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New York Hangover
Summer 1997

Flushing Out Demons in Brooklyn

By Dylan Foley

        The ad seemed pretty straight-forward -- "GET YOUR DEMONS OUT," with a convenient location on Fulton Street near the Brooklyn Academy of Music, so I decided to check it out.
        It was a warm night last summer. I was a bit late when I got to the storefront church, an evangelical establishment called the Universal Church of God. The place was long and narrow, with plush carpeting and rows of high-backed chairs facing a stage. It was a room that had no character and an antiseptic feel. The small, Friday night crowd was arrayed in at the base of the raised platform, where a skinny preacher boomed into a microphone.
        At first, the service seemed like standard Christian fare. The preacher, a man in his 20s named Pastor Angel Barbosa moved his flock through hymns like a drill sergeant -- "HE WHO FOLLOWS THE LORD...EVERYONE!" he would yell and the flock would follow suite. Though it was a small crowd, maybe 15 people, standing only 10 feet from the stage, Barbosa yelled into the microphone, his handsome face contorted as his voice bounced off the walls.
        "I was about to slip out the back, when the pastor admonished his people to "Say 'no' to Voodoo, say 'no' to witchcraft, say 'no' to the devil." Bingo, the exorcism was on the way.
       The crowd was all black and Hispanic. After they sang that old hymn with the classic line, "And God will wash my skin whiter than snow," the pastor came down from the stage.
        Barbosa gathered us into a circle and we gave each other the sign of peace. "Now we will address the demons," he said. We recited the Lord's Prayer as Barbosa went around the room, grabbing everyone by the crown of the head with one hand and screaming into the microphone in his other hand, "May the fires of the Lord enter you." He reached me and grabbed my head. For some reason, I picked that night to dress like a midwestern tourist, in bright plaid shorts and a T-shirt. He gave my head a couple of extra vigorous shakes. The fun started at this point. An older Hispanic woman with jowls started hissing and a petite black woman started doing some weird kind of shadow boxing, throwing out her fists and stamping her feet at the same time. Suddenly, a fat kid of indeterminate age screeched like he was on fire, with his arms flailing around. He broke into the circle and hit the ground hard.
       Then, a young woman who was dressed like a respectable government clerk, started screaming, fell backwards into a corner and knocked over a free-standing crucifix.
       The noise was overpowering, with people yelling their prayers and Barbosa screaming into the mike, directing the fires of God into us. I felt shocks down my back and anxiety that I'd be singled out for something, for I was just mouthing my prayers.
        The noise stopped abruptly. The pastor took a deep breath, then led us through some standard Christian prayers and hymns. The two members of his flock remained on the ground, the heavyset boy lying on his side and the young woman collapsed in the corner. Barbosa paid them no attention, and led us through the prayers, acting as though nothing had happened.
        "Now," he said, with a sly smile on his face, "we will deal with our friends who have manifested the signs of the Devil."
        Barbosa turned to the prone man and commanded that we direct the fires of heaven at him. The 16 or 18 or us stood around with our hands put together as if in prayer, pointing our hands and channeling the fires of heaven towards him. Straddling the young man with his scrawny frame, he pulled the man up to his knees by his head. "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you must leave this body," said Barbosa sternly. The possessed man wailed "no" a few times, but didn't put up much of a fight when Barbosa prayed over him. While the man was on his knees, Barbosa yelled "Out demons, you must leave this man!" He pulled the freshly exorcised fellow to his feet. The man stumbled like a punch-drunk boxer, but remained standing.
        Barbosa smiled again. "Now let us tend to our other friend," he said, with s strong lilt in his accent. Everyone turned to the corner where the motionless woman lay. "No let go of me, get off me," screamed the young woman, as he tried to untangle her from the crucifix.
        "I want out. I want to get out of here," moaned the woman.
       "What is that Satan?" Barbosa asked with a smirk. "What do you want Satan?"
        "I want out--out of here," the woman moaned.
        I started getting nervous. Maybe the woman was being held against her will. Should I interfere, should I call the cops? Is she really possessed by Satan?
        Barbosa got her up on knees by gently pulling here. "Leave me alone," she screamed.
        "Satan, you must leave this woman's body," he commanded. "Now all of you direct your fires and force out Satan!" We all pointed our clasped hands at the woman.
       Barbosa gently pulled back the woman's head, and showed us that her mouth was fozen in a snarl an her eyes had rolled back in her head, with only the whites showing. "Now for those of you who think she might be faking," he said, motioning to her grimace," Now don't you see the devil is in her?"
        "Leave this woman!" commanded Barbosa. "With the power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I cast you Satan from this woman's body." The woman was then cured. She must have been a regular, for she popped up and sang the last few hymns with gusto, her hands clapping.
        Barbosa had us all sit down in the rows of comfortable chairs. Next week, he said, there was to be a meeting of the congregations of the Universal Church at Madison Square Garden. "If you think this healing service is powerful, next week we will have 5,000 pastors," he said with a knowing smile that was closer to a smirk than anything else.
        After money was collected, being placed in the open Bible that was left on the stage, Barbosa sent us out into the night. I wondered if the fainting woman knocked over the crucifix every week.

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Copyright 1997 All Rights Reserved Dylan Foley
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