Dental healer finds share of faithful believers

Faith healer says he embodies God's power to repair dental problems -- and, sometimes, to perform alchemy

Herald Tribune, Florida/May 20, 2007
By Christopher O'Donnell

Parrish -- A flashlight in one hand, a small mirror in the other, the Rev. Steve Jones shines a light into the wide-open mouth of Parrish resident Don Sturiano.

In the glare, the amalgam fillings in Sturiano's back teeth sparkle.

Earlier, Jones had laid his hand on the man's jaw and prayed for his teeth.

"You can see gold coming in it," Jones exclaimed to the crowd inside the revival tent. "They weren't that color when I first came in."

The 50-year-old West Virginia evangelist, who describes himself as "an interdenominational Christian," will pray for the sick and lame, but it's cracked molars, crooked teeth, toothaches and amalgam fillings that he believes are his calling.

Since he began praying for teeth in 1987, the former coal miner and amateur boxer says he has seen crooked teeth straighten in slow motion, cracked teeth heal, and blackened amalgam fillings turn to silver and gold.

Jones' claims have led to him being dubbed the "spiritual tooth fairy" and "God's dental assistant." But he is not the only evangelist tending to followers' teeth and claiming alchemistic results.

Known as the "gold fillings" phenomenon, worshippers across North America, Asia and the United Kingdom have reported that precious metals -- some in the shape of the cross -- have appeared in their teeth after visiting healers.

"Healing teeth is funny, but turning water into wine is funny, spitting on the ground and putting it in a man's eyes is funny," Jones said.

Born and raised in the Appalachian coal fields in West Virginia, Jones said he has always felt the need to pray for others.

But the urge to pray for teeth came in later.

Dreams of teeth and rivers of silver and gold troubled his sleep. Jones said he was told by Brother Connor, a toothless Georgia preacher, that teeth were his calling. But it took him several years to overcome his reluctance to try and heal teeth in public.

"I was trying to run from what God wanted," Jones said. "Finally, I had no choice."

Since then, he has practiced his orthodontic ministry across North and South America, Europe and Asia.

His appearance in April at a weeklong healing tent revival in Parrish drew crowds of up to 80 people each day. Many of those from Shining Light Baptist Church in Sarasota, where Jones has appeared in the past.

Inside the white tent, mounted spotlights brightly illuminate a small stage covered with faux-grass mats. Citronella candles encased in brown paper bags cast a yellow light in the aisles.

There is no charge to hear Jones preach, but assistants pass out envelopes and ask the worshippers to make a donation toward gas money. CDs, jewelry and tapes cassettes of Jones are available for purchase.

Jones comes on stage dressed in a black shirt and flannel trousers held up by black suspenders. His long, gray beard is wild, in contrast to his tidily brushed-back silver-grey hair. A shiny silver cross hangs from a long, thick chain around his neck.

He paces slowly about the low stage, speaking into a cordless microphone about the people whom his prayers have healed.

Some of the crowd know Jones from his previous visits to Sarasota. Two of them are invited on stage to recall how he healed their teeth.

"It's two years since we've known him; we've never gone to the dentist since," said Sarasota resident Mary Raber, who believes that Jones' prayers have transformed five of her filings to gold or silver. "The Bible says, 'If you believe, you will receive.' "

Jones' message is that it is God who heals. His prayers and the touch of his hand are merely the conduit for the miracle.

"It's the Lord that does the work; man doesn't do the work," Jones said. "All He says is all things are possible."

"That's the truth," one man murmurs in response.

As he becomes more impassioned, Jones' voice begins to get louder. A woman seated behind him at a keyboard starts playing hymn-like chords.

"I have seen some things that would make science realize that there is a creator," Jones told the crowd, his half-tenor, half-baritone voice now so loud that the speakers distort it. "Especially when you watch teeth move in slow motion and straighten; especially when you see God create things that wasn't."

Near the end of the evening, Jones invites those who want him to pray for their teeth to assemble in front of the small stage.

Moving along the line from person to person, he places one hand on a shoulder, the other on their jaw. "Thank you Jesus," he says softly, his eyes closed in prayer.

Some shudder at his touch. Others hold their hands out, palms upturned as if in rapture.

Sarasota resident Leann Schlabach came to the revival hoping Jones would heal her cracked tooth.

"It feels better; it was very sensitive," she said afterward.

Sturiano, the Parrish resident, was sure something had taken place in his mouth.

"I came expecting it to happen," he said. "When he prayed for me, I felt the right side of my face go numb."

The sun had long set by the time Jones brought the meeting to an end. Volunteers opened the flaps of the tent, letting in the cool night air.

The crowd filed slowly out. For some of them, Jones said, a miracle may already be in motion.

"Healing doesn't always happen there and then," he said. "It could happen when they're in McDonald's the next day."

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