she looked at me, I was gone." Hawkins ran from the room, which her fellow pastors found hysterical. "They laughed at me. Oh, they laughed at me. But I'm a little better at it now."
Like many here, Hawkins came here with her own demons to exorcise. She'd been doing drugs since she was 13; by 29 she'd spent years on heroin. A woman at her beauty shop told her about this unusual church where wonders take place, and she paid a visit. "I got baptized on a Wednesday and spoke in tongues on a Sunday," she says. Clean since, she now has her own Apostolic ministry in a trailer park in Ypsilanti.
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