An Australian evangelist has been offering miracle healing for Christchurch's quake-hit residents during a week-long tour of the city. SAM SACHDEVA went to one of the sessions to watch his work.
‘God can do a miracle for you, and it can happen tonight."
So says Daryl Elliott, an Australian evangelist who has travelled to Christchurch to help heal the city's residents.
The Potter's House, a small Edgeware church with white walls and rows of heaters, has filled up with about 20 people who have come to witness the miraculous.
Elliott is in the city for a whistle-stop tour to offer some comfort to residents and support the new church, which has been open for less than a year.
On a cold and rainy Monday night, the service begins with some musical performances, including a song by Christian rapper Dr J, and a brief burst of speaking in tongues.
The healing sessions are free, but two people collect "offerings" from the congregation as a proverb about the merits of giving flashes up on the projector screen in front of them.
Elliott delivers an impassioned sermon, before inviting people up to the stage to be healed.
One of the first to come up is a young Ethiopian man who has had a sore back for more than a year.
Elliott leans in close, puts his hands on the man's side and asks him to repeat an invocation.
"I pray to God, provide some healing for my back, break every word of curse and witchcraft, I forgive anyone who's hurt me and done me wrong . . ."
The rest of the congregation joins in, uttering a mixture of prayers that jumble together in the hall.
Pleas complete, it is time for Elliott to test whether God has come to the party.
"Is there any way you can tell? Can you touch your toes, do any stretches?"
The man does not seem convinced that he has been instantly fixed, but Elliott is enthusiastic about his apparent flexibility and mobility.
This pattern continues as others walk up to the stage.
A woman with carpal tunnel syndrome is asked to squeeze Elliott's hand - "there's a little bit of power in it," he says - before an elderly man with sore knees is asked to parade across the hall to prove that he is better.
"Keep on walking - you're walking pretty good, actually. Keep on walking for us, don't give up, walk on over here."
Satisfied, Elliott asks those gathered to give their thanks for the good works they have seen.
"Let's give God some praise - praise God."
Canterbury University cultural studies lecturer Gina Colvin says faith healing has long been an important part of the Christian tradition.
Some groups see faith healing as "an exercise of hope" without any guarantees, while others feel that they can harness God's power to heal people.
In cases where the promised miracles fail to eventuate, the healers usually have some way to "explain away" the failure, she says.
"Either the recipient is not faithful enough, or the healer is having a bad day, or it isn't God's will.
"The practice of faith healing itself is very rarely questioned in these instances, because to do so would be to undermine one's total faith."
Doctors say it is that lack of scrutiny which means people should not abandon traditional medicine.
Rolleston doctor Phil Schroeder, a regular churchgoer, says he personally believes that faith can help people "in most walks of life".
Nevertheless, he warns against anyone taking any drastic steps in the belief that they have been "cured" of their disease.
"In some cases, you get extreme situations being offered which can get patients into trouble, because they cease important medications on the understanding that they no longer need them."
Schroeder says patients who believe they have been cured should speak to their doctors first before making any decisions that they could later regret.
New Zealand Skeptics spokesman Michael Edmonds agrees, saying there is no evidence to support the effectiveness of faith-based healing.
"While, if accompanying conventional medical treatments, it should do no harm, I would be very concerned if it was used instead of conventional medical treatments."
As the faithful make their way out of the church, Elliott is quick to defend his work.
He "totally disagrees" with "extremists" who tell people to abandon medical care and encourages people to visit their doctors afterwards to "certify" that they have been healed.
"I never tell people to throw away their medicine, I tell them to stay under their doctor's supervision . . . I'm totally into doctors, I'm in no way against them."
Elliott says he is also careful to avoid making promises he cannot keep.
"I never say that I'm going to heal you, and I never guarantee that God's going to heal you. I just pray for people - I never tell them they're healed."
Despite these caveats, he remains convinced about the power of religious healing.
He speaks about a woman in his Perth church who was given three months to live after being diagnosed with a brain tumour 27 years ago, but who is still enjoying life with her children and grandchildren.
"Jesus says he shall lay his hands on the sick and they shall recover: That's a sign that God is real and God cares."
Elliott says scepticism about the healing power of prayer "has been around since the day of Jesus".
Is he giving false hope to people who can't be cured?
"Putting hope in Christ is not false hope . . . without hope, people shrivel up and die."
Scott Rait is one of those who have hope.
The stocky 39-year-old has been suffering from a stomach irritation for more than a year.
Doctors have been unable to find anything wrong with him, and Rait turned to miracle healing.
"I've had full blood tests, and everything was normal. I've been prodded and poked, and there was nothing there, so I thought I'd give this a shot and see. I believe God will heal me."
Less than an hour after Elliott touched Rait, the man said he already felt better.
He plans to visit his doctor for a check-up in a month, but is confident he will be cured.
However, Schroeder is quick to caution that confidence is no substitute for medical care.
"Medical science doesn't come close to explaining everything that happens in people's lives, but doctors have good reasons for putting people on medication."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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