Get ready for the Holy Spirit, faith healer tells Toronto

Critics of Benny Hinn say he is nothing more than a scam artist. Others believe he can cure even AIDS, writes Katie Lewis.

The Ottawa Citizen, Canada/August 17, 2007

Controversial faith healer Benny Hinn, dressed in a white suit, arrived in a sparking white helicopter.

"Hallelujah!" shouted the crowd of 50,000 people who turned out to hear Mr. Hinn at a rally in Kampala, Uganda.

"I can feel the spirit," said Pamela Adorra, 19, who lined up for 11 hours in the blazing sun to guarantee a spot in Kampala's Nelson Mandela Stadium in May.

"He can help me," added the shy woman, who hopes Mr. Hinn can cure her of AIDS.

Mr. Hinn, who arrives in Toronto tomorrow as part of his worldwide "miracle crusade," could be either one of two things: a man anointed by God to heal the sick, or a televangelist focused on profit who preys on the vulnerable.

The pentecostal religion -- a fundamentalist Christian denomination with an emphasis on charismatic worship -- is booming globally, particularly in Africa. It is spearheaded by people like Mr. Hinn who promise miracle cures, prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences.

Yet for Ms. Adorra, "Pastor Benny," as she fondly refers to Mr. Hinn, provides her with hope.

She's not the only one -- the front row of the audience, flanked by collection buckets, is scattered with people in wheelchairs, children with deformities, the blind and the deaf.

The crowd and Ms. Adorra gasp as they watch Mr. Hinn flick his wrist toward a woman standing on stage, who then faints, falling backwards into the arms of the attendants.

"God is giving you power over demons," he says, as some people in the audience continue to fall, crying. "He is giving you power over Satan, when you walk in, Satan will walk out."

It was Mr. Hinn's first trip to Uganda and his visit cost an estimated $1.5 million, in a country where the majority of people live on less than $2 a day.

Critics of Mr. Hinn say he is nothing more than a scam artist, profiting off the poorest of society.

"It's outrageous what goes on," says Rick Ross, who heads the Rick A. Ross Institute, a non-profit organization based in Jersey City, New Jersey that studies controversial movements and cults. "The simple fact is that no miracle allegedly occurring at a Benny Crusade has ever been objectively proven."

Others, however, believe Mr. Hinn leads a legitimate ministry.

"There are people that have been relieved of their suffering," says David Reed, an associate professor at the University of Toronto who studies pentecostal and charismatic religious movements. "Benny Hinn seems to be very gracious and warm and excited to see what God has done in somebody's life."

Benny Hinn began his healing ministry in Toronto by hosting his own evangelical program on television. On his website, Mr. Hinn said he was excited to be coming back to the city of his youth for a crusade.

"It's always wonderful to come back," Mr. Hinn wrote on his website about his visit to Toronto. "I urge people throughout the region to come expecting an unusual move of the Holy Spirit!"

Today, from his Newport Beach, California, studio, Mr. Hinn broadcasts his daily television show, This is Your Day, one of the most-watched Christian television programs in the world, with viewers in more than 190 countries.

He also organizes faith healing meetings, such as the gatherings in Kampala and Toronto that are reminiscent of a rock concert, usually held in stadiums in major cities.

Benny Hinn Ministries, headquartered Irving, Texas, has offices all over the world, including Toronto, England, South Africa, Korea, Australia, and Brazil.

Financially, Mr. Hinn is the most successful faith healer in the world, says Mr. Ross, allegedly bringing in about $100 million per year. The exact worth of his ministry isn't known, however, since U.S. tax laws don't require religious organizations to make their finances public.

Though most religious groups voluntarily provide this information, there are no records to show just how much Mr. Hinn is making, or spending.

He says every penny is spent on God's work.

Others have their doubts.

"Benny Hinn lives one of the most ostentatious and lavish lifestyles of any minister I have ever observed," says Mr. Ross. "He lives in a mansion in California, flies around in a private jet and acts as if he's a corporate CEO."

Indeed, Mr. Hinn flew to Uganda on a private jet, with an entourage of about 100 people and 10 security guards. He stayed at the high-end Kampala Serena Hotel, where rooms range from $240 U.S. to $2,500 U.S.

Mr. Hinn received a grade of "F" for financial transparency by Ministry Watch, an evangelical organization whose purpose is to review financial accountability and transparency of Christian groups.

But that doesn't matter to people like Ms. Adorra, who see Mr. Hinn as their last hope. These days, she lives with her brother, Arnold, after her parents kicked her out after learning about her diagnosis. She is a good student, taking a year-long course to become a secretary, and says it is her faith that keeps her going.

She is convinced that Mr. Hinn's healing gathering has made her well again -- all in the space of one day.

"He cured me of AIDS," she says at the end of the crusade in Kampala as thousands of people, some crying, begin to file out of the stadium. "I can feel it. I just know."

Katie Lewis travelled in Africa earlier this year as the inaugural Diane King Stuemer Fellow.

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