Adolph and Pam De La O have followed evangelist-healer Benny Hinn to services across the nation and were among the 17,000 faithful at the first of a two-night crusade Thursday night at the Toyota Center.
"We came for the worship and the praise and the anointing (the presence of the Holy Spirit) that comes down in the service," said Adolph De La O, who discovered the TV evangelist while channel surfing 12 years ago.
The De La Os, who are members of Faith Assembly Worship and Learning Center in northwest Houston, said they and 34 other church members also were praying Thursday for the healing of their pastor's cancer-stricken daughter.
Hinn's crusades are known for miraculous healings of worshippers who attend the three-hour events.
The De La Os said it was divine power, not Hinn's power that cures. "Benny Hinn can't heal a headache; it is God who does the healing," said Adolph De La O, a construction contractor from Hockley.
The silver-haired, white-suited Hinn opened the service with several hymns.
"Heal our people," Hinn prayed aloud, "that this be the night that every sick body be healed.
"It is going to be glorious here tonight," Hinn greeted the assembly and asked them to repeat the greeting to each other.
Hinn, 52, is one of the most popular - and controversial - evangelist-healers in the nation. His daily This is Your Day! half-hour TV program is broadcast throughout the United States and 217 countries. His crusades regularly draw standing-room-only crowds.
"I have a great deal of respect for his ministry," said Stephen Strang, a nationally known Christian publisher.
Strang has known Hinn since 1977, when the evangelist began his rise to national recognition.
"He helps lots of people and he has always been arrow straight," Strang said. "Hinn has the ability, in my opinion, unlike anybody else in America to take people into God's presence in worship. That is really why people come to the meetings more than the healings."
What Strang considers the presence of God, the president of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation considers illusion.
"He is a great showman," said Ole Anthony, whose foundation primarily cares for the homeless but also investigates TV evangelists.
The Christian community is of a divided mind on Hinn-style ministries, said the Rev. Keith Jenkins, president of Houston Graduate School of Theology.
"A healing crusade is outside the realm of experience and faith practice of many Christians in Houston," Jenkins said Thursday. Lawrence Swicegood, Hinn's press representative, said Hinn does not claim to heal anyone.
"He does not claim to have the power to heal," Swicegood said. "God does the healing."
Strang considers Hinn to be a "holy man" who has a special anointing. An anointing in charismatic circles is considered to be a special blessing or presence of the Holy Spirit.
Thursday night, thousands responded to Hinn's altar call during which he asked everyone to give their hearts to Christ. Later, hundreds responded after Hinn began to command illnesses and diseases to disappear in the name of Christ.
"I command arthritis to go," he said, bringing many to tears.
Hinn listed several diseases that were healed Thursday night including cancer, emphysema, spinal curvatures, tumors and other maladies.