Jesus promised that signs and wonders would follow those who believe. Justin Brierley reports on how Christ’s words are coming true in countries around the world today.
The story of baby Yasmin Gomes of Londrina, Brazil went viral last year. She stopped breathing shortly after she was born and, despite numerous attempts, the hospital staff were unable to resuscitate her. With no heartbeat or sign of oxygen in the body, a death certificate was issued by the doctor. A nurse placed the lifeless baby in a box on the altar of the hospital chapel.
Naturally, the family were devastated. But when Yasmin’s grandmother came to collect the tiny body, she received the shock of her life. The baby’s leg kicked, and then she opened her eyes. After being ‘dead’ for three hours, Yasmin went on to experience a full recovery. Yasmin’s parents gave her the name Victoria – ‘victory’ in Portuguese – saying, ‘There is no explaining miracles. They happen as God wants. There must be a higher purpose in all this.’ The doctor said he had ‘never witnessed anything like this in 20 years of medicine’.
Whatever you make of the story of baby Yasmin, hers is just one of hundreds of thousands of miracle stories from around the world. Onlookers from the West can seem strangely insulated from the supernatural reality that informs the lives of many people globally. Yet in China, where the Church is experiencing phenomenal growth, miraculous claims are commonplace. Edmond Tang, a researcher in Asian Christianity at Birmingham University says, ‘According to some surveys, 90% of new believers cite healing as a reason for their conversion.’ Indeed, in every part of the world, stories of the supernatural are a common part of the spiritual landscape.
Perhaps our ‘enlightened’ approach to science and reason in the Western world has also endowed us with some cultural blind spots. So what miracle stories are being reported? And is the rationalistic Western world willing to have its eyes opened?
The Blind Will See
Heidi Baker, with her husband Rolland, has spent many years as a missionary in the bush land of Mozambique, South East Africa. Heidi (Mama Aida to hundreds of her beloved children) not only delivers aid and education through the charity Iris Global, she also claims to see miraculous events on an almost daily basis.
It wasn’t always so. Early on in her ministry Baker had prayed to see blindness healed, but nothing happened. For over a year she continued to pray, believing one day God would grant the miracle.
‘That day came in a little mud hut church in the middle of Mozambique,’ she recalls. ‘A lady, blind from birth, was led in by a little boy. Compassion hit me and I prayed, “Oh God, let it be now.” The lady fell down in the Spirit and I saw her eyes turn from white, to grey, to brown. I was probably more surprised than she was. I’d never seen that happen before. I was so excited.’
Remarkably it was the first of three cases of blindness that Baker would see healed in the following three days. All three were women called Aida – Heidi’s name in the local language. It was a series of events which profoundly affected her. She says she heard God speak to her about the need for blind spiritual eyes to be opened in the Western world too.
‘God showed me the malnourished Church, eating crumbs from the Father’s table. He called us to see a world that might not be physically destitute, but is spiritually in desperate need.’
Ministry Among Muslims
David John* is an American healing evangelist, but his under-the-radar ministry is a far cry from the perma-tanned televangelist stereotype. John’s mission field is a Muslim majority country of the Middle East. In an environment where criticising Islam is a punishable offence, he and his team have developed a different way to get people’s attention.
As they go about their daily lives mingling with locals in restaurants, shopping centres and street markets, they ask God to show them people that they should speak to. These ‘words of knowledge’, which ‘almost always’ lead to people being healed, are a gateway for the gospel, he tells me.
‘Every Muslim we meet is living with a far more biblical worldview than most Western Christians have,’ says John. ‘They believe in the demonic and spiritual, but they view God’s role in it as quite aloof. They don’t believe that God speaks today. They are usually more shocked at the revelation of the sickness than they are with the healing.’
The team are careful about how they undertake the ministry, as laying hands on anyone in public can draw unwelcome attention. ‘I get them to place their own hand on the part of the body and I’ll usually say the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic, praying “let your will be done in Abdullah’s shoulder, as in heaven”,’ says John. ‘Healing in the name of Jesus Christ is one of the most powerful ways to communicate the love of God to them.’
People like Heidi Baker and David John see the world very differently to most Christians in the West. As well as the physical needs they encounter, they talk as if they are living on the frontline of a supernatural battlefield. Deliverance from demonic powers frequently goes hand in hand with the healings.
‘It’s not very pretty,’ admits Baker, describing the physical manifestations of writhing and vomiting that often accompany deliverance. ‘We gently work with the person and ask, “Would you like to be set free? If you trust in Jesus the demons have no hold.” If the person works with us then the demons leave within minutes.’
Baker says that as part of the spiritual opposition, local witch doctors have sent snakes when they have ministered in new areas. She (incredibly calmly) describes personally dispatching a poisonous Mamba snake which caused panic when it appeared in the midst of the crowd at a healing meeting.
‘The Lord said, “Just kill it.” So I took a big stick and smashed its head off. After that all these healing miracles broke out. When you bring Jesus to the darkness there’s no contest – the demons flee.’
John also often sees deliverance accompany conversion. His wife once met an Arab woman in a Starbucks who was a Reiki practitioner as well as being Muslim. While they were in the coffee shop, the ‘spirit guides’ she had invited into herself as part of her Reiki beliefs began to manifest themselves as demons. Back in the privacy of the team’s house the woman was delivered of them. ‘When they had been cast out she cried, “I’m free, they’re gone”,’ says John. ‘She was radically saved.’
Heaven Breaking In
Seeing the world as a spiritual battle zone seems to be common to the theology of all those involved in healing evangelism. Cessationist theology (which believes miracles ended with the early Church) is almost non-existent outside the Western Church. You also don’t get many strict Calvinists (in which all events, including sickness, are foreordained by God) among the miracle workers. If anything, their views resemble a charismatic form of Open Theism, in which every prayer is capable of tipping the balance in the running fight between good and evil.
According to their theology, God’s will is never for sickness, but where healing doesn’t occur it is a mark of the current dominance of Satan in the spiritual world. The war is being won but there are still battle casualties along the way.
In reality, most of those working in healing ministry are more concerned with winning people to Christ than the finer details of theology. In fact, the most powerful healing stories are often among nonbelievers.
Robby Dawkins, a US healing evangelist and regular speaker at New Wine and Soul Survivor, often prays for healing with non-Christians.
‘Non-believers get healed quicker than believers do,’ he says. ‘I think there’s less opposition from the enemy because he thinks he already has them. I see people get healed much faster at a witchcraft festival than I do at a church.’
Spreading The Word
As technology has allowed more miracle stories to travel around the world, so more people are trying to document the phenomena. Craig Keener, of Asbury Theological Seminary, has recently catalogued hundreds of stories in a massive twovolume book Miracles (Baker). Wellknown US healing evangelist Randy Clarke is currently working on a book that details miraculous healings along with medical evidence.
Film producer Darren Wilson has been attempting to capture the miraculous on screen. He started as an amateur and somewhat sceptical filmmaker, documenting strange phenomena such as gold dust appearing in charismatic meetings and evangelists offering street healing. The project escalated into a trilogy of films capturing the miraculous around the world. There is the Indian evangelist Ravi, who receives accurate prophetic details about people and places he is being directed to visit. Then there is the team who wander the streets of Bangkok seeing healings among ladyboys and prostitutes. The third offering, Father of Lights (Wanderlust Media) features a dramatic finale in Jerusalem. Through the healing of a Muslim man and an apparently divine twist of events, Wilson and his film crew gain entrance to the Dome of the Rock – something almost unheard of for non-Muslims. It’s gripping, sometimes jaw-dropping, stuff.
This seems to be the raison d’être of the most dramatic miraculous encounters – as a way for non- Christians to be alerted to the reality of a living and active God. For those like Dawkins, Baker, John and Wilson, every day is an adventure in which Christ reveals himself though signs and wonders.
Faith For Sceptics?
Many people remain sceptical of miracle claims, no matter where they originate. Exposure to prosperity preaching televangelists is doubtless partly to blame, but demand for hard evidence is also often difficult to satisfy. Medical verification is impossible in parts of the world where a health service is non-existent. Even where there is, healings rarely happen in circumstances that allow for convenient before and after documentation.
The question of why there seem to be more healings in the developing world than in the West also remains. For the sceptic the answer is simple – less educated people are more likely to believe in superstitious nonsense. However, those in overseas ministry have a different answer.
Catholic healing evangelist Damian Stayne frequently ministers in Africa, where he says that belief in God ‘is a given’. The sense of need is also greater: ‘Ninety per cent of African people have something wrong with their bodies,’ says Stayne. ‘In many places in Africa you only go to hospital to die.’
Where people in Britain can depend on the NHS for healing, people in many parts of the globe can often only depend upon God. That’s not to say healing miracles are confined to overseas. ‘All the things we’ve seen in Africa we’ve seen in Europe,’ says Stayne. Nevertheless, he says, ‘The statement “I need Jesus to do this” is a much bigger thing in the developing world than in the UK.’
Seeing Is Believing?
Since biblical times, miracles have had the capacity to make believers of sceptics. Filmmaker Wilson counts himself as an example of this: ‘I was pretty sceptical about all this stuff before I started making movies. But after eight years of travelling the world seeing for myself, it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a miracle man now. God’s heart is to touch humanity, and quite often that touch comes in the form of the miraculous.’
Miracles Around The World
An Eyeball Grows Back In South America
Miracle accounts are on the increase in South America where the charismatic church is growing rapidly. When American student Alex Humphrey went on a mission trip to Peru with his home church, a colleague prayed that they would see an eyeball grow into someone’s head. The following morning they prayed for a man who had lost an eyeball in a childhood accident. ‘At the end of our prayer, I felt something move underneath my hand,’ recalls Humphrey. ‘His previously scarred shut eye was open and underneath I could see the white of an eyeball. By the time we left church he had two functioning eyeballs where once there was only one.’
Raised From The Dead In East Asia
The Far East offers numerous miracle accounts, including people being raised from the dead. Elaine Panelo was living in the Philippines when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was admitted to hospital and was eventually pronounced dead. Later, in the mortuary, a Baptist pastor prayed over her, and was shocked to see the white sheet that covered her was moving. ‘You’re alive,’ the pastor told her. ‘You were dead for almost two hours.’ A later medical check confirmed that her cancer had also disappeared. A Filipino doctor and her husband who had diagnosed Elaine when she was ill were converted through her testimony.