With just a gun, a pint of Jack Daniels whiskey and a bag of marijuana, 21-year-old Jeff Harshbarger checked into a motel room not far from where he attended college at Ball State university in Muncie, Indiana.
It was 1981, and he had spent the previous four years involved in Satanism, rising quickly to "priest in training" and co-leading his own coven, Now, however, Harshbarger was so miserable he wanted to commit suicide. The whiskey and pot, he supposed, would give him the nerve to shoot himself with the gun he had just bought. His plan didn't work. "I tried to pull the trigger and couldn't," he says. He returned home, determined to try again the next night. This time he threw a rope over a rafter in his garage and put his head through the noose. He kicked the chair out from under himself but fell to the floor with the noose still around his neck. What a failure! he thought. I can't even kill myself.
He retreated to his room, collapsed on his bed and "bawled like a baby." "But it felt good, like there had been a release," he told Charisma. When he heard a voice say, "Get out!" he thought it was a demon coming to rip him apart for not being a good Satanist. He heard the command again, and this time he went into his backyard where he encountered the presence of God. "I got down on my face," he says. "All I knew to pray was just: 'Jesus, I can't take it anymore. Make my life OK.'That night, Harshbarger came back to Christ. "Boy, do I know the grace of God," he says today.
Growing up in Marion, Indiana, Harshbarger says he longed to be just a normal kid who played baseball and went to Cub Scouts. Instead, he was lonely and from a dysfunctional family. Harshbarger did what he could to escape a turbulent home life, and in third grade he attended a vacation Bible school. There, over stale cookies and warm lemonade, he heard about Jesus and accepted Him into his life. On Sunday mornings he would hop on his bike and head off to church by himself."I just wanted to know more about Jesus," he says. Although as a youngster he had no idea of the spiritual battle being waged for his soul, Harshbarger was aware of a strange presence in his home.
"I would get up at night to get a drink of water, and something else was there," he says. He discovered he had paranormal abilities--he could read minds, he had premonitions that came true, and he even had a few out-of-body experiences. He told his mom about it all, but she didn't believe him. As much as he longed for a normal childhood, Harshbarger was also intrigued with his special abilities. By 1976 Harshbarger was in high school and no longer attended church. His mother did, however. She had given her life to Christ, had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and was holding morning prayer meetings in her kitchen.
"It drove me bananas to wake up and hear them praying in tongues," Harshbarger says. Furious, he decided to sever all ties with God, throw away his Bible and delve deeper into the paranormal.
Two months after turning his back on God, Harshbarger was befriended by his manager at his after-school job. "He was the coolest person I had ever met and had everything I wanted--prestige, power and control of his life,"
Harshbarger says. Satanism, he found out, was the source of his new friend's success. Convinced it was what he had been searching for, the 17-year-old gave his life to Satan, and his manager became his teacher. He learned how to communicate with demons."I became totally possessed," Harshbarger says. "I would look in a mirror and not see me--only the spirits." He and his teacher would visit churches to disrupt services--until one congregation caught the pair off-guard by praying for them right on the spot. After that it seemed Harshbarger couldn't get away from them."I'd be at a drive-in restaurant," he says, "and one of them would pop their head in and say: 'Well praise God! How ya doing, Jeff?'"
Harshbarger and his mentor moved to Muncie to start their own satanic coven. They recruited six young men as disciples and lived in a house off campus where they held satanic rituals, cast spells, and desecrated Bibles and other Christian material. Harshbarger reached his breaking point, he says, when the demons turned against him and wreaked internal havoc upon him. "It was like I was locked up in a room in hell," he says. When he couldn't take it anymore, he decided that as a "respectable Satanist" his only option was suicide.
Harshbarger credits God's intervention and the prayers of his mother and numerous other Christians for his two failures at suicide. He was promptly kicked out of his coven, but all he cared about was finding a church. He was cognizant enough to know that only prayer would deliver him from the tormentÍ(after a long period of counselling he recovered and now helps others trapped in the bondage of satanism and the occult)