As I look back, one experience of God’s healing power stands out in my memory as the moment when God finally convinced me about His healing ministry and challenged me to partner with Him. It did not take place when I was preaching to thousands in a packed and brilliantly lit auditorium, but rather when I was talking to a small handful of people in a dingy African hut.
I had flown into Kenya determined to pray for people to be healed. It was my first long trip away from my church in London and I felt free to experiment, to be bold, to make mistakes, to preach and to pray in a way which guaranteed that I would look ridiculous unless God honoured my words. I knew that I would be away from my congregation for nearly three weeks and was determined to give it everything! On the plane I consoled myself with the thought that, if I did make a complete fool of myself, at least I would not have to face these people every Sunday for the following six months.
It was September 1987 and I had seen God heal many people in the previous few years – but mostly through other ministers and other church leaders. I was in my early thirties. I had been a Christian minister for eight years, an assistant minister at Kensington Temple for two years, and I was eager to do what I had not really done before. I wanted to speak God’s words of healing and see people healed, clearly healed, not just headaches eased and indigestion improving, but deaf ears hearing, blind eyes opening, lame legs leaping. Nobody could have been more earnest.
I felt good about the trip from the day I accepted the invitation to hold meetings in rural Kenya. Whatever happened spiritually, it was bound to be a special time for me as it was my first visit there in thirty years. I had been born in Kenya and was going to preach in Nakuru where my father grew up. Some of the modern realities of Africa quickly brought my three companions and me crashing down to earth. When we arrived in Nairobi, there was no transport and no equipment awaiting us. We had planned to show the “Jesus” film in the two local languages of Swahili and Kikuyu, but no arrangements had been made. The local leaders who had invited us were neither wealthy nor well organised, so we chased round Nairobi ourselves and hired ancient, crackly, beaten-up versions of the equipment we needed.
We drove north-west in a hired van to Nakuru and set ourselves up in the town square of its poorest suburb. Each evening several hundred people gathered in the square to sing. Local pastors and evangelists led the meetings and testified. I preached a simple message, appealed for people to give their lives to Jesus and, with a fluttering stomach, offered to pray for the sick.
I had not been in a situation quite like this before and could not tell what was happening. The people I prayed for were all dreadfully polite: they all said, “Thank you” and insisted that they were feeling much better. I assumed that they were merely being nice to a foreign visitor! Yet, when I reviewed the meetings after a few days with the team, we realised that there had been a strong manifestation of healing improvements. We could not say that medical miracles had taken place on the previous evenings, but there had been an awful lot of excited Africans bending and stretching and beaming with glee.
My boldness grew and at the last meeting in Nakuru I preached on the healing power of Jesus. A twelve-year-old girl was first in the queue when I finally got round to inviting sick people forward for prayer. Her companions told us that she had been deaf and dumb from birth. Without thinking, I found myself announcing, “She shall hear and speak!” The team stared at me in astonishment, but I was even more surprised than they were, for I had not said anything like it before in eight years of ministry.
We prayed for the girl, then I stood behind her and called her by name. Nothing happened. The team evangelist joined me and clapped his hands. The girl turned round and started to speak, not well or clearly, but falteringly, like someone learning to talk. It was a wonderful moment.
We visited the girl at a local house on the following day. Everyone was delighted, for she was hearing and speaking words much more clearly. The real joy was that she had been brought to Nakuru from the countryside to start attending a deaf school. I learnt later that she never did go there!
Excited, we left that family and were taken a few streets away to visit a bedridden woman in a typical two-room house. The team and I were elated after talking with the girl and did not grasp how seriously ill this woman was. We approached the house chattering about the girl, but became aware of an incredible spiritual atmosphere as soon as we went inside. We could feel that the sovereign God was standing in that tiny home beside us. We prayed for the woman, who was bedridden with a serious heart condition. She got up, started dancing round the room and promptly gave her life to Jesus. Everyone was overjoyed. None of us had experienced anything like it before.
From Nakuru, we drove high up to the mountains of the Rift Valley for some meetings at a place called Nyota Farm. This was to be our base for a few days and we went out from there to nearby farms, speaking in the fields to groups of about thirty or forty people at a time. We preached, urged the farm workers and their families to follow Jesus and offered to pray for the sick. There were several healings and a clear sense of power in evangelism; many people accepted Jesus. Then a group asked us to pray for a boy with a withered leg who looked as though he was suffering from polio.
About two dozen curious Africans crowded round us. We prayed and prayed until we ran out of words and energy. Eventually, crestfallen, we gave up. The young boy limped off in the same way that he had limped up and we drove back to the farm feeling as useful as an overcoat in a heat wave. It seemed that a dark, heavy cloud was pressing down on us. We had failed. After all the excitement of the previous few days, none of us could understand why God had done nothing for this lame boy.
The following morning I felt so low that I would not go out preaching with the team. I backed out from the session and told them to manage without me.
After they left, I tried to be pious and pray. Finally, I stopped pretending and blurted out, “Why didn’t You heal him?”
Quick as a flash, God responded, “I have a purpose for that boy just as I have a purpose for you.” The issue was closed. God had nothing more to say on the matter.
This experience had an immediate and profound effect on me. I knew that God was dealing with me and, in response, I hunted through my luggage for a book about the Pentecostal healing evangelist, Smith Wigglesworth, which I thought I had packed in London as medicine for just such a low moment as this. But I could not find the book anywhere. I kept on packing and unpacking the contents of my suitcase, but in vain, the book was not there. Frustrated with myself, I sat in a chair and despaired that there was nothing to restore my faith.
I was not too low to smile at myself when I finally noticed my Bible. Nothing to build my faith – how could I be so foolish? I read through the healing stories of Jesus and it was as though I was being led by the Spirit on a personal guided tour. The Bible stories seemed amazingly real, so real that I could see myself in the situations. It was as if I was actually witnessing the events as they happened. I “saw” Jesus touch the leper, open Bartimaeus’ eyes, restore Jairus’ daughter, and so on. A small group of seekers huddled in a dusty field round a boy with a withered leg did not seem that far removed from the events I was reading. Suddenly the Scriptures seemed desperately relevant.
By the time I put my Bible down I was deeply convinced of two truths. First, I realised that Jesus always ministered with an absolute certainty in the Father’s willingness to heal. Of course, I knew that Jesus followed the Father’s directions and healed only those to whom He was pointed – He did not pronounce blanket, indiscriminate healing to all the Judean ill. But, equally, Jesus did not need to consult with the Father when the leper asked if He was willing to heal him. Jesus did not have to stop and check whether the man was on God’s list for that day, as he knew that the Father’s willingness to heal extended to all.
Second, I grasped that Jesus healed everyone who came to Him – humbly, simply, sometimes privately, but always all and always completely. He never said, “Wait and see” or “Not today.” He never told anyone to go away and come back later.
As I sat there in a small African hut, Jesus’ willingness to heal people flooded into my spirit and has never left me since. A phrase from one of the Bible stories started running through my mind: “Don’t be afraid; only believe. Don’t be afraid; only believe.” It was as though a holy MP3 player was plugged into my mind.
Eventually, I got up and stumbled out of the hut into the African sunlight. Where were the sick? I looked around, wondering who I was meant to heal. Just then, a messenger dashed up and started speaking rapidly in Kikuyu. A woman who was five months pregnant was miscarrying and they needed to borrow the farm van to take her to hospital. I ran across the fields to where I could see men carrying her, knowing, knowing for certain, that she would be healed.
By the time I reached the woman, I knew in my spirit what to do. I laid my hands on her, commanded healing and announced that she was healed. The farm workers ignored me and bundled her into the back of their van, which had no suspension, and they drove off down the rocky track, bouncing about in a cloud of dust.
Later I learnt that the bleeding and pain stopped ten minutes after we had prayed and that the men were rebuked by the hospital staff for wasting their time with a perfectly healthy woman. They fled from the hospital and, in true African fashion, immediately visited all their friends to tell them what had happened.
We had planned to show the “Jesus” film at the farm that evening, outside in the open air. Before we began, a local evangelist arrived and asked us to go with him to a group of sick people who had gathered five miles away, at the place where we had been expected that afternoon. (We had not been able to go because the farm van had not returned.) I told him that people were expecting to see the film, so he should bring the sick people to the farm if they wanted to be healed.
The film had already begun when this crowd arrived. We stopped the film for a moment, and I told those who wanted to be healed to come with us into the hut while the others stayed outside watching the film. Fifty people squashed into a mud hut which was lit by a flickering oil lamp. They milled around and would not get into an orderly line. I felt excited and a little apprehensive. One particular woman kept on jostling the other people and bumping into them. I sensed myself becoming irritated with her and hoped that I would not have to pray for her.
A young man with a paralysed arm was the first person to be prayed for. I am not sure why, but I thumped his arm and he was instantly healed. With that, everyone in the room went quiet and still. The disorderly woman was pushed forward for prayer and I suddenly realised why she had been bumping into people: she was completely blind. I found out later that she had walked over ten miles to the meeting and now she just stood there grinning at me, knowing that she was going to be healed. The team grinned at me, too, but they were more nervous than confident. I laid my hands on her eyes and prayed every type of healing prayer I knew. When I took my hands away I asked her whether she could see.
She blinked and gasped, “I can see!”
The interpreter asked her what she could see. She peered at me in the dim light, then screamed in Kikuyu: “I can see a white man!”
There was almost a spiritual riot in the hut. Of the fifty sick people, all bar one deaf boy were completely healed in the next thirty minutes. We burst out of the door and stopped the film outside. Amazingly, they had just reached the point where Bartimaeus is healed. I gestured for silence and announced, “While you have been watching actors acting, the real Jesus has been active in here.” The blind woman then told her story and showed them how she could see.
The people celebrated through the night. As the news spread, more and more Kenyans came running from the surrounding farms and villages. I took it in turns with the team to preach and pray for healing. When it was light, we used a nearby lake to baptise those who had given their lives to Jesus. Without any suggestion from us, they all came up out of the water speaking in tongues! It was a taste of revival, the clearest that I had known at that point in my life.
Looking back, I realise that we should have changed our plans and stayed at Nyota Farm for longer, but we stuck to our itinerary and moved on to the next rural area we were scheduled to visit. Our gracious Father went on honouring our words and answering our prayers, but nothing as dramatic as the healings in the hut occurred again that trip. All too soon it was time for us to return to cynical, secular London, to comfortable homes and a large, contented church surrounded by millions of hurting people living without hope.
As we flew into Heathrow, I was determined to carry on praying for people to be healed. I promised myself that I would not go back to my old ways of ministering, for the trip had permanently freed me from the fear of experimenting and making mistakes. I was ready now to minister at home in a way which guaranteed my looking ridiculous if God did not honour my words. I told myself that, whatever the difficulties, I would stay with it until we were experiencing in London what I had tasted in that tiny African hut.