Flamboyant television evangelist Benny Hinn offered a packed Reunion Arena his ambitious vision for Dallas on Friday: a $30 million spiritual healing theme park near Texas Stadium.
"Our generation does not really know who the great healing evangelists are," he said. "You will, you will."
Mr. Hinn is famous for his trademark white suit and healing crusades where he and his followers say miracles are routine. The "World Healing Center" would become a place, he said, where such miracles also would be easily found.
"In these gardens, an atmosphere will be built," he said.
Mr. Hinn's Reunion "miracle service" was his first major appearance in Dallas since he moved his headquarters to Las Colinas this year. Every seat in the arena was filled, plus more than 1,000 seats on the floor. Thousands more were turned away.
While most of the audience was from the Dallas area, some came from as far as Little Rock, Ark.
As the music started at 6:45 p.m., police were called to clear a crowd, including a man on crutches, from one door.
Poppy Carrillo of Lubbock had arrived at the arena at 2 p.m. and had gotten a seat with her mother. She left the arena to retrieve medicine from her hotel room and was not allowed to re-enter the arena when she returned. "What makes me frustrated is there is a chair in there with my Bible on it," said Ms. Carrillo, who has lupus. "My Bible's getting ministered to. That's one less person to be blessed in there."
Those who didn't get in missed a computer-generated tour of the proposed park. Mr. Hinn said that if donors come up with $30 million in the next two years, they would see a multimedia center built like no other. Located near Texas Stadium and the University of Dallas, it would cover about 50 acres. It would include a sculpture garden of life-size bronze statues depicting scenes of healing from the Bible, including piped-in music and dialogue.
It also would have a two-story "hall of faith" with small theaters that would feature re-creations of the services of famous evangelists, two chapels of theaters for children, a "prayer healing chapel" where people would be available for prayer 24 hours a day and a prayer tower where prayer requests would be prayed over all the time.
Donor cards distributed Friday night had donor blocks pre-printed for amounts that started at $100,000 and went down to $1,500. Mr. Hinn's ministry has raised more than $50 million a year. Critics say this plan is just a way to get more money.
"It's just another gimmick," said Ole Anthony, head of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a group that has investigated televangelists Robert Tilton, W.A. Grant and others. "People are desperate, and he's just selling them false hope."
But Mr. Hinn offered a different explanation. The garden will be a place where God's people "can come and see his miracles for generations to come," he said.
Mr. Hinn said that work will start on the gardens in January if $5 million is collected by Dec. 31.
Mr. Hinn has become a well-known television evangelist with a distinctive style. His This is Your Day show airs several times a day on TBN, which is available in about 100 million homes. His broadcasts reach 128 countries. His healing services - part preaching, part theater - are his most popular and his most controversial. He blows on followers, rubs his trademark white jacket over his body and flicks it at the audience, and he says he has witnessed miraculous recoveries from a long list of diseases.
Detractors, including Mr. Anthony, compare Mr. Hinn to a snake-oil salesman. Mr. Hinn was not available for comment Friday after the service. And the crowds that packed Reunion Arena seemed to have nothing but faith in the power of Mr. Hinn to connect to the Holy Spirit.
"We just want to be a part of the experience,," said the Rev. Anthony Ray of Houston. "It's the anointing that's on his life." He had no doubts that Mr. Hinn was for real, he said. "You'll know a tree by the fruit it bears," he said, then stretched his arms out toward the packed throng.
Mr. Hinn announced this year that he was moving his ministry headquarters to the Dallas area. He has since rented temporary office space in Las Colinas. His television production facilities remain in Aliso Viejo, Calif. Mr. Hinn had said in June that he would continue to preach in Orlando at his World Outreach Church, a church that drew about 12,000 worshipers a week. But last week, a spokesman announced that Mr. Hinn's church had been sold to and merged with an neighboring church.
A spokesman said that Mr. Hinn does not plan to start a new church, either in the Dallas area or in California.
According to the spokesman, Mr. Hinn plans to be in the Dallas area about one week a month.
Mr. Hinn's schedule for the next six months, posted on his Web site, includes planned crusades in Guatemala; Tampa, Fla.; the Philippines; Malaysia; Phoenix; and Little Rock. Friday's event was the only one scheduled for the Dallas area.
But during the service, he said the size of the crowd suggested he needed to return, maybe to Texas Stadium.
Those left outside Friday would probably welcome the chance to fill a larger place. Many stayed for hours after the service started. Some prayed or sang hymns in small groups. A few harassed the ushers at the doors.
That resentment was un-Christian, Ms. Carrillo said.
"I'm sure the Marilyn Manson fans treated those poor ushers better than these Christians have," she said.
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