A WAVE of "supernatural" schools that claim to teach people how to heal the sick and even raise the dead are netting tens of thousands of dollars for fundamentalist Christian church coffers.
Hundreds of people across southeast Queensland flock to the courses every week, paying up to $720 to learn "faith healing" practices that allegedly trigger miraculous recoveries from broken bones, infertility and even cancer.
The Holyfire Ministry Training School at Park Ridge (see full story below), which offers a subject called Healing the Sick & Raising the Dead, recommends taking children on "treasure hunts" public outings to practise healing on strangers. "Children are great to have on Treasure Hunts. They are less threatening," its material states.
And one of Australia's largest churches, the Nexus Church on Brisbane's northside, offers "training in the Supernatural for kids aged 9-12 years".
The courses are linked to Bethel Church, a Californian evangelical group that is targeting Australia with its "School of Supernatural Ministry" brand.
Queensland is proving fertile ground for Bethel, with flood-ravaged communities in the Brisbane Valley among those embracing its teachings.
Fernvale Community Church pastor Greg Muller said: "We have people from not only our own area but people travelling from Ipswich and as far as Toowoomba to come to it."
The Courier-Mail understands that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is examining whether the Bethel-based courses breach consumer laws with misleading claims about their uses and benefits.
An ACCC spokesman said he could not comment on specific cases but said they treat health cases seriously because sick, vulnerable consumers looking for answers to their health problems are "more exposed to being exploited".
Bethel Church, which has been criticised by US scholars for touting "miracles" that can't be verified, sells its DVD curricula to client churches for about $US7000.
Its controversial head preacher Bill Johnson whose August visit to Australia follows last month's sold-out appearance at Nexus Church has claimed to see "angel feathers, gold dust and diamonds" fall from Bethel's ceiling.
Material from Holyfire Ministry Training School, obtained by The Courier-Mail, gives explicit instructions on how to approach and heal sick strangers on the street.
"Command the pain to leave, bones to be set, back to be realigned, tumor (sic) to shrink, etc," it states.
A spokesman for Westlife Church at Springfield, which also offers the course, said: "The church has never taught that people can perform miracles, only that we can ask God for His intervention."
But course operator Destiny4Life International Ministries states in its online flyer that students "will learn to . . . heal the sick".
Nexus Church at Everton Park, which draws 1800 people a week, charges up to $360 for its Brisbane School of Supernatural Ministry courses. The church declined to comment.
Almost 50 people are paying up to $300 each for a course run by Mr Muller.
He said they did not "give guarantees" that people would learn to perform miracle healings because "everybody's walk with God is different".
"(But) certainly, we've seen miracles take place," he said.
Mr Muller said he had seen a young boy born without nasal passages suddenly have them appear. "It's just a miracle. There's no medical explanation . . . it's just a short prayer and God does it," he said.
The Bethel Church in California did not respond to a request for comment.
True believers, but no miracles for sore knee
THURSDAY night class at the Park Ridge Baptist Church, titled "Healing the Sick and Raising the Dead", begins with good news.
Dean, a church member out on a "treasure hunt", has texted pastor Marty Mitchell to say a young woman has just "given testimony" to a miraculous healing of her injured knee.
A prayer is offered for one of the students who suffers from an identical affliction.
Laura, a sweet-natured woman in her 40s who needs crutches to walk, has studied at the Holy Fire Ministry Training School for two years.
Mr Mitchell, with laptop at the pulpit, has his voice amplified with a wireless microphone despite addressing a group of only six (including me).
"Do you feel anything happening in your body, Laura, any change?" he says.
"No," she says.
"There's no pain. I've had a lot of clicking in my right knee."
The pastor commands a "recreative miracle" in Laura's right knee cartilage.
"We're gonna do a miracle in her knee," he says.
"No more clicking, in Jesus's name. Let the all in presence go through that, bringing lubrication and freedom of movement, Lord."
Laura chimes in: "If she can do it for her, she can do it for me and anyone else who needs it."
Class continues. The pastor leads the group through John's epistles with a fine-toothed comb.
Later, Dean returns with tales of how often "treasure hunts" trigger miraculous healings. A visiting Bethel Church minister performed them with surprising speed and nonchalance, he says.
Class ends. "Can you hand me my crutches?" Laura says.
The miracles flow freely at Park Ridge, it seems. But sadly, not for Laura tonight.