Debbie Meeks edged closer to the faith healer, hands folded over herabdomen as if to shield the fibroid tumors clustering about her ovaries.
This was the night. The 35-year-old woman was certain. She had come to Broadneck High School with faith that God would heal her and make her able to have a child.
Down front, the healing evangelist, the Rev. Mahesh Chavda, was talking about Jesus. Sick people, holding onto walkers or crutches, weak and frail and hopeful, pressed down the aisles of the auditorium.
Meeks pulled her raincoat tighter and waited patiently as Chavda made his way across the front, stopping to pray over each person, calling on God's power to perform miracles.
God has used him to perform miracles before, Chavda said. In Africa, 200,000 people had walked miles to hear him speak. A leper of 14 years had been healed -- instantly. A crippled boy who had never walked had been healed. Eight blind people had received their eyesight.
All the glory was God's, said Chavda. "We will not touch your glory, Lord," he prayed.
But thepeople needed to be ready to receive a miracle, the ordained Baptistminister told them.
"We are trained, almost brainwashed, to have doubt and disbelief," he said. "We need to be cleansed of that. Because it is a work of God, we cannot analyze it too much. Better to justreceive."
The audience had been primed to receive, repeatedly told: "Things are going to be happening tonight. You may feel a tingling. . . . You may smell a fragrance of roses about you. . . ."
Meeks, at least, didn't need convincing.
She had heard that the New Covenant Church of Arnold was sponsoring the evangelist early in December. She had come from Annapolis, hoping to see the power of God.
And she wouldn't be a bit surprised if a bona fide miracle happened anda crippled person got up out of a wheelchair, she said.
Of about 500 people in the audience, those who could stand were on their feet,now, hands outstretched, faces glowing.
They sang, softly. They held hands. They helped one another down the aisles toward the center of power. One man was carried down on a stretcher. A blond-haired little girl, one leg shorter than the other, made the trip safe in her father's arms.
As Chavda touched them, men and women fell backward in apparent faints. Church members stood behind them, catching them and easing them to the floor.
"There is a sister in red with breastcancer," said Chavda. "There is a man in a white shirt with a hernia. There is a young man who is HIV-positive. There is a child with dyslexia. God wants to heal you."
One visitor at the service, Cheryl Richardson, wasn't looking for a physical healing. She came hoping that God would help her family "find Jesus," she said.
She has prayed for her parents since she became a Christian five years ago, said Richardson, 29, a research technician for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"Some things doctors can heal," said the young woman, eyes sparkling. "But our souls, only God can heal."
When it was Meeks' turn to be touched by Chavda, she, too, fell to the floor.
Later, when she had returned to her seat, the young woman explained thatsomething had indeed happened.
"I've had an ultrasound, and the doctors say I have fibroids and adhesions around my uterus. But I believe by faith I am healed, tonight," she said, shyly.
What if, whenshe returns to the doctor, the tumors are still there?
That won'tmatter, said Meeks. "Even if the doctors see something, I believe eventually they will be gone," she said.
One Severna Park resident, Lynette Ray, took the microphone to praise God. An elderly man exclaimed that a dented place in his leg, where a bone had been removed, was no longer dented.
But no one got out of a wheelchair, and the little girl with the shortened leg was carried out by her parents, seemingly in the same condition as she came in.
Meeks was undaunted. "The spiritual realm is different," she said. "I wanted to see the power of God, and I think I have."