By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
Pastor Bob Coy is at the pulpit. And he is not alone. God is with him. As are more than 2000 Bible-toting worshipers. They are seated on folding chairs and theater-style seats in the warehouselike building that is the sanctuary of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Like Pastor Bob the congregants are dressed in anything but their Sunday best on this Wednesday night in December: jeans, T-shirts, sandals, halter tops -- even camouflage. The drums, keyboards, and electric guitars have quieted, but the TV sets provided for those sitting in the far reaches of the sanctuary still flicker with Pastor Bob's genial, boy-faced image.
Dressed in khaki pants and a short-sleeve shirt, he is teaching the first book of Samuel, chapter 11. The book has been the subject of his weekly Bible study for three months now, and 20 chapters remain. Pastor Bob is more self-help guru than fire-and-brimstone preacher, and he says today that earthly bliss and eternal salvation are the rewards for those gathered and for anyone else who will follow one simple prescription: Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.
The service falls well short of full Pentecostal fervor. No one speaks in tongues or heals people with his or her hands. In his trademark high-pitched voice reminiscent of Dana Carvey, Pastor Bob decries the traditional Sunday school view of Jesus Christ as a "very spiritual Mr. Rogers or Captain Kangaroo." He throws in Barney and Big Bird for good measure.
The laughter that follows is long and loud. But the humor masks a darker question Pastor Bob is posing to his mostly 25-to-50-year-old, middle-class, ever-growing flock: Are you willing to become a "soldier" in the Lord's army? "When's the last time there was enough righteous indignation in your heart to do anything?" he asks, castigating them with a smile.
At least one person in the sanctuary tonight is a member in good standing in God's army. Nine years ago Mark Kielar was a 30-year-old millionaire television producer and lapsed Roman Catholic contemplating the purchase of a Rolls-Royce. Instead he read the Bible from front to back, and, somewhere between Genesis and Revelations, he discovered God. Now he hopes to spread the Word of God to the masses. Last October Kielar, in partnership with Pastor Bob and Calvary Chapel, launched Cross TV, a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, Christian cable television station.
Cross TV is the logical next step for Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Since Pastor Bob, former entertainment director for a Las Vegas casino and a onetime cocaine dealer, arrived in Fort Lauderdale 13 years ago, he's seen his flock grow from three people praying on the beach to a total of about 10,000 congregants who attend six weekly services at the church on Gateway Drive in Pompano Beach. In 1998 about 2300 people came forward during services at Calvary Chapel to be "saved," or accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. On Christmas Eve 17,000 people -- Calvary's congregants as well as friends and family members in town for the holidays -- gathered for a special service at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise.
And the church continues to grow. In February Calvary Chapel will move to a new building being constructed on a $21 million piece of property on Cypress Creek Road in Fort Lauderdale. The new facility will house a cafeteria, a Borders-size bookstore, athletic fields, and a sanctuary that seats 3400 -- not to mention a fish tank to rival that of Rainforest Cafe. Actually, the building isn't big enough. Plans have already been made to construct yet another building, one that will accommodate 5000 worshipers. After it's built the smaller sanctuary will be converted into a gym and youth center, according to Calvary Chapel officials.
You can't build without money (or at least the promise of it), and Calvary Chapel has plenty. According to its audited financial statements, the church collected $6.7 million in tithes and offerings in 1997. Contributions are expected to total $9 million for 1998. Part of Calvary Chapel's fiscal might is due to entrepreneurial savvy. On its premises the church operates a bookstore, cafe, and cassette tape-sale service that, combined, brought in another $1.1 million in 1997. The SonShine bookstore hawks not only Bibles but also more consumer-friendly items such as "Yo Quiero Jesus" T-shirts and "WWJD?" (What Would Jesus Do?) neckties.
As casual and friendly as Calvary Chapel and its congregants seem, the church is comprised of born-again Christians who, under the local leadership of Pastor Bob, take a hardline view on what's right and wrong. They are literalists when it comes to interpreting the Bible, and, despite denying that he's politically motivated, Pastor Bob does advise his congregants on how to vote when it comes to moral issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.
Still, his methods are appealing. Pastor Bob is extremely likable and, as a result, popular among Calvary Chapel congregants. And the plans that he and Kielar have for Cross TV steer clear of the big-haired, Bible-thumping, send-us-your-money approach that most Christian TV broadcasters practice. Cross TV, they hope, will look much more like MTV than The 700 Club. The Word of God, however, will be heard amid the clamor.
At the moment Pastor Bob Coy is God's conduit, both on TV and in Calvary Chapel. Twice a week his teachings are broadcast on Cross TV. The show is one of the few outright biblical programs in the station's lineup. Otherwise, the blueprint for Cross TV is basically an amalgam of every type of successful secular programming currently available, but with one twist: Jesus. In other words the station offers or hopes to offer: cooking shows in which chefs talk about the Bible while stirring the bouillabaisse, a SportsCenter-like program featuring athletes praising Jesus for their on-field exploits, and dramas that offer Christian solutions to life's toughest problems. One show already on the air, Home Life, is described by Calvary Chapel officials as a kind of "Christian Regis and Kathy Lee." Cross TV will not pound viewers over the head with God but discreetly plead His case.
"There are a lot of people, for one reason or another, that are turned off [by] the church," says Coy. "But there is also, in the heart of every man, a burning desire to know God. If my biblical mandate is to reach those with truth, the best medium for telling truth to the masses would be the television set."
Kielar says that his goal with Cross TV is to marry the technological sophistication of mainstream TV with a sound message. "If you see what they're doing on television, it's mind-boggling: the animation, graphics, high production values," he notes. "The problem is that the content is sorely lacking in terms of anything with any redeeming value. There's nothing spiritually uplifting. There's no mention of God in any tangible, biblical way."
Christian TV, on the other hand, is usually poorly produced and focuses more on money than on God, Kielar contends. "It's often people holding out their hands, looking for money and representing God in a way that isn't biblical," he says.
At this point, though, Cross TV is as much prophecy as practice. It reaches just 45,000 households in northern Broward County, including parts of Coconut Creek, Margate, North Lauderdale, and Parkland. (Cross TV is broadcast on channel 68 by TCI of North Broward.) Both Kielar and Coy refuse to make any bold projection ("Where God guides, God provides" is their oft-repeated motto), but clearly they have big plans for Cross TV.
They're now finalizing an agreement with Zoe Broadcasting Network (ZBN) that will enable Cross TV to be broadcast to approximately 25 million people in the Philippines and eventually the entire population of the island country -- 74 million. To do so ZBN has to pull together $640,000 for an antenna and transmitter, which should happen within the next couple months, according to Kielar and Coy. While it seems odd that Cross TV would attempt to expand internationally before doing so at home, Kielar claims the Philippines deal is a coincidence. The Philippines-based ZBN approached Cross TV, not the other way around, he says. He admits, however, that he and Coy will soon seek other opportunities to expand internationally.
Eventually Kielar would like to see Cross TV producing at least half of what it airs. But the vast majority of the programs now showing have been created elsewhere, either by production companies, such as Gospel Films, or individual producers. Among the shows are: Masquerade, featuring Christian music videos; Just the Facts, which helps teenagers deal with problems like peer pressure and drug abuse; and more traditional religious shows hosted by well-known evangelists such as Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement. Cross TV, a nonprofit corporation, has mostly limited itself to producing short spots to fill in the programming holes. One recurring feature is called Prayer Update. The one-minute spots list the many sins famous celebrities -- such as Marilyn Manson, Madonna, or Ted Turner -- have committed, then ask viewers to pray for them.
Cross TV may be a nonprofit organization, but it has more technical savvy and resources than the standard start-up charity. Most of the staff and equipment come from WJMK, Kielar's Boca Raton-based production company, which has created nationally syndicated TV series for networks such as CNBC and PBS. Thanks to WJMK's resources, Cross TV has been able to survive with a relatively streamlined budget.
Cross TV also is soliciting potential donors, primarily Christian-focused, grant-making foundations, with a "wish book" of shows it hopes to produce in the future. One such program is Totally Christian Karate Kids Adventures, a kids show in the vein of Power Rangers and Mortal Kombat. Another is I Have an Answer, a Jeopardy-like game show in which all the questions and answers relate to the Bible. Both have yet to be funded.
Another show, In the Light, is billed as a "Christian soap opera." The text in the wish book asks: "What if there was a TV show that depicted everyday life? The joys, struggles and decisions we all deal with, but dealt with by the wisdom of God's word.... Topics can be covered like how to be a proper witness, sexual immorality and what love is, just to name a few."
The book suggests that viewers won't be the only folks affected by the show: "Every week, believers and nonbelievers alike will be exposed to Christianity, be it memorizing lines on set or watching television at home."
Pastor Bob, who sits on Cross TV's board of directors along with Kielar and one other WJMK employee, says that God will determine how quickly the group moves ahead with its plans. "I'm not a businessman in that sense -- forecasting goals for the future," Coy says. "I'm simply a Christian. I hope to follow in the footsteps of my Savior. It's a little different philosophy."
If that's the case, God is leading Cross TV down one very ambitious path, according to Jeffrey K. Hadden, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia who studies religious broadcasting. He notes that, while many large churches seek TV time, few actually start a station that goes beyond local markets. Cross TV's plans to produce its own shows will be especially difficult to carry out. "That's a long, long row to hoe," Hadden says.
Taking Cross TV to the Philippines -- and possibly beyond -- is actually a natural step for Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. The church already supports missionaries around the world -- in Liberia, Russia, and Guatemala, to name a few countries -- who are trying to win more converts to Christianity. Their hope is to convince people to become "born again" of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to insure their ticket to eternal life.
Coy seldom uses the term "born again." "Because Jesus coined the phrase, I think I need to embrace it," he says. "But I think what the world has done with it has only led to disappointment and, sadly enough, misunderstanding. A born-again Christian... ought to reflect true Christ-like character. Well then, why is the born-again Christian in popular film presentation portrayed as anything less than an idiot or a madman?"
Those who've been saved at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale are a mixed lot, ranging from laid-back practitioners to zealots. Orsena Bartoloni falls into the latter category. For 18 years the 55-year-old home health aid was a Jehovah's Witness. She left that religious "cult," she says, after members attempted to kidnap her. "I swore I'd never go back to church again," Bartoloni recalls.
But she attended Calvary Chapel for the first time a few years ago on the advice of a friend and has been a faithful worshiper ever since. She was also drawn by the teaching of Pastor Bob. "He doesn't yell and scream like all the other preachers," she says. "I think of him like Jesus. Jesus, I don't think, would scream and yell at people."
Bartoloni keeps a white three-ring notebook, tracking the people she has converted to Christianity. The list runs four pages long. She says she once convinced the man loading her groceries at Publix to accept Jesus as his Savior. And she often talks about Christ with the elderly clients for whom she helps care. "I got two Jewish people once," she says, "but then later they said they didn't believe in Jesus."
Publix is also where Julie Davis discovered the teachings of Pastor Bob, while listening to the radio in the parking lot. (Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale services are broadcast on two local radio stations, WMCU-FM [89.7] and WAYF-FM [88.1], as well as on 140 other stations nationwide.) "He started talking about the books of the Bible and how one is the hot fudge and one is the spinach and one is the meat," recalls the 52-year-old owner of a beauty salon in Lighthouse Point. "And I just sat in the parking lot of Publix, and I listened to the whole teaching. I found out where the church was, and we went, and I was saved the first day."
Davis' husband, Charlie, also age 52, was a little more cautious. He and his wife were lifelong Presbyterians, and he continued to serve as a deacon at their church. But he also began to attend Bible studies at Calvary Chapel on Wednesday nights. A year later, in July 1993, Charlie was "saved." He then tried to convince his fellow Presbyterians that the pomp and ritual of their services was a waste of time. What mattered was having a personal relationship with God, through Jesus. His fellow Presbyterians weren't interested.
The Davises' story is a common one at Calvary Chapel. Many of the congregants come from Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant backgrounds and have long considered themselves Christians. But what they consider an overemphasis on tradition, ritual, and social gatherings, as well as a lack of grounding in the Bible, has turned them away from traditional institutions.
Donald E. Miller, a professor of religion at the University of Southern California, says this kind of rebellion is a nationwide trend. In his book Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium, published in 1997, he describes the rapidly growing movement toward Calvary Chapel and other nondenominational religious groups as a "second reformation." "The style of Christianity dominated by 18th-century hymns, routinized liturgy, and bureaucratized layers of social organization is gradually dying," he writes. "But what makes this reformation radical is that the hope of reforming existing denominational churches has largely been abandoned."
As friendly as the Davises and other worshipers at Calvary Chapel seem, their world-view is constricted by the dictates of the Bible. They have little tolerance for people with other beliefs. Homosexuality is a sin. So is abortion. In his study of Calvary Chapels, professor Miller found that more than half of the worshipers at the Calvary Chapel he surveyed identified themselves as either "conservative" or "extremely conservative." Only 8 percent said they voted for President Clinton in the 1992 election. "There is a strong ethic of individual responsibility that resonates with a Republican bootstraps philosophy," Miller told New Times. "Conservative Christians, including Calvary Chapel members, would always attempt to legitimize their moral view with reference to Scripture."
Coy maintains that he keeps clear of politics. But prior to last November's election, he gave his worshipers voter guides assembled by the Christian Coalition. Included on the November ballot were amendments to the state constitution, and Coy explains that he was concerned that the wording of certain amendments was misleading. One amendment, which was passed by voters, defines "natural persons" as "female and male alike." Conservative groups fear that, by eliminating the distinction between the sexes, a government opens the door to allowing homosexual marriages. The Christian Coalition voter guide urged its readers to vote against the amendment.
"If you believe that homosexuals need more rights, I want you to vote your conscience," Coy says he told his congregation before the election. "But if, on the other hand, you believe that homosexuals right now have plenty of rights, and that right now they've got the strongest lobby in Washington, well then vote your conscience there. I'm not here to tell you how to vote. I'm simply telling you that these amendments aren't as they appear to be."
Coy claims that homosexuality is a sin like any other, as evidenced in the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and is treated as such at Calvary Chapel. It is no different, he says, than someone cheating on their spouse. "The only difference is the object. It's all sin."
The political views of worshipers at Calvary Chapel are influenced in other ways. Posted on the wall at the church is a faxed copy of Citizen Issues Alert, a newsletter put out by Focus on the Family, the conservative Colorado Springs group headed by Christian guru Dr. James Dobson. The missive warns that sodomy laws are under attack in several states and that efforts to pass legislation ensuring equal rights for gays and lesbians are widespread. And among the choices in Calvary Chapel's tape library are conspiratorial right-wing titles such as Taking Liberties: The Legacy of the ACLU and The Sixty Minutes Deception: An Expose of Media Corruption. The latter was produced by Citizens For Honest Government, the same organization that created The Clinton Chronicles, which detailed the President's purported crimes, including abetting drug-dealing and murder.
Before arriving in South Florida 13 years ago, Bob Coy knew more than a little bit about criminal behavior himself. He grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where his uncle was a Lutheran minister and churchgoing was a regular part of life. But Coy remembers the church of his childhood as more ceremony and social function than actual Bible study. "After 20 years of going every Sunday, I didn't know Matthew from Romans; I didn't know Hosea from Revelations," he says.
Most boys in Eastern Michigan in the '50s dreamed of getting a union job with one of the big-three automakers and living a comfortable middle-class life. Not Coy. "Screw on headlights every day?" he recalled asking himself during a testimony he gave to his congregants two years ago. "Make sure taillights are fit in their position, day after day for 30 years, so I can retire at 45? I'm not gonna do that.... Now what will I do? Well, I want to make money."
Coy went into the music business, and he was a natural from the start. He began as a salesman in a record store in Southfield, Michigan, and was soon promoted to buyer, picking out albums that would, he hoped, become tomorrow's hits. He was so successful that he was soon selling records for United Artists. At the age of 21, he was hired by Capitol Records in Los Angeles, where he shepherded rock stars around in a company car, charging food and drink on the corporate expense account -- and snorting cocaine, according to his testimony.
The meteoric rise didn't last long. Addled by drugs and alcohol, Coy was fired by Capitol after just three years. He moved to Las Vegas, where he landed a gig looking after the properties of wealthy owners. But the entertainment business continued to beckon, so Coy went to work for a casino, which at the time offered an "urban cowboy" motif. When that trend fizzled, Coy came up with a new form of entertainment for the casino: the topless revue.
But he was miserable. "Even after I had the opportunity to taste all that the world has to offer -- whether it be drugs or alcohol or then women -- I found myself saying, man, this does not satisfy," Coy recalled in his testimony.
He had a few false starts with religion. He prayed occasionally, and he married, in an "act of carnality," a born-again Christian woman he'd known for less than a week. By the time Coy traveled across the country to meet her parents in Pittsburgh a few weeks later, they were already headed for splitsville. Coy continued to snort -- and even deal -- cocaine.
Then he found God. After a debauchery-filled Christmas Eve party featuring plenty of alcohol and cocaine, Coy showed up at his brother and sister-in-law's house in Las Vegas the next day with a bottle of booze and a look of desperation. The young couple, who'd recently "gotten religion," had been praying for him. That night, before Coy went to bed, his brother tossed him a Bible. In the early morning hours of December 26, 1980, Coy read the Book of John, chapter 3, verse 16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." And he got religion himself.
Through his brother, Coy found his way to a Calvary Chapel in Las Vegas and began to study the Word of God. The Calvary Chapel movement began in the '60s in Costa Mesa, California, under the tutelage of Chuck Smith. In the early days, it was closely linked with the hippie movement known as the Jesus People, or Jesus Freaks. Smith's philosophy combined intensive study of the Bible with a casual atmosphere that eschewed ritualistic ceremonies like those of Catholicism and mainline Protestant denominations. Today more than 800 such churches exist in the United States, with additional congregations in at least 34 other countries. Florida alone has 25 Calvary Chapels, including five in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Five years after finding God, Bob Coy arrived in Fort Lauderdale with a moving truck and a flock of three. He'd been to Fort Lauderdale only once before, on a high-school spring break trip, and he knew nothing about the city or South Florida. But he was on a mission. Before moving to Fort Lauderdale, a couple from the Las Vegas church had asked that their fellow congregants pray for the establishment of a Calvary Chapel there. Coy was the answer to that prayer.
The first service took place on the beach. But eventually, as Calvary Chapel grew, it found a home, first in a funeral home, then in an elementary school, then behind an Albertson's supermarket -- all in Fort Lauderdale. Coy was able to quit his job selling electronics at JCPenney and work full-time at the church.
In the early days, Calvary Chapel attracted its share of grizzled bikers and others who were no strangers to sin. "To invite somebody to attend Bible studies in a funeral home, [that person] must have been a person that wasn't concerned about outward appearances," Coy says.
Gennarino DeStefano began working at Calvary Chapel as a maintenance man back when the church fronted an Albertson's dumpster. He often made use of his culinary-school background to cook meals for the homeless people who hung out in the area. DeStefano says that, prior to being saved, he grew and smoked dope for 17 years. "Marijuana was my God," he says. "If I was caught without rolling papers in some hotel room, I would tear a page out of the Bible and smoke it."
Today he oversees Calvary Chapel's benevolence ministry as an assistant pastor. Like DeStefano the rest of the congregation has changed considerably. As the group's facilities have become more respectable looking, so have the congregants. Worshipers still occasionally show up in chaps and leather vests (on a recent Saturday night, one leather-clad congregant referred to his Harley as his "rapture vehicle"), but suburban families with Range Rovers have become the norm.
Mark Kielar is no exception. The 39-year-old television producer and father of four lived the luxurious Boca Raton life for years. He drove a Mercedes 500 SL convertible and spent as much as $5000 during a single shopping trip. "From a world perspective, my life was successful," Kielar says in an interview at his office at WJMK. "I had good relationships, good business opportunities, a lot of things were seemingly going my way. But there was a sense in which there was a void still there. Not one that I necessarily felt all the time. But if I really pressed the issue I knew there was something missing."
In an attempt to fill that void, Kielar began closely reading the Bible for the first time in his life. When he got to the Ten Commandments and read the section about not worshiping false idols, he began to ponder what he truly worshiped in his own life.
"It hit me like a thunderbolt that, wait a minute, my God is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as I thought it was," Kielar recalls. "My God is my business, or recreation, or self-pursuits."
A few years ago, Kielar began attending Calvary Chapel on the recommendation of a friend. He was attracted to its back-to-basics, literal approach to Christianity: What the Bible says is the Word of God; everything else, including the political maneuvering that goes on in the Vatican, is heresy.
By 1997 Coy and Kielar had become close friends. (Coy, a father of two, says he wouldn't be surprised if his son grew up to marry one of Kielar's daughters.) While eating dinner with an assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel, Kielar and Coy began discussing the media. Coy was saying that radio was a great way to spread the Gospel when Kielar added, "What about television?"
WJMK had already been transformed by Kielar's religious conversion. Every morning at the WJMK offices, Christian staff members gather and hold an hourlong Bible study. Kielar's office is decorated with framed passages from Scripture and quotations about Christianity. Even his fish tank is adorned with a quotation from the book of Genesis.
More important than WJMK's prayers are its resources, which Kielar knew would help Cross TV get off the ground. Most of the cable station's staff and know-how comes from WJMK, as does much of the funding. Through WJMK, Kielar has contributed almost $700,000, while Calvary Chapel has provided about $100,000, mostly in staff time and equipment costs. The rest of the funding has come from an anonymous Christian foundation, which contributed about $200,000 in 1998 and has pledged an additional $265,000 for 1999. The foundation asked Cross TV not to disclose its name in order to avoid publicity.
Money remains the most daunting obstacle for Cross TV. The projected cost for 26 episodes of In the Light, the Christian soap opera the station hopes to produce, is $1.5 million. The price tag for 13 episodes of Totally Christian Karate Kids Adventures is $78,000. So far there are no takers for either. One potentially substantial source of income -- commercials -- is not yet being tapped by Cross TV. Both Kielar and Coy say they are not philosophically opposed to the idea, but that any product sold will have to be consistent with Scripture -- biblical tapes or books, for example.
Jeffrey Hadden, the University of Virginia professor, is skeptical of the economic viability of Cross TV. He notes that Pat Robertson, overseer of The 700 Club and a religious figure of much greater influence than Pastor Bob Coy, tried something similar with the Family Channel but eventually fell back on the cheaper model of primarily showing reruns. The Family Channel was sold in early 1998 to Fox, the network responsible for Cops, Melrose Place, and other less-than-family-friendly programs.
"All [Cross TV] need[s] is another $100 million from Bill Gates," Hadden jokes. "They'll either have to seriously compromise the quality of what they're doing, or they'll find they just don't have the money to do it."
Whatever the prospects for Cross TV, there is little doubt that the flock at Calvary Chapel will continue to grow -- so long as Pastor Bob is in the pulpit. Although congregants claim that Jesus Christ is their sole target of worship, they idolize Pastor Bob as well. Followers tend to cite his sayings almost as often as parables from the Bible. And on days when he doesn't preach, attendance drops dramatically, according to people who regularly attend the church.
On one recent Saturday night, Pastor Bob is more animated than usual. Dressed in a double-breasted blue suit, pastel green shirt, and flower-print tie, he's once again complaining about the conventional image of Jesus Christ. "Jesus is not coming on the scene as a real nice Sunday school kind of guy," he exclaims. "Jesus Christ is a radical!"
In place of the serene, handsome Savior dressed in flowing robes, Pastor Bob offers another image: the Jesus Christ of the Crucifixion: blindfolded, fitted with a crown of thorns, flogged with a cat-o'-nine-tails, and nailed to a cross to die. He describes this image repeatedly, says Jesus died for our sins. Says it wasn't pretty.
And our Lord and Savior is still being crucified, Pastor Bob continues. What's wrong with Nativity scenes in public places? There's no room for God on the dollar bill? The Ten Commandments have no place in the courtroom? No prayer in our public schools?
And now it's payoff time. Pastor Bob exalts the people who want to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior to come forward. They always do. But for some reason, tonight the aisles stay empty. Nobody steps forward to be born again of the Holy Spirit. An uneasiness fills the sanctuary. People scan the aisles for those hoping to be saved. But the Holy Spirit doesn't seem to be working tonight.
Then one woman heads toward the front. She is greeted with relieved applause from the crowd. The gates are now open. Five more people quickly follow her. Some are crying; others are smiling. Two more people make their way to the front, holding hands. And another. Nine in all. Not a bad haul for the Lord.
Pastor Bob leads a prayer: "Lord God, I open my heart and invite you inside...."
The next night a similar scene will be repeated. Videotaped for Cross TV, a service led by Pastor Bob will go out to 45,000 homes in Broward County. And, in a few more months, Calvary Chapel services may reach as many as 25 million people in the Philippines. Only God knows if anyone will watch.
Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address: