Leroy Jenkins and his traveling crusade of healing
The Asian woman gets up from her seat and sidles to the aisle, leaving her two children with the assembled flock. Her daughter, maybe 10 years old, watches her with wide eyes.
Mommy’s done this before.
By the time the woman reaches the fissure in the wide rows of chairs in the Guilford Ballroom she’s near brimming with the Holy Spirit or some such thing. She’s in a plain white linen dress with a diaphanous purple sash tied across her chest. Her black hair is in a simple plait and her feet are bare, callused and strong. The feet of a dancer.
She puts them to use when she hits the aisle, expressing herself and her love for the Lord in interpretive dance with eyes shut tight as a well-dressed organist lays down a very funky spiritual on his Hammond B3.
Her young daughter, also in white – a Communion dress, it looks like, paired with a set of pearls stranded between intervals of silver chain around her neck – follows to the back of the room and tries to talk her mother out of her reverie, though the kid likely knows that almost nothing can bring Mommy down from this holy high.
Mommy brushes her away and continues her frenzied dance.
People are starting to stare. And there are hundreds of them in here by now, clad in Sunday best and weekend wear, zoot suits, sweat pants, fancy hats, T-shirts and at least one dashiki – a rainbow of pigmentation and ages and cultural pigeonholes, and a few genuine hotties.
They watch as a security guy in a red shirt corrals the Asian woman, secures her in a double chicken wing and ushers her out the door.
He hustles her past the wheelchair section that’s materialized near the exit – more than a dozen of them, both motorized and manually operated, with small treaded wheels and big thin ones, low seats and high backs, a few tricked out with hooks and racks for feeding tubes, oxygen hoses and intravenous drips.
They’re here, not unlike the Asian woman, to be filled with the Holy Spirit courtesy of the Rev. Leroy Jenkins – not the guy from World of Warcraft; that’s Leeroy Jenkins – and more than a few of them hope to rise from their carriages this afternoon and leave the building under their own power for the first time in… forever.
Jenkins is a man of God whose faith is enunciated by the power to heal, something he’s been able to do, according to his website, since the summer of 1960, after his right arm was nearly severed in a household accident and the Rev. AA Allen performed a miracle of God at the Atlanta Fairgrounds, restoring the limb to full utility.
The site does not say that he’s also an ex-con, with a slew of drug and booze arrests and a conviction, in 1979, on two counts of conspiracy to commit arson (one to the home of a South Carolina state trooper who gave his daughter a speeding ticket).
But he made parole back in ’85, before his marriage to a septuagenarian lottery winner (annulled in 2001), and has more or less stayed out of legal trouble, save for the state of Ohio’s mandate that he cease distribution of water from the well on his property, water which Jenkins says is capable of catalyzing miracles but which the Buckeye State claims is contaminated with harmful bacteria.
You can buy the stuff for $2 a bottle right here, from a guy at a side table. Forty bucks gets you 24.
It’s moving pretty good – many of the assembled flock have cases of the stuff, packed in white boxes with a monochromatic portrait of the holy man on the side.
He’s about to make his entrance.
“He’s a healer; he’s a prophet,” says the hype man. The flock erupts. “Go on, go on…. He’s the real thing.”
And he takes the stage, clad today not in one of those rhinestones Elvis suits he sometimes wears but a black tuxedo with peaked lapels and a wing collar shirt. And he’s singing a song about Jesus – how much we love Him, how much He loves us.
The security team has told the Asian woman, who now sits on a bench in the hall, that she can come back in if she promises not to dance. She’s on the bench, eyes shut tight, her arms and legs still working to her internal rhythm.
It’s apparent by the arch of his eyebrows, the slant of his eyes, that the reverend has perhaps had some cosmetic surgery. He affirms this with an opening salvo that involves the early days of his ministry, the cost of travel and, yes, a plug for his plastic surgeon.
“If you can look better longer,” he tells the flock, “do it.”
It’s just one of many pieces of counter-intuitive wisdom he drops this afternoon.
On the lottery:
“I don’t know if it’s a sin or not, but I’ll tell you one thing,” he says. “If I can put a dollar down and win ten million, I’m gonna do it. People say, ‘That’s the Devil’s money.’ I say, ‘I know, and He’s had it long enough.'”
On evangelist preachers:
“Somebody’s got to stop these hypocrites,” he warns. “If those people don’t go to hell for charging people [money] to go to church, then there is no hell.”
On the nature of God:
“I don’t like what I do,” he says. “It makes me sorta mad that God tricked me. He said, ‘I’ll heal you but you’ll work for me forever.'”
On his own merchandise:
“I got some tapes and books back there,” he tells them, “but they ain’t gonna help you. They may comfort you. But all you need is this Bible right here. Take it out and read it.”
There’s more than 1,000 people in here. Not a bad draw for a rainy playoff Sunday.
In the wheelchair section a young woman fills a feeding tube with milky stuff from a can and a bit of Jenkins’ miracle water. The tube runs into what seems to be her husband who is settled into a high-back wheelchair, one with a headrest. His left arm is trembling. His right one lays still.
“There are seventy-three men here today with prostate cancer,” the reverend proclaims from his pulpit. “How do I know? Because God showed me some of them.”
He leans down to address a couple in the front row.
“Ma’am?” he says. “You want your husband to stand up? He was talking about me before you came, wasn’t he? He don’t believe I can do it.”
The husband stands, burly with white hair, blue shirt and red suspenders. In the manner of a Vegas mentalist the reverend establishes that they do not know each other. And then he tells the man he has prostate cancer. The man tearily nods.
Jenkins has the man drink a small vial of the miracle water and then he lays the touch on the man, a hand on either side of his head, makes him repeat an affirmation.
“I am healed. I will never die of cancer.”
Jenkins goes on to restore a woman’s hearing, anoint a young man to the ministry, remove a cancerous spot on someone’s lung and induce an elderly woman to stand from her wheelchair, dance a tiny jig and walk across the room.
The young wife in the wheelchair section holds a hand-lettered sign: “I challenge you.” She neglects her post only long enough to wipe something from her husband’s chin.
Jenkins stops the music abruptly.
“There’s gonna be five minutes of the Holy Ghost flowing through,” he says. “You’re gonna see people getting out of wheelchairs, throwing canes up in the air.”
But first he lays down another touch, this one on the entire room.
“Imagine everyone that you were just given a thousand dollars,” he says. “I want you to reach in your billfold, get your checkbook and write a check for as close to a thousand dollars as possible. Maybe it’s a penny. Maybe it’s a dollar. The closest you can get to a thousand, whether it’s a quarter, nickel or dime. You gonna be blessed. And some of you very unexpected.”
Congregants choke the aisles on their way to the collection baskets in the front of the room by the stage. And everyone who donates gets the privilege of standing up there, right near the man as he wraps up the afternoon.
“I ask that God opens the windows of heaven tonight and pours you a blessing,” he says and the crowd stands with arms raised, eyes shut and faces tilted upwards. Even the sound guy is doing it. And there are tears of rejoice and voices high with passion. As the funky get-down builds to a crescendo he intones, “I love you and may God bless all of you and your families. Thank you so much.”
A new moment. A new chord. The reverend sings the recessional, a tune made famous by both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley: “My Way,” except that traveling each and every highway is, in this case, “God’s way.”
Somebody praise Jesus.
And the flock makes for the doors in a slow crawl, the flow impeded by all the wheelchairs and walkers.
To comment on this column, email Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.