Manila Bethel Temple was a church started by Rev. Lester Sumrall in 1951. Lester Sumrall became a friend of Mayor Arsenio Lacson because of the well publicized exorcism and deliverance of a girl named Clarita Villanueva.
In the early 1950s, Dr. Sumrall was in Manila building a church, which today is known as the Cathedral of Praise. On May 12, 1953, the Daily Mirror in Manila published a startling story under the headline, “Police Medic Explodes Biting Demons Yarn,” in which a most unusual story unfolded of law enforcers and medical examiners being mystified by an inmate whose body continuously bore deep teeth marks. The frightened girl claimed that two beings were appearing and biting her. One of the devils was big and dark with long hair all over his head, chest, and arms. He had fangs like a dog and large, sharp eyes, and his feet were at least three times larger than normal. He was dressed in a black robe with what appeared to be a hood on the back. His voice was deep, with a tunnel-like echo. The second being was squatty, maybe thirty inches tall, and it was also dark, hairy, and deformed. As the witnesses watched, the girl’s facial expressions would suddenly change, and she would begin glancing about, as if she was seeing something the others could not. (What she was seeing was dubbed “The Thing” by the press.) Then the girl would start screaming and struggling against an invisible force, before collapsing, half-conscious, into the arms of the prison staff member holding her. At that moment, there would be teeth marks wet with saliva marking her body. Dr. Mariano B. Lara, then chief medical examiner of the Manila Police Department and a university professor of pathology and legal medicine, was convinced of the genuineness of the possession and exorcism and provided his own description, recounted in this excerpt from the official medical report filed at the prison:
I find it difficult and near impossible to accept anything of a supernatural character.… Equipped with a magnifying lens and an unbelieving mind about this biting phenomena, I scrutinized carefully the exposed parts of her [Clarita Villanueva’s] body, the arms, hands, and neck, to find out whether they had the biting impressions. I saw the reddish human-like bite marks on the arms.… At that very instant, this girl in a semi-trance loudly screamed repeatedly.… I saw, with my unbelieving eyes, the clear marks or impressions of human-like teeth from both the upper and lower jaws. It was a little moist in the area bitten on the dorsal aspect of the left hand, and the teeth impressions were mostly from the form of the front or incisor teeth. Seeing these with my unbelieving eyes, yet I could not understand nor explain how they were produced as her hand had all the time been held away from the reach of her mouth.…
In full possession of her normal mind, I asked her (Clarita Villanueva) who was causing her to suffer from the bites. She answered that there are two who are alternately biting her; one big, black, hairy human-like fellow, very tall, with two sharp eyes, two sharp canine teeth, long beard like a Hindu, hairy extremities and chest, wearing a black garment, with a little whitish piece on the back resembling a hood. His feet are about three times the size of normal feet. The other fellow is a very small one about two or three feet tall allegedly also black, hairy and ugly.[iv]
After first hearing the report on the radio then reading the newspaper story the next day, Dr. Sumrall, who believed the girl was demon possessed, grew convicted that the Lord wanted him to procure permission from prison authorities to pray for the prostitute’s deliverance. Through his church architect, who was a friend of the mayor of Manila, he received the okay to visit with the chief medical advisor of the police department, Dr. Mariano Lara. While talking with the doctor inside the prison morgue, Lara acknowledged to Sumrall that something beyond his professional knowledge was happening and that he was actually afraid of “The Thing” after witnessing the bite marks appear before his own eyes. With Lara’s approval, Sumrall was allowed to pray for the girl while observers watched. She was very resistant, cursing him in English (which she could not speak), screaming, and fighting every moment to get away. The first day of prayer failed to provide healing, and Sumrall believed he needed to fast and pray for another day. That evening, the newspaper published his picture on the front page, three columns wide, with the headline, “The Thing Defies Pastor.”[v] The next day would be different. Following a spiritual battle reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet challenging the followers of Baal, and with repentance of her sins and acceptance of Jesus as Savior, the girl was delivered.
Mayor Arsenio Lacson highly appreciated what the Lord had done through Rev. Lester Sumrall and helped him secure a place for his church building which was named the Manila Bethel Temple.