by Teena Myers
On the way home from my first “First Time Guest” experience, I heard a radio advertisement that caught my attention. The pastor offered a free lunch after the service. Interesting. Lunch would give me more time to interact with people. I heard the free lunch advertisement twice before I found time to attend.
My drive time calculation proved inaccurate. The service started at 10:45 A.M. I drove into the church parking lot at 10:30. A man opened the door of the Pentecostal church and handed me a bulletin. Large capital letters on the monochrome bulletin’s first page welcomed a visiting speaker from Lagos, Nigeria. The pastor did not speak at the last church I attended. I would not hear the pastor of this church speak either.
I entered the sanctuary to an appeal for money. I walked around the cluster of ushers wearing identical shirts standing stood at the back of the sanctuary holding baskets. The church also advertised a 9 A.M service. The large sanctuary had as many empty seats as occupied seats. I assumed I had walked into the conclusion of the earlier service.
The woman making the appeal read a story about a person who gave away vehicles and received more vehicles. They also gave away 70% of their income and discovered they could live comfortably on 30%. She glanced up from reading and saw a man standing next to her. “My husband has something to say.”
Her husband and pastor of the church said, “We are blessed to bless,” and summoned the ushers. They stood at the front of the church while congregation members came forward to drop their offerings in the baskets. Three ways to give appeared on two large screens to the right and left of the pulpit: in the church, online, in the offering boxes. I saw one of the padlocked boxes when I exited the church after the service.
I thought the service would conclude and the 10:45 service would begin after they received the offering. Nope. Apparently the second service had already begun, and I was late. The pastor introduced the guest speaker from Nigeria, who I shall refer to as Nigeria from this point on.
Nigeria’s mother told God, if he gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God’s service. Nigeria preached his first message at 7 years of age, became a pastor at 12 and preached at large crusades by 19. Then he had a life changing experience. As he lay on his bed, a fire fell from heaven and left burn marks on his face for two years. Every time he closed his eyes, he had visions. He tried to stop closing his eyes so the visions would stop. He began having visions with his eyes open.
A person I interviewed for a story flashed in my mind. He had visions anytime he closed his eyes too. This person claimed he saw Jesus and had numerous angelic visitations. He was also an unstable conspiracy theorist that believed the fluoride in our water was a government plot to blind the third eye in our brains from seeing the truth.
When Nigeria decided to attend Bible School that he might learn what was happening to him, Jesus walked into his room and told him not to go. According to Nigeria, Jesus had appeared to him a 1,000 times. In 2001 Jesus stayed with him for 3 months without leaving.
As Nigeria spoke, I had flashbacks of my early walk in Christianity. Shortly after I accepted Christ, I read a book by Kenneth Hagin, the father of the Word of Faith movement, about the seven times Jesus appeared to him and taught him how to have faith. The entire time I followed the faith movement a question nagged me: “Where is God?” I wanted God, not formulas that were designed to produce prosperity and miracles. I would decline neither prosperity nor miracles, if I needed one, but that was not my goal. I wanted to understand my faith. Twenty years later, I found what I was looking for, but I didn’t find it until I forsook the Word of Faith movement. The formulas the faith preachers taught never worked for me and destroyed the faith of friends and family when it didn’t work for them either.
Nigeria claimed Jesus personally taught him about healing, just like Jesus allegedly taught Hagin about faith. According to Nigeria, God and Jesus do not heal us. The Holy Spirit who dwells in us does. Therefore, every Christian can heal others. “Any Christian can do it,” he said, “it’s easy.”
A woman sitting in front of me held a drooling boy with a limp body and vacant stare. My mother worked with the severely mentally challenged. I had seen children like him when I visited the hospital she worked for and wondered if Nigeria would heal this child.
At the conclusion of his message, he called for people who needed healing to come forward. The only people he prayed for were women with one exception. None of the healings could be verified beyond the woman’s word. Pain in knees and backs which they said disappeared, though some looked a little perplexed whether or not the pain was really gone. He prayed for overweight women who were diabetic. Nigeria discerned that one woman had a binge eating problem. Did the Holy Spirit tell him that or did her obese body?
Then a real challenge stepped forward. A man pushed his autistic child in front of Nigeria. The large screens gave everyone a front-row seat of Nigeria in action. He kneeled and quietly rebuked the foul devil of infirmity. If there was a devil, he did not obey. Nigeria changed the subject. He discerned the father had trouble concentrating at work. A problem any parent with a suffering child would have. He prayed for one more woman and then promised more miracles tonight. I had not witnessed anything I considered a credible miracle. The woman with the drooling boy was at the altar. No one prayed for her and her son.
The service concluded with promises of more miracles for those who returned. I waited for instructions about the free lunch I’d heard advertised in vain. Chili’s had a nice Santa Fe Salad that I paid for before I returned home.