As a satanic priest, John Ramirez was fine with the idea that he was going to hell when he died – until he saw it for himself
John grew up in the south Bronx in New York in a family that practised Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion that worships demons. His father came from a family of witches and warlocks and was heavily into spiritualism. He was also an abusive drunk and John got no love or compassion at home.
When John was 10, his mother took him to a tarot card reading, where she was told her son would be blind in 30 days if he wasn't given over to the devil in a certain ceremony in which demons were invited to possess him. From then on John's life and personality changed.
"My whole childhood was stolen," he shares in a Youtube testimony "From 7pm to 5am I would go to devil church to be trained by high rank witches and warlocks. It felt like my whole life was cloaked in blackness."
His involvement deepened quickly. Within years John was able to astral travel - leave his body and send his spirit to other neighbourhoods to curse them with prostitution, murder, suicide or drugs. But sometimes he would see a group of people holding hands and praying and he couldn't do anything in those areas.
For the first time in his life he felt powerful and respected.
"People knew that I was a force to be reckoned with. I liked that power," he remembers.
When John was 13 his father was murdered in a bar fight, for which John credited the devil with alleviating his mother's suffering.
"The devil became my daddy," he says, "He said practise my religion and I'll give you anything you want, just ask."
John says the presence of Satan became to him like a family member and he would say "What is it my father, what do you want to speak to me about, what would you like me to do?"
Eventually he became a high priest in Palo Mayombe, a form of African spiritualism.
"The spirit realm is more real than the natural realm and we fail to see that," John says, "And whatever is not covered with Jesus Christ is an easy target to bring down."
John was often asked to curse people with disease or death, and he was able to do this, but once he remembers being asked to kill a woman and the spells didn't work. He couldn't understand why. The devil told him that "the God she serves said to let her alone and not to touch her". John wondered who this God was.
Another time he went to curse a group of street envangelists that were speaking in his neighbourhood, but when he got there he saw a ring of fire around them and none of his curses would work.
Then he met a girl who invited him to church and who took him to visit her parents, who talked to him about Jesus.
He found Christians amusing and harmless. "They were just kisses, hallelujahs and we love yous," he would mock.
Then one Sunday John went forward during an alter call but wasn't prepared for what happened next. All of a sudden the devil took hold of him and made him start strangling the pastor. The men in the congregation had to intervene. Then some of the congregation members got up and started to pray to God and John saw the power of God that day.
John was urged to say "Jesus is Lord" and when he finally got the words out the situation stopped. He was embarrassed about the outburst but not sure what to do next.
Then a few days later one of the church elders brought him a sweatshirt and said "Jesus wants you to have this, you are a warrior for Christ." The gift from God, a token of His love, moved John powerfully. "To me that was amazing. I couldn't believe Jesus loved me," John remembers.
"But I was committed to the devil and the demons and I was between two worlds."
Soon after he decided to end the spiritual struggle within him by killing himself.
He started to talk to God, reviling Him and pledging his allegiance to Satan then, at the end, he whispered "If you are bigger than the god that I serve, you show me tonight or you leave me alone."
John fell asleep and dreamed he was on a subway train full of people heading very fast for somewhere he knew was no good. The doors opened and he stepped out into the darkness of hell. He felt heat unlike anything on earth, heard wailing like "a cross between a child and an animal", and experienced terrible hopeless fear. He tried to find a way out but the devil appeared to him in huge form and said to him, "I've been with you since you were nine years old, I've been a father to you, I've given you everything, I gave you powers and a name in the kingdom of darkness. I destroyed people for you. Now you want to leave and betray me? You belong to me, I own you and you're not going to leave. You know too many secrets about my religion."
Then, as Satan reached for John, a three-foot (90cm) cross appeared in John's hands and he put it between himself and the devil and suddenly the devil felt powerless "like nothing, like a baby".
"There is no greater love than the cross," John proclaims emotionally, "Grace and mercy showed up in hell for a despicable, arrogant, demonic, self-centered, selfish person like me."
When John woke up he was a changed man. "I knew that Jesus was Lord and I bent my knee (bowed before him)".
He took a piece of paper and wrote: "I am a servant, a slave of Jesus Christ, and I will serve you all the days of my life."
John then threw out all his witchcraft paraphernalia, which was very valuable.
That was 16 years ago and John says he wouldn't trade anything for what he has found in Christ. "For 25 years of my life I was able to do anything to anybody, anywhere but now I count that as foolish compared to gaining Christ. Christ is my all-in-all. He is the breath that I breathe. He walks with me, I hear the sound of his voice in my ear."
Now John tells everyone he can about Jesus and has written a book called Out of the Devil's Cauldron: a journey from darkness to light.
"I've got peace. I'm not empty any more. I got fulfilment, I got a purpose and a destiny today. And all because I said yes to the cross," John affirms. "We don't have to die in our sins and we don't have to shed blood like in Palo Mayombe, Jesus shed the blood for you. That's the blood that counts, the one at the cross."
"No voodoo, hex or incantation can separate me from the love of God."
"I switched daddies. I was cursed but now I am blessed, because Jesus became cursed for me," he concludes.•