By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
On a treeless cement slab of Northwest Miami-Dade County, a swarm of spruced-up families filters into New Harvest Missionary Baptist Church. Terry Durham sits quietly on a folding chair in a cluttered office at the building's rear. His knee bobs anxiously. He's dressed with flamboyant confidence in white alligator-skin boots and a powder-blue suit, but his eyes shift timidly around the room, which is filled with chattering adults.
Terry's an ordained minister. He's also 11 years old.
"Oh, he's shy now," says his grandmother, Sharon Monroe. "But once he gets up to that pulpit, the Spirit takes over."
Monroe is a rotund 51-year-old with a sparkly blue dress, a pouty baby face, and stiff curly hair. She suggests a prayer to ask the Lord to speak through the boy — "to use this child in Jesus' name." So she and Terry grasp hands and bow heads. Afterward, they exit the stifling room, enter a crowded sanctuary, and march down a short aisle to the altar.
Mothers in the audience wag paper fans and adjust their Sunday best, clapping along to a raucous church band. The Rev. Gregory Thompson approaches the podium. He's the house pastor at New Harvest, which is around the corner from the Opa-locka Airport. He has a clean-shaven head, a bright white smile, and wise chocolate-brown eyes. He asks the Lord to bless the congregation, the country's new president, children in general, and the looming FCAT test. Then he hands over the microphone to Terry — and something shifts inside the boy.
The band starts with an instrumental number, and he transforms into a young Michael Jackson, half-singing as he preaches. "Said, I don't know 'bout who I'm preachin' to today," he wails, nostrils flared. "But you betta get ready to come out the hell you been goin' through!"
"Amen!" a sweaty woman in a red sundress hollers.
"Say that!" another chimes.
Terry dances, recites memorized Scripture, and pulls women and children from the audience. The band plays faster. He hops onto a chair, jumps off for dramatic effect, then orders a gold-toothed pianist to "go down on your knees and shout Jesus three times!" The middle-aged musician obeys.
At the podium, the dashing, almond-eyed fourth-grader uses a blue dish towel to dab moisture from his shiny face. "You gon' hafta 'scuse me today, Lord!" he shouts, whipping the towel in a circle. "A-coz I just feel good!" The guitar screeches; the piano moans. A toddler with sticky cheeks dances in the aisle.
After a few minutes, inspired churchgoers form an impromptu line before the young minister. They are broke young fathers, old ladies with bad backs, burnt-out moms with babies on their hips. Terry is shorter than all of them, but he reaches up and palms the forehead of a pudgy, braided woman in a gray flowing skirt. "The-house-a-that-you-want... it's coming on the way!" he howls. "The life-a-that-you want, huh! It's coming on the way!" His facial expression — creased brow and wild eyes — could be mistaken for pain as he belts out gibberish that sounds like deep, passionate pig Latin. He's in a trance, speaking in tongues.
Terry grasps the woman's head like a basketball, and she suddenly begins to shake as if struck by a mild seizure. He pushes her gently, and she falls backward into the arms of two mesmerized choir girls dressed in matching white outfits. The braided woman, tears streaming down her plump cheeks, drops to her knees, rocks, and screams "Jesus, Jesus!"
When Terry finishes, Monroe takes the microphone. "Don't forget we got CDs and DVDs outside," she says. "Visit www.ministerterrydurham.org for more information."
The Rev. Thompson gestures toward a steel-mesh bucket. "I want you to bless him," he urges. Inspired churchgoers drop in tens, 20s, and 50s. Thompson says they can make change. "Come on, we can break a hundred!"
It's just another Sunday for the bright, bashful Margate boy. In the past five years, dozens of churches have invited the child; his twin brother, Todd Jr.; and his grandmother to 35 states and four countries, where he has performed what Grandma Monroe calls "healings" and "layin' hands." His followers swear he has the ability to prophesize and cure ailments — both emotional and physical. Sponsors have booked family members into fine hotels and showered them with monetary "blessings."
Terry's is the tale of a talented, humble Liberty City Elementary schoolkid rising from sickness to stardom. But while TV and newspapers have chronicled his growing success, including a brief feel-good profile in the New York Times in March, the circus of adults that surround him and their respective criminal histories make the story more complex. Monroe's never-before-disclosed past includes organized fraud and felony theft convictions, and Terry's father has done three jail stints on drug charges — raising questions about his handlers.
"The grandma's milking him," says freelance writer Adolfo Flores, who penned the story for the Times. "It was something I wanted to show but couldn't."
Counters Sharon Monroe: "We're not pricin' God's word. Terry don't even make enough to pay the bills."
On Terry's first day of life, he nearly died. Doctors rushed the premature, two-pound, 13-ounce baby to the intensive-care unit at Broward General Hospital, where they hooked him to a breathing machine and pushed tubes into his raisin-sized nose. His twin brother, also ungodly tiny, was put through the same regimen.