Why I Don't "Do" Deliverance Ministry Anymore (Part 1)

The heartbreaking truth about re-traumatization in ministry

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I was first exposed to the realities of demon possession and spiritual warfare as a young teenager. My dad was a well-respected Southern Baptist minister who was gifted at expounding God’s Word and who had a huge heart to help hurting people. However, he had no idea the focal point of his career would end up being deliverance ministry . . . something he would eventually define as his life calling. It all started when a woman (who was part of a satanic coven) called my dad at midnight, saying someone had given her his phone number. She asked, "Is it true that since Satan is real, that God is real too?" This encounter began a long season of late night phone calls, emergent rushes out the door, threats on our family’s safety, and all night prayer vigils. And yet, my parents still welcomed this woman into our lives. She spent many nights sleeping in our guest room, even over Christmas. I watched my parents evolve as they tried to help this woman out of profound demonic bondage, all the while struggling to keep up with an unfamiliar learning curve. But their faith drove them forward, fueled by love for God and love for people . . . and the belief that freedom was worth fighting for.

One time, when I was 13, Daddy woke me to sit by the phone and give instructions should this woman call. The phone rang and my heart about beat out of my chest. I gave the message - she cursed and hung up. Sometimes I would overhear my dad ministering to people and I would later ask him questions - I was both curious and eager to understand. He would explain things to me, teaching me as he was learning himself.

By the time I was married and well into adulthood, I felt I had a similar calling to help others find freedom. I even asked God to use me to do something others were unwilling to do for Him. I surrendered my life fully to His purpose . . . and then waited for Him to reveal His plans. 

Knowing my family’s background in deliverance ministry, the pastor at my church approached me one day and said, “Amy, I simply cannot ignore spiritual warfare.” I responded by heading up a deliverance team that generated quite a bit of interest in our Southern Baptist church. At one point, I had 14 committed people serving alongside me. I was passionate about helping people who were hurting, and since few others knew how to approach this sort of ministry, I deemed this my true calling and served with fierce commitment. I ministered regularly to the tormented and oppressed in a space provided by my home church that we knew as “the green room.” I spent YEARS rebuking and casting out demons, YEARS praying for hurting and vulnerable people who were scared and hesitant to come . . . but who bravely showed up because they had exhausted all other options for help. In their eyes, the medical, psychiatric, and religious community had failed them thus far, so desperation often drove them to me – I was their last resort. With their broken trust and hopeful hearts, people came in search of “relief.”

All the while, this whole process was at my disposal (because naturally they were looking to me as the authority on how to best help them). 

But when they came to me, I always felt like these people had no idea what they were actually signing up for. For example, they wondered (and asked) what was in my “deliverance bag,” a black and white suitcase I took with me to every session. In it I had olive oil, a bottle of consecrated “Holy water,” a prayer shawl, several crosses, several Bibles, and many spiritual warfare reference books (like “Prayers that Rout Demons & Break Curses” by John Eckhardt, and Walter Martin’s “The Kingdom of the Occult.”) And of course I had my copy of “Dictionaries of Deities and Demons in the Bible,” a gift from my Daddy on Christmas of 2010, inscribed with the message:

“To Amy, My Good Shepherdess, with love and admiration, Daddy, 3 John 4.”

People always had legitimate reasons for ending up in the green room with me, narratives ranging from conceivable to the downright unimaginable . . . but nonetheless, every story laced with deep pain. Some people had survived unthinkable atrocities, and hearing their stories provoked huge paradigm shifts in my understanding. They shared details about hidden worlds at play within this world, abuse hiding in plain view, power struggles, self-indulgence, and the clashing of the spiritual realms. Whether they realized it or not, their experiences had profoundly affected every part of them, because body, heart, soul, mind, and spirit are fully intertwined.

Multiple meetings typically took place prior to an actual deliverance session: a consult, followed by counsel, followed by preparatory details . . . all leading up to the actual sequence of deliverance sessions. Our time together would start with prayer and discussion, giving the recipient a chance to ask questions, present concerns, etc. Once prayer ensued, the team would take turns reading Scripture and sharing whatever insight they felt was perceived from the Lord. But no matter what, we were sure to keep our eyes open the whole time so we could observe the individual’s reactions. We noted any twitches, facial contortions, vocal responses, stiffening or jerking of the body, reports of changing sensations, etc. We waited to observe these signs, evidence we considered to be demonic responses to anointed intervention.

Every session was different, and the individual experiences varied, but one thing was certain; we needed Jesus to show up.

In 2010 I traveled to Tanzania for the first time. We established relationships with people there and they asked us to return. In contrast to the twenty-two on our first trip, six of us journeyed back in 2011. The mission? To train 350 pastors and leaders from all over Tanzania in deliverance ministry, many traveling for hours on overcrowded buses to get there. The local Youth With A Mission (YWAM) served as the venue, where the men would sleep on the concrete floor. Attendees migrated in during the two days preceding the conference in order to pray, worship, and fast in preparation. The locals petitioned the government to feed the people attending, and as a result, a water buffalo was slaughtered. Women set up outside the facility to cook over open fires, and the five-day conference ensued. On the final day of the conference, we arranged a practicum where the attendees could apply what they had learned, ministering themselves to others with our supervision. It appeared to be a raging success. The leaders left informed and inspired to face their culture, one that often included frequent demonic manifestations, generational transference of oppressive belief systems, and even witchcraft as a way of life.  

Little did I know, I was about to embark on the biggest paradigm shift of understanding in my life. Fast-forward two years and my “deliverance model” world had turned completely upside down. Now I, not my parents, was the one scrambling to keep up with the learning curve of how to truly help survivors of satanic ritual abuse.

I have witnessed a lot of things in my years of deliverance ministry. A lot. Superhuman strength, voice changes and animal-like noises, speaking of languages unknown to the person (spiritual languages and actual foreign languages), thrashing of the body and self-harm, throwing of holy objects (items in my deliverance bag), verbal threats and spitting in my face, grabbing of my throat and hair, spontaneous bleeding from orifices, gagging and vomiting, pervasive profanity, mysterious marks on the body, clairvoyance, spell-casting, sensory perceptions of the spiritual realm, and . . . dissociative states.

Dissociation is a mental process of subconsciously disengaging from the here and now. It can often be a coping mechanism for those who have endured severe trauma or abuse, a way of avoiding negative memories or feelings related to those events. A severe and more chronic form of dissociation is seen in what is referred to as “Dissociative Identity Disorder.”

The bottom line - the deliverance sessions were triggering dissociative shifts in ministry recipients because it felt too similar to the terror of their initial trauma (through ritual abuse).

Deep within me the question began to echo, “If Jesus says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light,’ (Matthew 11:30) then this approach to deliverance ministry is surely NOT IT.” There has to be another way to help these hurting people find freedom without re-traumatizing them in the process.

I agonized about this, praying for answers, and decided to temporarily halt all ministry sessions. I spoke with each person who had come to me for help, referred them elsewhere if they felt the need for immediate assistance, and began making phone calls around the country. I set out on a mission to grasp why deliverance ministry recipients were responding with not only the “demonic-type-presentations” we expected, but also with behavior that looked like regression or trauma-related reactions.

I found myself in heart wrenching and disappointing conversations with similar ministries who felt these people could not be helped. However, I also had some encouraging, though jaw dropping, conversations with others who carried insight and experience in this arena. I finally stumbled upon help with what would be the most pivotal and profound paradigm shift of my life. Those who had backgrounds in ritual abuse and other horrific trauma were in desperate need of help, but I concluded deliverance ministry was NOT the way to do that. I quickly came to believe that it was, in fact, re-traumatizing them instead.

So began my journey, now almost a decade long, in which I immersed myself in traumatic studies . . . all the while seeking clarification of what Christian ministry should look like to this community of people. I realized that I needed more than kindness, good intentions, and spiritual warfare experience to help these people find freedom. Over time, I discovered that understanding trauma, growing in truth-based belief sets, and extending compassion through genuine relationship was the key to helping these individuals. I could in fact combine my spiritual understanding of His Truth to help His people, but the approach would be very different than before. This new process would not be quick and easy, but it would be peaceful . . . a way to offer safety and love through relationship that does not hurt, maybe for the first time in that person’s life.

I later had two more opportunities to return to Tanzania. I was anxious to discover whether this “new way” of deliverance was transferrable to other cultures. So I took my newfound knowledge and applied it in personal counseling/ministry sessions in Tanzania. Sessions were booked at 45 - 60 minutes each, which is not a lot of time to address someone’s personal trauma, but I was hopeful there could be lasting impact if we paired our ministry with the training of local groups that could follow-up.  The response was overwhelming, but we fit in as many as we could.

One woman arrived for ministry, dressed in her beautiful native attire and hair wrapped with colorful fabric to match her dress. I felt the numbness of her spirit as her eyes, distant and void of expression, locked with mine. Through the translator, she began to tell me that she was unable to bear children for many years (sadly considered a curse and source of shame in her country.)  Finally she went to the door of her little home, raised her fist to God, and yelled, “Give me children! Even if they are thieves!” With no inflection in her voice whatsoever, she began to tell me of the four children she later conceived: one was in prison, one currently a criminal, another deceased, and her only daughter . . . prostituting on the streets. 

My heart broke for her as I recognized how the enemy had exploited her pain and misdirected plea. As I started to explain how these spiritual declarations (or word vows) sometimes work, her body began to thrash, and a typical “demonic manifestation” ensued. But instead of just trying to cast out the demons in Jesus’ name, I stayed in touch with her humanity. This was no longer about me just delivering someone through prayer, because that alone could end in re-demonization (Matthew 12:43-45). Instead, I walked her through the importance of engaging her will. I asked the Lord to disconnect anything that was not of Him from every cell in her body, so that she could think and make choices for herself.  I held her hands and gently helped her navigate through the experience by helping her with understanding.  As she better understood, she was able to remain present and speak with me through the process. She made her own decisions about what she wanted and did not want, now based on repentance and understanding of truth, instead of deception-based beliefs. It was not long before she collapsed on the floor praising God for her freedom. This woman left the room with a light in her eyes and a newfound sense of hope. The others in the room looked at me, somewhat confused, because she walked out free . . . but without any yelling of Scripture or demonic showcasing. 

I had my answer.  What God had been showing me back home was absolutely transferrable to other countries. 

I returned to Tanzania again in 2015.  This time, to train a church filled with over 100 pastors and leaders on how to minister to those who are oppressed without the re-traumatization of a traditional deliverance experience. This conference included two days of teaching on trauma and spirituality, and a third day ministering to two different individuals in front of the group (with their permission of course).  One individual came from a background of witchcraft, and the other had a clear trauma history (she had been kidnapped, taken to another city, locked up, and brutally raped for over a week). At the end of each public ministry session, both individuals were able to share about the internal experience they had which helped lead them to progressive understanding, and ultimately more freedom. They were then connected to local community groups for further follow-up. At the end of this conference the head pastor stood and spoke to the group in Swahili, “We are so honored to know of this way to help people be delivered peacefully. I encourage all pastors to begin serving with this model and then we will come together and talk and continue learning together.”  

And so . . . I don’t “do” deliverance ministry anymore, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. I realize there are people who have been helped in some ways through this approach; our compassion-based efforts, even when imperfect, can still make a difference. But what I have learned through the suffering of others has caused me to reframe so much of what I do. Now it is more about walking alongside people through a progressive journey out of deception-based thinking and trauma-related beliefs, and into their true identity. The process is less about rebuking and casting out evil spirits, and more about helping the individual recognize how to engage their will and align themselves with truth . . . because they are already empowered to take authority over everything that challenges their freedom (Colossians 2:15, Luke 10:19). This whole process does not need to be traumatic and tiresome for the recipient or the minister. We need only step into the truth of who God really is, and who we really are in Him.

In PART 2 of this article I will elaborate on why a transition out of deliverance ministry and into trauma-informed ministry was necessary.  It will include some general concepts and application points for ways to offer peaceful, loving assistance when helping those who have been hurt so deeply.

Hesed Place is a nonprofit organization focused on providing progressive, personal, and growth-related resources to survivors of severe complex trauma. We strive to help these individuals maximize their potential for freedom, growth, and independence in life and within community. Through training community professionals, we offer collaborative trauma-informed, transdisciplinary care to those who have been severely abused . . . aimed ultimately at creating a “trauma-informed-town-within-a-town.” Hesed Place’s tagline is “The Whole Journey," which bears a double meaning: providing what's best to serve the needs of the whole person, and also a commitment to come along side them through every stage . . . the whole journey.  You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram, or check our our website us at hesedplace.com to learn more!

Further Reading:

Article explaining the meaning of HESED love - Hesed: Love in the Long Term

Articles on spiritual abuse -

Spiritual Abuse Preview

Suspicion and Loyalty in Spiritual Abuse 

The Danger in Fake Positivity and Spiritual Bypassing 

Articles on complex trauma -

8 Surprising Facts About Trauma You May Not Know

12 Life-Impacting Symptoms Complex PTSD Survivors Endure

Trauma and Abuse

Amy Bradley

I. Love. People. I am passionate about walking healing journeys with those who have been severely abused, and I am deeply committed to helping provide what they need in order to do this successfully. As a result, I founded the non-profit Hesed Place, on organization focused on growing and developing what is truly needed to make such healing a reality. I am also an occupational therapist and business owner in the equestrian industry. I find great joy in the love of my family, friends, beloved horse and dog, and the beach. My faith brings me the greatest peace, as I continue to pursue my authentic self and who I will be in the days to come.

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