What’s lure of traveling faith healer?

I’ve always wondered why, in this world of honest, loving churches, some Christians still find hope in a traveling faith healer who sells miracle water.

My curiosity carried me last weekend to the Charlotte Convention Center uptown for the first night of evangelist Leroy Jenkins‘ revival.

Here’s what I found:

Before I can step into Hall C2 downstairs, someone hands me an envelope in which I can mail a donation to Jenkins’ ministry in Columbus, Ohio.

One step in and the first thing you see are 20-ounce plastic bottles of “Evangelist Leroy Jenkins Water” on sale for a $1.50 donation.

Jenkins takes the stage 30 minutes into the three-hour service, wearing his hair in a pompadour, black coat with sequins, yellow-green shirt and tie. He describes himself as “a guy in a Liberace coat,” though, at 67, he reminds me of an Elvis impersonator who’s been at this awhile.

He opens with a slow, ear-splitting version of “How Great Thou Art.” It’s hard to make out the words due to poor acoustics and feedback from the sound system.

He refers to the crowd as “thousands of people” in a “huge coliseum.” To me, it looks more like 600 in an otherwise dark convention center where the last few rows of chairs are empty. It’s an interracial gathering, with dozens on canes or in wheelchairs.

The heart of the service — what’s been bringing them back to Jenkins revivals for years — comes when he begins circulating through the crowd, looking for people to heal.

“Honey, drink this,” Jenkins says to one gaunt woman as he hands her a sip of water, puts a hand on her forehead and stomach, then tells her mother, “Ma’am, in two weeks she will have gained 15 pounds.”

In a moment, he tells another woman to drop that cane and stand up. She does, and he declares her healed from head to toe.

Later, Jenkins predicts 197 people will be delivered from smoking tonight, and 43 delivered from drugs. He makes time for an aside: He’s been wearing this same pair of black pants for 30 years. They’ve been on him when he’s preached in Madison Square Garden, Spain and Brazil.

Near the end, Jenkins announces that God told him to ask 300 people to give $300 each to Leroy Jenkins Ministries. Give, he said, and you’ll never want for anything again.

From my seat, it looks like 200 or so people get up to give.

On the way out, Charlotte Jenkins, 60, of Southport stops her wheelchair to tell me she’s believed since 1966, when she says her 3-year-old son was healed of epilepsy at a Leroy Jenkins tent revival.

Couldn’t a church offer the same comfort he can? I ask.

“It could if they had the anointing he has,” says Jenkins, no relation to the evangelist.

You don’t have any doubts about a faith healer who wears a sequined coat and promises that God will make a miracle?

“Clothes ain’t got nothing to do with what’s inside him.”

No doubts at all?

“There are plenty of skeptics out in this world,” she says as she heads home. She’s not one.

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