Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Jun 16 2013

Size is the thing most people notice about Diana Berrios.  She’s so tiny!  The first time I saw her, she seemed the height
of a child.  But it wasn’t her size that caught me by surprise – it was her strength.  Diana demonstrated a power beyond
her human ability; in this case, it wasn’t the power of the Holy Spirit.  But that’s getting ahead of the story.

The only reason Diana was in our church the night she first came was because someone cared about her when she was
the hardest to love.  As I mentioned in the preceding chapter, the Spirit moves when we’re willing to reach out no matter
how messy or impossible the situation seems.  Someone had a God-given burden for this little fireball of a lady.  And the
Lord honored that faith and made Diana a remarkable trophy of God’s grace.


I tell people that I am four foot eleven, but that’s a little white lie.  I’m actually four foot ten.  I’ve always been small, but so
was my mother; maybe that’s why it was so easy for my dad to beat her.  My dad was an alcoholic, and when he got
drunk, he would hit my mom.  Sometimes he would grab her by the hair and throw her against the wall; times he would
take a pistol and hold it to her head.  We never knew if it was loaded.  It didn’t matter; the fear was the same.  I grew up
in Spanish Harlem the third of five children.  I had three sisters and a brother, and none of us could predict what would
send my father into a rage.

Cops were always at our house.  Sometimes my mom would try to get away.  We would run to my aunt’s house or my
uncle’s house and stay there a few days hoping he would cool down.  But we always went back, and he’d continue to
beat her, often really badly.  It was hard to watch, and it went on for years – the whole time I was growing up.  My dad
would also beat my brother and sisters.  But he never touched me.  I don’t know why.  Though I was never hurt
physically, the emotional damage was enormous.  Sometimes I thought it would have been easier to be the one hit than
to watch the people I loved get hurt.  

My sisters grew up and got married just so they could get out of the house.  By the time I was thirteen, I was angry and
rebellious.  But the only place I could go was to the streets.  I started hanging with some really tough girls, girls that I
could relate to.  They all had the same kinds of things going on in their homes – somebody was drinking or abusive – or
they came from a broken home.  We could relate because we were all angry and wanting to get even with the world.  So
we formed our own little clique, and that became my family.

That’s what I wanted – to hang out with the toughest girls.  We fought, cursed, and intimidated people.  Even teachers
were afraid of us.  But we got a lot of respect.  After we got together, more people joined.  We fought anyone and
everyone.  Eventually one of the older girls wanted to form a gang, so she named us Satan’s Spades.

Soon our reputation was so well known that we actually recruited guys from the high school to join us.  That was in the
mid-seventies – guys usually didn’t give girls that much respect – but we were so tough that even the older boys wanted
to be a part of our gang.  Then those guys started recruiting other guys, and we became so big we had to divide
ourselves into divisions.  We had three divisions, and eventually we took over a playground on 118th Street.  That
became our territory, and we would defend it to the death.

When other gangs tried to come into our territory, we would fight them.  So I fought every day.  I learned to hide blades
in my rolled hair, and I greased my face so that when the other girls tried to scratch me, they couldn’t get traction.  
Although I was small, I could fight.

But I was also out of control.  Mom was so worried that she had teachers, counselors, and a couple of psychiatrists talk
to me, but it didn’t change anything.  At school I was always in trouble.  I was moved from school to school before I
eventually got kicked out altogether.

That was fine with me.  I stayed in the park to fight.  And I did it all – smoked pot, popped pills, and sniffed glue.  I was
always wasted, and I didn’t care how much money I needed to spend to get that way.  If you put it in a bag, I would sniff
it.  That was who I had become.  I’d often come home high, with a black eye, and argue with mom.  By then my father had
moved out, but the damage was done.  Mom would see evidence of the violence I was involved in, and she wouldn’t
know what to do.

“You’re just like your dad!” she’d tell me in Spanish.  “
Hija del diablo!  You’re the daughter of the devil.”

We were both angry at each other.  I blamed her for not standing up for her children and, most of all, for herself.  She
blamed me for getting messed up in the streets and turning violent like my dad.

But Mom was a brave woman.  Though she was short like me, she wasn’t afraid to come looking for me if she heard
there was trouble.  She was the only mother who dared to knock on our clubhouse door, and even during a shootout she’
d come looking for me if she thought I was in trouble.  She wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse, but that didn’t stop her.  
Though there were bullets flying and cops all over the place, she would still look for me, and if she found me, she’d try to
drag me home.

I would grab her and say, “You got to get out of here.  You got to go home.  You can’t be here!”

But she wasn’t scared.  “What bullet would want to hurt me?” she asked.  She was willing to do whatever it took to get me
off the streets.

One day she went to family court and got a warrant for my arrest.  I was hanging out at a friend’s house, and my mother
figured out where I would be.  She called the cops, gave them the warrant, and had me arrested.  As they put me in the
car, I cursed and yelled at her because I was so angry.  “How could you do this to me?”  I screamed.  “You’re my
mother!”  Even with all my gang activity, I had never been arrested, never been busted for anything.  Now my own mom
was the one who had called the cops!  They sent me to a juvenile detention home in the Bronx, where I stayed for six
months.  When I got out, I went right back to the streets.

My mother sought help wherever she could.  Her best friend was into Santeria, which is a satanic Latino religion involving
voodoo, séances, mediums, and fortune-telling.  Her friend had known me since I was a little girl.  She told my mom to
buy certain oils and plants, and then to give me a spiritual bath.  The friend promised my mother that it would change my
life.  My mother was desperate, so she bought candles and statues of saints; some of them were really big.  She made
an altar in her room and put the oils and candles on the altar-along with the statues.  At the time, I didn’t think much
about it because my mother was supposed to be Catholic; and many Catholics kept statues around the house.

But then she wanted to give me baths.  In the beginning, I fought her.  But she would cry, so eventually I just let her do
it.  I would come in at three or four in the morning, high from having been out all night, and in the morning, she’d insist on
my getting into the tub.  She would anoint my hair and my forehead with oil, dab plants onto my body, and repeat the
prayers that her friend gave her.  Sometimes the prayers were to Santa Barbara or San Lazaro – always to saints I had
never heard of.  The prayers were in Spanish because my mother didn’t speak English.  Next she would take a paper
with my name on it, slip it under the statues, light candles around it while saying more prayers.

Soon I was getting baths every day.  During that time, I was mostly high out of my mind, and I didn’t care about the baths
as long as she was off my case.  That went on for years.  Even when I was out on the street, she was doing weird things
at home.  People would come over to our house, and she and her friend would have séance parties.  I don’t know what
they did at the parties, because I was never involved.  But my mother only got in deeper.  She began offering fruits in my
name as a sacrifice.  I would come home at three in the morning, and apples, oranges, and bananas would be all around
the statues.  If an orange looked good, I would just eat it.  But I started to wonder if my mom was flipping out.

As I got older, I was high more often than I wasn’t.  I still hung out with the gang.  Things hadn’t changed for me, but they
had for my mother.  She had another friend who was a born-again Christian, and the Christian friend witnessed to my
mother.  My mom started going to a Spanish Pentecostal church where she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior.  She
started praying for me every night.  She would tell me about church and what she was learning, but I didn’t want to know
anything about this Jesus she kept talking about.

Over the next few months, she threw away all of the statues.  One day I came in and saw her hammering a statues into
small pieces and saying, “In the name of Jesus.”  Another day her church came over and anointed our house.  
This time
my mom was really flipping out

She would try to get me to go to church with her, but I usually refused.  It was like something inside of me, something
dark and spiritual, wouldn’t let me go.  My mother kept witnessing to me, and a few times I did go to church with her, but
whenever there was an invitation to accept Christ as my Savior, I would leave.  I couldn’t connect with this Jesus.

In the meantime, my life got worse.  Much worse.  I was angry a lot.  Eventually the anger took over.  I no longer wanted
to just fight in the gang.  I wanted to hurt people.  I wanted to see blood.  I wanted to kill.  Eventually I wanted to kill
everybody.  It was just a matter of time it seemed before I was going to explode in a murderous rage.

I felt as if something had taken control of me, as if I wasn’t me anymore.  Sometimes I would get into violent fits where I
tried to break everything in our house.  While I never touched my mother, I picked up lamps and smashed them on the
floor and tore things off of the walls.  I shattered things, threw things, and broke things with my bare hands.  I blamed my
uncontrollable rage on the drugs and the gangs, but it was more like some kind of power, a darkness, had surrounded
me.  I didn’t know what it was or what it was doing to me.

Because of my gang connections, most people knew me in the schools, in the projects, and in the Bronx.  So when my
mother heard about a girl my age named Annie who had gotten saved, she figured Annie might know me.  And so Mom
called Annie, begging her for help.  Annie had done drugs before she found Jesus, so she was familiar with me and my
lifestyle.  She heard my mom’s desperation, and she started calling, and we’d talk.

Annie would witness to me, telling me about Jesus and inviting me to come to her church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle.

“No, I’m not going to your church,” I told Annie.

But she was persistent.  “Your mom’s calling me every day,” she said.  “Every day!  And she’s crying, saying she doesn’t
know what to do with you.  Let my church pray for you.  Let my pastor speak to you.”

I would promise to go with her, but when the time came, I would disappear and she wouldn’t be able to find me.  That
went on for months.  But despite my lies, Annie was a good friend to me, and I started telling her about the things that
were happening inside of me.

One day I called her up when I was high and said, “Annie, I’m feeling like something is coming into me.”

“What do you mean coming into you?”

“Like something evil is inside of me. I’m freaking out.  It’s the drug I think.”

“Come to church with me this Tuesday.”

“Yeah, I’ll go with you.”

But again, when Tuesday came, I hit the streets and got high instead.  Something was trying to overpower me that
afternoon, so I took as many drugs as I could get my hands on.  Some I didn’t even know the names of – drugs I’d never
even seen in all my years of getting high.  Then, that evening, as I was crossing the street, a car pulled up and Annie
jumped out.

“You’re coming to church with me!” she said.

We started to have a battle right there on the street.

“I’m not coming to church with you!”  I told her as she dragged me toward the car.  “I’m not going!”  I tried to fight her, but
I was so blasted, I couldn’t stop her.

“Come on!  Just go to church with me.  You said you would.”

“Look, I’m going to get high.  I’ll come to church some other time,” I said, still struggling to get away from her.  “I’m leaving
right now to go get high.”

“If you come to church with me right now, I’ll give you money.”

“You’re going to give me money?”

“Only if you go to church with me.”

“If I go to church, you’ll give me money?  Really?”

“Yes, and you can do whatever you want afterward.  But come with me to church.”

By now I was already halfway to the car, and I knew that if Annie gave me money, I could use it to get high, so I went
ahead and got in the car.  Although I wanted the money, I continued to fight with her the whole way there.

Once we got to the church, she led me to some seats down near the front.

“I want my money,” I said before the service started.

“After church,” Annie said.

“I’m going to leave early.”

“You don’t get your money until the end.”

I pointed to the pastor up front (Pastor Cymbala, I later learned).  “See that pastor?” I said.  “I don’t want him to pray for
me.  I am just going to sit here.”

The service began.  There was some singing, and then the pastor spoke.  Annie sang in the choir on Sundays, and
although I didn’t know it at the time, she had already let people in the choir know she was bringing me, and someone
from the choir had alerted the pastor.

The pastor said he knew a young lady had been brought to church that night who needed Jesus really badly.  He wanted
Annie to bring her up so the whole church could pray for her.

“I’m not going,” I told Annie.  “He can pray for me while I sit right here.”

But somehow, Annie got me to walk down the aisle with her.  As I walked, I heard voices in my head saying they weren’t
going to let go of me.  That I belong to them.  Then I heard a woman from the congregation say the name Jesus as part
of a prayer, and all of a sudden I found myself grabbing the pastor and attacking him.  I grabbed him by the throat and
pushed him backwards against the platform he had been standing in front of.  I spit in his face.  Twice.  I went crazy.  A
battle raged – I could hear the voices in my head as well as the people praying in the church.

Although the pastor was at least twice my size, he struggled to break free from my attack.  Finally, he threw me off, and
as I fell to the ground, I grabbed his shirt collar and tore it off like a piece of tissue paper.  I don’t remember what
happened next – I was no longer in control of my body – but dozens of witnesses have told me.  While I was on the floor,
voices came out of my mouth, but none of them were my voice.  It was as if they came from somewhere deep inside of
me.  They screamed, “Leave her alone!  Leave her alone!  She’s ours, and you’ll never have her!  Never!”

The voices kept screaming as the pastor leaned over me.  My eyes rolled up inside my head like something you’d see in
a horror movie.  The pastor told the evil spirits to be quiet and demanded in the name of Christ that they come out of me.

Then it was over.  Whatever had control of me was gone.  The evil spirits had fled.  I slowly stood up, sobbing.  Pastor
Cymbala held up both my hands as the congregation sang a song about the blood of Jesus Christ.

That was the night I got delivered.  I knew I had been set free.  It was as if I had been cleansed.  A peace came over me
that I had never felt before.  That’s when I realized that I had been demon possessed and Jesus had run the evil spirits

That night, and for the next several nights, I stayed with people from the church.  It was so awesome that those people
took me into their house so I wouldn’t have to go back to my old neighborhood.  I felt so loved.  I could hardly accept it.  
My language had been hate, violence, and hurting.  It wasn’t easy for me to accept the love that came from the church
and its members.

The next day I called my mom.  Annie had already told her what happened the night before.  My mother came to visit me,
and she hugged me.  “I am so happy, Diana!  I prayed and prayed and prayed!  I didn’t know what was happening to

Eventually I left for a treatment program.  But already my life had been totally changed.  I was a brand-new person.  I was
full of God’s light and love.  I began to seek him and wanted to know more about him.

I had always run with a tough gang, but that night at church was the biggest battle of my life.  I think the devil knew that
his time was up.  He knew that he was going to be defeated and that I would be delivered from his control.  That Tuesday
I was delivered from more than demons.  I was also delivered from drugs, anger, hatred, prejudice, and rebellion.  In one
second, Jesus declared, “This is where it stops.”  I have been walking with the Lord ever since, and not once have I ever
turned back.  I’ve never gotten high since that night.  Though I still make mistakes and sometimes get discouraged or
lonely, now I can run to the Perfect One.

The devil is a liar.  He never stops trying to steal, destroy, and kill.  But I believe the Holy Spirit orchestrated things that
night to bring me to the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  People prayed for me.  And people like Mom, Annie, and Pastor Cymbala
weren’t afraid to fight for me and to love me even when it was difficult.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, my life was
forever changed.

In the end, the victory belongs to Jesus Christ.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.