The lobby of the Kansas City Convention Center doesn't look like the promised "harvest of souls." It resembles an airport during the holidays. Long and winding lines of luggage-toting people wait, laugh and share hugs.
They're here for the International House of Prayer's annual Onething conference, which has promised to bring 25,000 young adults together with Jesus. That number doesn't seem exaggerated. There are people everywhere. Of course, Jesus is everywhere, too.
The 24/7/365 — all day, all night, every day, all year — Grandview church's promotional video pledged a big harvest. So for the next four days and four nights, December 28–31, IHOP has planned a variety of events: recruiting interns, healing the sick and registering students in IHOPU (its Christian university), all in a Christian concert setting. With lots and lots of sermons.
I'm here for a different reason: the alleged sex-cult killing of Bethany Deaton, a 27-year-old former IHOP intern. Deaton's body was found October 30, with a plastic bag over her head and an empty pill bottle close by, in the backseat of a van at Longview Lake. Authorities assumed that her death was a suicide. A note in the van read: "My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn't be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that? I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will still save me."
But three days after Deaton's funeral, Micah Moore, a 23-year-old IHOPU student, told Grandview police that the young woman's death wasn't a suicide. "I killed her," Moore told officers, according to court records. He said he held the plastic bag over Deaton's head "until her body shook."
Court records say Moore told detectives that he killed Deaton at the request of his spiritual leader, Deaton's husband, Tyler Deaton, to silence her, fearing that she would reveal to her therapist repeated drugging and sexual assaults by members of a prayer group. (Moore's attorney has since claimed that his confession is nothing more than fiction from a fragile mind.)
A grand jury indicted Moore for first-degree murder. Tyler Deaton, 26, now a former IHOP member and volunteer, has not been charged. Authorities say they are still investigating the allegations. Several other men who lived with the Deatons told detectives that they were involved in secret sexual relationships with Tyler Deaton. One unnamed man told authorities that after his wife's death, Deaton shared a dream in which he suffocated his new bride.
IHOP has claimed that Tyler Deaton led a secret splinter group.
Three years ago, the Deatons and a group of young people moved to Grandview from Georgetown, Texas, to be closer to IHOP's nonstop ministry.
In that part of their story, they were hardly unique. People move here for IHOP.
So I've come to Onething, the church's biggest event of the year, to get closer to IHOP.
Lou Engle has filled stadiums with believers for daylong prayer sessions, and the auditorium here shows his drawing power. The Kansas City preacher has an international reputation for championing extreme right-wing causes as part of his radical evangelism. Engle is here on Friday's opening night as Onething's first featured speaker.
Engle doesn't sermonize with his usual anti-gay agenda or mention his spiritual tag teams with conservative lawmakers, such as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Instead, Engle encourages the attendees, who rapidly fill up the convention center's auditorium, to preach the Word to every ethnicity, tribe, tongue and nation.
Engle's gravelly voice is as threatening as a professional wrestler's. He shakes his microphone and his eyeglasses, which he then slaps on his face, and announces a recent initiative that comes via prophecy: the Ekballo movement, which has a smartphone app.