This Pint-Sized Preacher May Be a Prophet, But Who's Profiting?

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Child preachers like Terry are most common in Pentecostal communities, says University of Miami religious studies professor David Kling. They're also embraced at African-American churches, where there's a "strong folk and oral tradition."

These settings are ideal for "freelance evangelical preachers to collect unregulated income," he says. Sometimes there's a belief that if you give, you'll be rewarded. "If people are convinced a healing is taking place, they are more willing to give," Kling says. "It's as if a transaction were occurring."

Back at New Harvest church — on the treeless stretch of Northwest Miami-Dade — Terry's sermon has been over for ten minutes, but tears are still rolling down the braided woman's cheeks. She sits on the floor sobbing to herself in front of the audience. A few older ladies stroke her hair, rub her shoulders, then escort her back to her seat.

In the audience, Terry's mom and dad both wear T-shirts with Terry's face printed across the chest. They read: "Little Man of God." As he steps down from the pulpit, several churchgoers form a semicircle around Monroe to gush over the boy's talent. She smiles.

Pastor Gregory Thompson, who earlier encouraged the congregation to donate money to the boy, says Monroe called him a few days before the sermon. She offered him the chance to hear Terry preach. Thompson says it's unusual for New Harvest — which he calls "Bapticostal" — to have a guest minister. "But it's not every day you get a child like this."

It's unusual too for cash offerings to go directly to the preachers, he says. Typically, donations fund the church and are divvied among bills, the pastor, and community events. He adds that it's especially odd for a first-time guest preacher to walk out with such a hefty wad. But Thompson says he was inspired. "He's a young man who is doing something positive... I wanted to send a message to our church's youth."

Outside New Harvest, A. Leon Worthy — a wiry 69-year-old with a snowy beard — says he thinks of it as a duty to give the family money. "It's a mandate from the Bible to support the man of God," he says. "His message was from the heart."

Later, Pamela Brown, a sophisticated 52-year-old with thick-framed glasses, explains she believes Terry is a prophet. Before she got to church, she asked God if she should become a pastor herself. Terry didn't know this, but he told her, "You can now walk into the path of ministry," she says.

Recently a scout from Bad Boy Records came to hear Terry sing, Monroe says. This spring, he'll tour Kingston, Jamaica, and Syracuse, New York.

Before the family leaves New Harvest, Monroe takes home the tens, 20s, and 50s from the offering bucket, and the family piles into her blue Cadillac. In the back, Terry — quiet again — watches the building fade out of sight as he heads back to a house filled with Bibles, crosses, and posters of himself. Says his dad: "You'll never find another Terry Durham."

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Natalie O'Neill