Leaving IHOP and the NAR: Sammy’s story

Every so often I receive testimonies from people who have read my “Leaving the NAR Church” series. There are more than 50 of them, and I am adding another. These stories are precious to me, and serve as a painful reminder that there is hope for the dear deceived ones caught up in this insidious movement. If you don’t know what NAR is, I hope you’ll take a moment and read What is the New Apostolic Reformation Movement.

The following is a letter from a woman I will call Sammy, about her personal experience with one of the leading NAR organizations: The International House of Prayer, or IHOP. You can read more about this false church here. Also, read our research into “Deliverance Ministries” here. Thankfully, God opened her eyes to the truth.

This is my testimony. While it is long, it’s not comprehensive because it would take a whole book to contain everything (maybe several). While it is extremely difficult for me to make this public, it is more important that people know the truth:

I grew up as the only Christian in my household. My parents came to know Jesus when I was about 10. My Father began to backslide after his grandmother died which took a pretty big toll on his relationship with my brothers, my mother, and I. Off and on since I was in about 7th grade, I had severe night terrors and nightmares. I attended a Bible High School as well as a Bible College after I graduated. I often tried to find a reason and a way to stop my night terrors, with little to no answers. Meanwhile, my family was extremely rocky to say the least.

Wanting to escape, I decided to go to an extension campus in Hawaii (without praying about it and for pretty selfish reasons). I knew I probably wasn’t supposed to go but went anyway to escape from everything else going on in my life. The Pastor who ran the campus quit 3 days before our arrival and a local apprentice to the pastor was put in charge and (very) reluctantly took the position which lent itself to a less than ideal situation. I and everyone else on campus (about 20 people) ended up leaving as a result.

At this point, my walk was very dry and I felt so out of place no matter where I was. I just needed a place I felt I could fit in and, at the same time, draw closer to the Lord and get some answers for weird things that would happen (like the night terrors). I tried so hard but was so lost and didn’t know how to deal with my emotions and situations.

Then an online friend told me about the International House of Prayer (IHOP). I heard that my favorite band was going to play at their “One Thing Conference” in December. I decided to go, for three reasons:

  1. To meet the friend who told me about IHOP
  2. To see my favorite band
  3. Hopefully get closer to the Lord and find some answers to my questions
  4. Who wouldn’t want to worship the Lord into the new year? Sign me up!

At this time, I had absolutely no experience in anything the Charismatic church teaches and was clueless about manifestations, deliverance ministry, baptism of the Holy Spirit, etc. Growing up under Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, gifts were kind of talked about but mostly in passing. At the same time, I was very desperate to be loved and accepted by God and by people; I was desperate to feel anything. I felt so dry and empty. I just needed someone to be there for me and understand… I needed Jesus.

So, needless to say, I went to the conference and had some very different experiences. I heard people speak in tongues for the first time. People talked about Angels and Demons like it was a normal every day experience, and I heard doctrines that I’d never heard before. I was also told that all the other churches in America were dead, dry, boring and were, therefore, without Jesus. Because my walk was dead, dry, and boring, it seemed right to me.

I had seen the politics of church life and the apathy that came with it. It made sense to me at the time. The experiences I had that weekend, although strange and somewhat unconventional, felt good and exciting. I thought, “Could this really be God? I want nothing more in life than to feel and be close to GOD! I’ll do whatever it takes to know Him.” I also thought it had to be of God because everyone was so passionate. I felt like I’d found people who loved God as much as I wanted to. After and because of the conference, I decided that I wanted to go to FSM (Forerunner School of Ministry, now called IHOPU), in hopes of finding Jesus and acceptance there.

I attended IHOP/FSM and was heavily involved from 2004-2007. My first semester there, I had nothing but good things to say about IHOP because I was still learning all these new things that I found to be fascinating. I felt I was accepted by everyone else who was “just like me.” I also thought I found answers to my night terrors, when they explained it was because I “had demons” that needed to be delivered. After going through several of their deliverance ministries, however, the terrors only got worse and more frequent.

Yes, bad things happened from the second I stepped foot on campus but I ignored it or rationalized it. I believed the accusations that it was because of a lack of faith and understanding on my part. I still very much thought things were off but I didn’t listen to that feeling, very similar to being in an abusive relationship, gaslighting and all.

I did find it especially troubling when we had to attend a special class before thanksgiving break that taught us how to act around our families and walked us through all the reasons why they are not a cult. It felt like conditioning and I found that a lot of the doctrines they said they did not teach were things I’ve heard Mike Bickle say a hundred times. So it was super weird to me but I still rationalized it because of how great I felt otherwise. I also wasn’t home long enough to really feel any kind of noticeable difference. I did feel like my family just didn’t get it but that was nothing new to me.

It wasn’t until my second semester (after going home for Christmas break), that I realized I had completely disconnected from my family, friends, and reality. I wouldn’t say that I realized and understood it 100% because I still rationalized it a lot but there was definitely now a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

All of my closest friends and family members sat me down (individually) for an intervention of sorts. They would tell me things like that I’ve changed and I seemed happy and “on-fire” for God but that something was really off and wrong. They would tell me I was acting different and saying weird things. When I would tell them some of the things I was learning or experiencing, they only became more worried and began confronting me with Scriptures, which I initially ignored and rationalized but it ultimately got me thinking later on. So, going back into my second semester, I was a lot more confused and had a lot more questions than ever before.

Slowly but surely, the Lord chipped away at my heart and showed me very clear Scriptures to cause me to question the things that would go on there. After realizing this, I started feeling really weird again about some things that were being done and said there, so I took it to the Lord, as any “Berean” should. I started looking up the Scriptures my teachers would give us in handouts to explain some of their doctrines, and I realized that not one of those Scriptures had anything to do with those doctrines. They were either taken completely out of context or just had nothing at all to do with what the doctrine was (ie: deliverance, manifestations, etc). So, I became even more confused and concerned.

I started asking very genuine questions about where certain things were in Scripture (like deliverance ministry, false prophesies, manifestations, generational curses, etc.) because I wanted to be sure that I was doing the right thing in God’s eyes. I just wanted it to be explained to me because I didn’t understand the doctrines and I didn’t understand why the scriptures weren’t lining up with my experiences.

When everyone would “feel the presence of God” or everyone would “break out into manifestations of God,” I wouldn’t feel anything and I would almost never experience what everyone else did. So, most days, I felt like an outsider because everyone but me was “getting it.” I started feeling confused and rejected by God, which is why (again), I turned to Scripture. I would think things like “You are predestined by God to go to hell, that’s why you aren’t getting these manifestations.” And other horrible things.

I noticed that, when I started asking questions, I had been “red flagged.” What I mean is that I had particular people in leadership following me around and keeping tabs on me. I remember the exact moment it first happened. It was during our End Times class. Calvary Chapel talked a lot about eschatology so this was something that I really loved studying and was very familiar with. Of course, IHOP has totally different views on the end times than what I was used to, which for the most part was okay. So, naturally, I had A LOT of questions and wanted to see it in scripture so I could go back and study for myself.

That’s when a woman named Marcy decided to sit next to me in our break off discussion group and ask me weird questions about my personal life. No answers were given about where things were in Scripture, which was frustrating because I really was just excited to study the subject. I was just given vague answers and told to study the class material.

After this happened, I was moved out of my core “Omega” group and into one with Sabrina Walsh who was a former, practicing witch from New Zealand and was also a leader at FSM – her and her husband, Graham, taught our classes called “Cultivating the gifts of the spirit” where we learned about signs, wonders, miracles, and deliverance. They would “teach” kids how to prophesy and perform miracles. They would also perform and teach us how to perform Deliverance on each other. Demonology, soul ties, and generational curses were most of what they talked about.

I was put in Sabrina’s group because I was to be “monitored” and she was “more experienced” with people like me. I’ll be honest, Sabrina always kind of scared me. It could have totally been in my head but it just always felt like she was watching me and trying to read into my mind. I say this because she would always know things she shouldn’t have known and it really freaked me out. It was definitely not a good feeling but a scary one. After changing groups, I began having strange dreams and getting attacked on almost a daily basis — call them: night terrors, sleep paralysis, demons, dreams…It was happening almost every night and it was really wearing me down.

Reality started to really hit me most when we went on our required “missions trip.” Trust me, this is not your typical missions trip where you go serve and preach the Gospel. We went to a Methodist church in Indiana to basically convert them to N.A.R. That’s not what we were told though. We were supposed to go to this church and be the answer to their problems and “start a revival” in their leadership. So our group held a “healing” and “prophesy” service at their church after trying to “cleanse” the church of the “demonic activity” they had because they had supposedly built the church on an Indian burial ground.

I will never, ever forget this trip. It is seared in my brain. We met with the head pastor who was a woman and her husband. We also met with the worship leader who was having issues. They were told they had demonic spirits and needed to be delivered so we were supposed to deliver them from demons. They were told to make everyone else leave so the demons didn’t go into someone else that was there and each person was assigned a few students and went into separate rooms.

I was assigned to the worship leader’s group. I did not want to participate. I felt so uncomfortable and it felt so wrong. I was really scared. I kind of stood back from everyone else and prayed a lot in my head. The part that impacted me most was the healing service. A bunch of people from all over came to the service to “be healed” and for “prophesy” from us.

There were two people I will never forget. The first was a little boy in a wheel chair suffering from severe autism. His parents were told it was not autism but a demon manifesting because every time they touched him with anointing oil, he would kick and scream. Some of my classmates laid hands on him and put anointing oil on him and spent hours trying to cast out a demon from this poor child, while he screamed and cried the entire time.

The second was a very tall, large man who was bald, had scars on top of his head, and a furrowed expression glued to his face; he was dying of brain cancer and his wife drug him to this meeting, desperate to save her husband. He told me that he stopped believing in God but was giving God one more chance to prove Himself by healing him of cancer.

I still cry thinking about this man. I’m crying now as I type this out. I have never prayed so long or so hard in all my life. I wanted this man to know God and I didn’t want him to go to hell. I feared that I lacked the faith and it was my fault he was never healed. But that isn’t the truth, is it? That man died in his unbelief because these people (leaders at IHOP), are wolves and liars who twist the Scriptures, lie, and defame the holy name of God for their own gain. We were supposed to eat lunch on our way back home at a national park in St. Louis and go street witness there. While we did eat lunch there and they gave some ridiculous prophecy about the arch and the spiritual rivers flowing, they decided to skip the street witnessing so we could get home. I don’t think we were ever going to.

When we got back, I was a huge mess. My heart was so grieved and torn. I didn’t understand why God would do such a thing. Yes, I blamed God. I also blamed myself. As I started reading more Scripture and research things for myself, I also began to realize that much of what they were teaching and practicing was extremely unbiblical and even dangerous.

My main concern at the time was the deliverance ministry. I didn’t understand how Christians could be possessed if they were only “oppressed” and where this was in the Bible and why it was important. I was mostly trying to figure out if I was just not saved or something but it turned into realizing it wasn’t Biblical. We were constantly fasting and were required to be in the prayer room a minimum of 28 hours a week on top of classes, Omega group, homework, and everything else. After I decided to skip fasting, eat more, and go to the prayer room a little less (mostly because I just felt horrible), I felt my head start to clear up and I didn’t like what I was seeing and how I felt.

I often went back and forth in my mind between desperately wanting to feel what everyone else felt and realizing that it wasn’t from God. I was so confused and upside-down trying to figure it out. Half-way through my third year of school, the leadership started telling my roommates that they needed to leave my house because I had a demon spirit (I know because one of my roommates, Amy, told me so). I couldn’t afford to live there but kept attending anyway, I’m not sure why. Part of me thought maybe I could open other people’s eyes and the other part of me was still enchanted by everything, if I’m being honest.

In the middle of class one day, I was pulled out and brought into the office. Here, they brought up some things I had done and some things that I had not done. Among the things I had done: My friend Jalise and I wrote our report in our first semester (Allen Hood’s class) saying that the required reading (Relentless Tenderness of Jesus by Brennan Manning) was heresy because it said in chapter 6 that “God is sexually aroused by His people” in reference to Hosea. They brought up my report in Allen’s class, the fact I had been asking so many questions about where things were in the Bible, that I had a scuffle with the Mission’s trip leader because we were skipping the part where we preach the gospel to people, and that I stopped meeting with Marcy and handing over my journal entries to her (they started making me do this after the mission’s trip).

Due to this, I was told I was heavily oppressed by many demons, that I had a religious spirit, and was a danger to myself and the other student’s growth and spiritual being. They also said that I had father issues I needed healing from (My dad had been trying to get me out of IHOP for years and they told me to stop talking to him because he was being used by the devil). They also said I had a spirit of rebellion because I wanted to “challenge authority” with my questions and attitude.

They told me they did not have the type of Deliverance and healing available that I was needing because it exceeded their abilities and resources. So they wanted to send me to the Toronto Airport Deliverance ministry. I forget the exact name but it was a deliverance rehabilitation center associated with the Toronto Airport Church. It’s a Deliverance “rehab” type camp. They had previously sent my friend Cassie there the year before. I know this because she came to me and said they were sending her there because she had a “Jezebel” and “Rebellious” spirit and she was scared. She came back super weird and wouldn’t even talk to me or her boyfriend anymore.

They described it to me like a special camp or rehabilitation facility focused solely on hard cases of deliverance and said I was not allowed to leave the center or come back to school until they sent IHOP a written letter releasing me that states I have been delivered from the evil spirits and have been rehabilitated.

I told them emphatically and in tears that I would certainly go. I had no real intention of actually going, though. I only told them I would go because I was terrified of what would happen if I told them I wouldn’t go. I was legitimately scared for my life at this point and had no idea what was going to happen. They sent someone with me home to monitor me and help me pack. I was able to quickly get in touch with my dad who flew out to me from California immediately and get me out of there. I left everything I had behind, clothes and all. We had to send someone to get my stuff later because I was absolutely petrified and, of course, my parents weren’t going to let me go back out there if they could help it.

I was also absolutely crushed. All I ever wanted was to know God and at the time I felt completely rejected by Him, even though I knew IHOP was bad. When I finally left IHOP, I was not all the way better; not even close. I was actually worse than when I started because I was more confused, felt rejected, and still needed so much help.

My head felt like it was covered in a giant fog. I would constantly go back and forth between “I know what happened was wrong” or “God was the one taking me out of there to save me” all the way to “IHOP was right” and “there is something wrong with me.” Like I said, I was a complete mess and it took a whole lot of love and prayer to get me out of that state of mind. I even flew to Illinois to go to my friend’s church (the same one who told me about IHOP in the first place) to try to get “Delivered” of this demon that IHOP told me about because I was so messed up.

After that trip, I walked away from the Lord completely, even denying His existence. I was absolutely miserable both in and out of the church. Something was totally missing and no one understood what I was going through. One of my pastors tried helping for a time but even he lost patience with me.

My life was never the same after that. I went through cycles of trying to “be a Christian” and then pushing self-destruct for years and years. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom in 2014, that I finally just fell to my face, repented, and went back to basics. I wasn’t ever able to step foot into a church after walking away until I went to the church I am at now.

I thought I had moved on until my church started playing Bethel and IHOP music in services. At that point everything came back and I started getting anxiety attacks. However, things are much different now. I have an amazing husband who is solid in the Lord and an amazing support system. I’ve also been going to a Christian psychiatrist who specializes in ex-cult member issues. It has helped a lot.

Now I am able to look at everything more objectively and without getting panic attacks. It does still take A LOT out of me but I can fight the good fight and sound the alarm on these places without worrying about my emotional well-being. The Word of God (The Bible, to be clear) is truly sufficient and having a love for God’s word and the truth therein is something our churches lack, which is why places like this are so popular. We must get back to our first love…we must go back to loving the truth of the Word of God and teaching exegetically, lest we all fall victim to false teaching.

It doesn’t take barking like a dog, falling over, being “drunk,” being “delivered” from a “demon,” good music, or an emotional experience to know and love God. It takes one thing: REPENTANCE, followed by a love for the truth of His word.

The Gospel is truly simple and very straight-forward. God is not the author of confusion and chaos. I thank God every day for sparing my life and getting me out of that cult before it was too late.

I grieve for the people who are still stuck within the lies of IHOP, Bethel, and other NAR movements. I weep for the thousands who are recruited on a daily basis. I pray for their souls and I pray for the truth to be made known to them. If ever there was an “antichrist spirit” this is surely it.

Author’s Note: You can read the entire series of NAR testimonies here.

 

 

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