King

April 7th, 2008

I met someone who claimed to be a faith healer once. It was comical, really — or would have been, it wasn’t so terrifying. I was reporting on religion at the time (something I still do on occasion to this day), and had scheduled the meeting with a pastor who headed up a place called Miracle Hands Ministries at the behest of one of his parishioners. Though I realized that he believed in faith healing, I expected it to be along the lines of the Pentecostals and Charismatics I had met who viewed faith healing as a distinct possibility, but not the primary focus of their beliefs — a nice to have that was part of God’s overall gifts, made possible by the power of prayer.

This, I’m afraid, was something else entirely. From the outside, it was an unassuming little church, tucked behind an unaffiliated Baptist church and the local Jehovah’s Witness headquarters. When I stepped inside, however, I kept imagining Elizabeth Vargas’ voiceover as she interviewed my parents and husband, asking, “Now, when you step inside this building, and you see the decay and horror before you — don’t you wonder what she was thinking? How she could have possibly continued forward?” I imagined the cameras panning to the birdcages, some empty and mysteriously full of feces, and some full of skeletal birds with sparse feathers and dull eyes. In the corner, there was a fish tank overrun with algae — there were piles of it literally overflowing from the top of the tank, highlighted by some sort of back light that cast an eerie green glow on the darkened room. Bags of crickets littered a table and dangled from the backs of chairs, and what looked like an iguana was slumped in the corner of a haphazard tupperware container placed on the floor. It smelled horrible, like the very essence of death captured in aromatic form.

And yet, I kept going — I honestly don’t know why, because I had a dark, sinister feeling that I couldn’t quite explain. I found him in the back in what he claimed was his office, though the only evidence that it was used for anything business-like was a desk sitting among piles of boxes filled with canned goods and open boxes of pasta — I remember seeing an inordinate amount of Ragu. He invited me to sit in a folding chair in front of him, and when I did, I couldn’t honestly believe what I saw. There were ants everywhere – covering his desk, nestled among the papers and at times, crawling up his fingers. And worse, he seemed not to notice, as though it was a daily occurrence, which I’m now certain it was.

Aside from the obvious, I can’t explain what an overwhelmingly bad feeling I had — not that I was in any personal danger, but something almost worse — that I was in the presence of true, dark evil. I can’t say I’ve ever had that feeling before, nor since, and I am almost reluctant to admit it, for I’ve never believed in such things. My appendages felt heavy despite my quickening pulse, and I had difficulty opening my mouth to ask him any questions. My tongue was thick and dry, and I remember desperately trying to swallow but being unable to move my muscles properly.

When I finally spoke, he answered in a slow drawl that suggested he was either thoughtful or drugged, and his responses were both frightening and hilarious in equal measure.

“It’s both a blessing and a curse,” he said of his ability to heal. “I’ve felt bones move beneath my fingers and helped children to walk again, but it all comes at a steep, steep price. Satan is never pleased with those who heal, and he seeks retribution.”

Retribution for him involved the sudden departure of his wife (“She took the money and ran …”), a near-fatal heart attack, an accident involving a drunk driver and, perhaps most pointedly, a washer-dryer set that continually broke down, a clear sign that Satan had a hand in the calculated breakdown of his household appliances.

And so it continued in much the same vein for more than three hours as he alternated between stories of miraculous healing and Satan’s swift retribution. He claimed to have healed everything from eczema to migraines to pancreatic cancer, and cited no fewer than five people who had been told they’d never walk again but were now running marathons thanks to his able fingers. He even admitted that at one time, a woman regrew part of her pinky finger that had been severed during a boating accident. And once, during a particularly magical service, he said, he looked up to find gold dust pouring from the ceiling, raining down on the pews.

In retrospect, what disturbed me the most was his claimed ability to heal checkbooks. When he said this at first, I foolishly imagined him laying his hands over checkbooks that had been neglected or damaged after a run through the Satan-infected washing machine. Instead, as most of you probably figured, he was referring to his ability to miraculously infuse cash into families down on their luck — with the assumption, of course, that a significant percentage of every windfall would be returned to the church, of which there was very little infrastructure beyond himself. In fact, he and his two children lived in the church, which explained the odd menagerie and discarded food strewn throughout. Nonetheless, recipients of healed checkbooks, he said, quickly turned into the church’s top tithers.

Nearly four hours and a million ants later, I left with a feeling of disgust unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since. I’m not one to believe in Satan, necessarily, but I do believe I was somehow in the presence of pure evil beyond anything I previously imagined. I immediately called my mother — the most religious person I personally know — and talked through what I’d experienced, asking her to please, talk to God on my behalf, tell him I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go there. That sounds crazy, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but that’s precisely what I did. And despite my agnosticism, I told him so myself, too.

I never did write the story, by the way, and part of me was relieved, for I initially pitched an in-depth expose involving background checks and financials and things that doubtless would have attracted the attention of a man I sincerely hoped would forget that I ever existed. He never asked about the article, either, and my hope is that he did indeed forget. As for why it never materialized, my editor at the time was a bit of a pansy who was afraid to incite the ire of the religious community, one that we relied upon quite heavily for both readership and content.

I’m honestly not sure what made me think of that today, but it’s a story I’ve been meaning to write down for a long, long time — I still have the notes I made that day, and as I read them tonight, I felt sick at the memory. I’m incredibly grateful that I never had to write it, and beyond this, I never will. I’ll admit, too, that part of me is wondering if he somehow isn’t responsible for the spider I found in my bed tonight, such is the unexplainable fear I have about this man and what he claims to do.

And though, as I said, I still write about churches and/or religion from time to time, I am grateful that the seediest thing I’ve encountered since was a bake sale whose profits were questionable because — GASP! — many of the participants bought their items instead of making them.

Have a great Tuesday and beyond!

*Belly

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26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. velocibadgergirl  |  April 7th, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Oh my freaking freak. SO CREEPY. :S

  • 2. Carol  |  April 7th, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    I can’t get past the image of the ants…thank god nothing happened to you – he sounds awful.

  • 3. Jenk  |  April 7th, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    This is incredibly creepy. In fact, at first I thought you were describing a movie or a dream. I had to go back and re-read to make sure you where talking about something that actually happened to you.

    I would have had nightmares for ever. EVER.

    How is it possible that he had children living with him?

  • 4. Assertagirl  |  April 8th, 2008 at 1:56 am

    You tell the story so vividly…just fascinating!

  • 5. Blythe  |  April 8th, 2008 at 2:37 am

    I am horrified and fascinated (and in awe of your ability to sit in a pile of ants for three hours).

    I hope you’re writing a novel, because this post proves again that you should.

  • 6. TwoBusy  |  April 8th, 2008 at 5:03 am

    Extremely well-told. I especially like the Elizabeth Vargas v/o — a nice touch, and one that nicely illuminates the scene from a different perspective.

  • 7. Sadie  |  April 8th, 2008 at 5:12 am

    How do you remember a single word that guy said; how did you have the composure to take notes? Because I would have spent the entire three hours NERVOUSLY SCANNING MY BODY FOR ANTS.

  • 8. Erin  |  April 8th, 2008 at 6:05 am

    Um. Icky. I am completely creeped out!

  • 9. Jen  |  April 8th, 2008 at 6:08 am

    I have the heeby jeebies just imagining the piles of ANTS. Piles!
    I’m curious though – did you talk to anyone that he claimed to heal?

  • 10. Jess  |  April 8th, 2008 at 6:33 am

    Ugh, just reading about this makes me feel slightly sick, so I can’t imagine how it makes you feel. Well I sort of can because you described it so well. But beyond that, no. Urgh.

  • 11. Swistle  |  April 8th, 2008 at 6:51 am

    Here is the part I don’t understand: how his wife could have left her children with him. I have this unpleasant feeling that she didn’t “leave,” per se.

  • 12. Maggy  |  April 8th, 2008 at 7:34 am

    You mentioned ants, and all I could think was “Fire ants. In underpants.”
    My mom does healing touch, which is kind of hokey, but seems to work. At least, it can’t hurt. She does not lay hands on checkbooks.

  • 13. jonniker  |  April 8th, 2008 at 9:33 am

    Maggy, is it like Reiki? I interviewed several Reiki practitioners and found it to be very soothing and surprisingly effective, as there seemed to be a warm psychosomatic aspect to it that really worked.

    Jen: I did talk to one woman — the only one who came forward in the 60-person congregation — who claimed he healed her migraines. Which, as you know, is just lame.

  • 14. Desha  |  April 8th, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Creepy does not even begin to cover it! Glad you made it out ok! Aaaaaants! So did you find out what the animals were all about?

    P.S. (just FYI) The “local headquarters” is called a kingdom hall, and its just like any meeting place, only with religion inside.

  • 15. She Likes Purple  |  April 8th, 2008 at 10:07 am

    I can’t believe you sat there and talked to him for four hours. That’s true journalistic ethics there. ANTS? EVERYWHERE? There are so few things I would sit in a room full of ants for and they all seem to involve a ridiculous sum of money being handed directly to me.

    You are BRAVE.

    Just. Wow.

  • 16. Dana  |  April 8th, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I was scared witless and then I chuckled out loud at the washer/dryer part.

    There’s a church not to far from us that my husband visited once as a joke. They do the tongue-wagging, trancing, etc. (I once picked up a friend there while the elementary kids were in a tongue talking CLASS. NO JOKE). During the service the preacher distorted the Scripture and took a reference to blowing the Spirit into people VERBATIM. He began walking over to people, lifting their shirts up and BLOWING INTO THEIR BELLY BUTTONS. He tried to to my husband, who stood there horrified, as the preacher’s “helpers” tried to pull him to the floor in a “faint.” My husband stood there and then spoke loudly into the preacher’s lapel mic: “I don’t believe this.”

    That place scares the hell out of me. He said the same as you: that never before had he felt true evil until that point.

    Brave girl!

  • 17. Kristin H  |  April 8th, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Ooooh, good essay. Well written. Also, creepy as hell.

  • 18. Jen  |  April 8th, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Migraines lady? Hmm, not so much. If someone had come out of the woodwork (or out of the washer-dryer set, maybe) and said that he had cured their blindness or made them walk again, maybe I would have felt like the evil and ants and general mess were for good reason.

  • 19. jonniker  |  April 8th, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Jen: Oh, it was evil in a way I can’t even explain. And I later talked about it with a Pentecostal minister, of all people, and what I determined was most frightening about it was the fact that for him, healing wasn’t about God. He WAS God, to those people, and he believed it. He considered himself divine, he absolutely did.

    When I worked with the Reiki people who were based out of a church, what struck me about them — as well as the Pentecostals, surprisingly — was that they didn’t see healing as being about the practitioner, but about the practitioners ability to harness the power of the holy spirit. It was NEVER about the person. Ever.

  • 20. ie  |  April 8th, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Wow.

    This reminds me of books that I have read (Stephen King for example) where there is a meeting with pure evil. That was it.
    If you “felt” it, then it was true.

    I have several healing methods on my “toolbelt” but at no time do I ever believe that I myself am doing any healing. Light flows through us, we are just the conductors.

  • 21. Sara  |  April 8th, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Eeeeeyah. That is my “holy crap I think I just peed a little” sound, because this was pretty godawfully scary. My mom was in a… I hesitate to call it a cult, so let’s just say a group of extreme Christians who believed that they served God by committing evil — they thought that without evil for God to smite, God had no way to prove his divinity, or some such — and a whole lot of this hit a little bit close to home. I thought you were trying your hand at fiction at first, and when I realized this was a real experience I just had to sort of stare blankly at the screen for a while.

    You are one tough cookie, yo. I would have yelped and run away at the first blacklight-lit bird carcass.

  • 22. H  |  April 8th, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    That’s freaky.

  • 23. erica  |  April 9th, 2008 at 5:37 am

    Damn fine piece of writing. :)

  • 24. Jennifer  |  April 9th, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Wow. I can’t even think of a rational comment (maybe that’s a sign of what a good writing you did?) I just can’t stop imaging the creepy guy, the ants…
    I’m so impressed that you stayed, and while I’m an atheist and consider myself more driven by logic than emotion, I am totally drawn into this and really believe that you could feel the evil.

  • 25. Christine  |  April 9th, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    So, uh, this story gave me the willies in the worst way. GAH!

  • 26. Susan  |  April 9th, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Glad you made it out OK. What a creepy story! I could picture everything you were describing.

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