Welcome to the Holy Bickle Empire in south Kansas City.

Return Of The Prophets 

Welcome to the Holy Bickle Empire in south Kansas City.

Onstage at the Spiritual Warfare and Prophetic Worship conference at Municipal Auditorium, Mike Bickle sways with his eyes closed as he cradles an open Bible. Beside him, guitarists play and a woman sings. Two thousand Christians again and again sing a simple lyric:

Pour your spirit out over this place.
Pour your spirit out over this place.
Pour your spirit out over this place.

For fifteen minutes, they repeat the line until, finally, the music quickens and a woman in a red dress on a rear balcony whirls, waving a shredded white flag of surrender from a pole. Some worshipers clasp their hands below their chins in prayer. Others hop up and down, flailing their arms.

"Release the anointing! Release the fire of the Holy Spirit!" an impassioned Bickle cries into the microphone. "Beautiful God! Beautiful God!" In the mosh pit, a middle-aged woman jerks her head forward then back between her raised arms as she dances. She opens her eyes and blows kisses toward the rafters from her open palm, drops her head to giggle, then sends Jesus another kiss or two.

"We must have more, Lord! More in your kingdom!" Bickle yells from the stage. "More, Lord, bring us more!"

More converts, more people praying at his International House of Prayer in Grandview, Missouri. Bickle wants an army of young Christians, "a new breed" that, according to a friend's "prophecy," will rise up in Kansas City. The Municipal Auditorium conference -- held in September -- is part of Bickle's holy mission, one he claims the "internal, audible voice of God" told him to begin one day in 1982, while he prayed on a concrete floor by a rickety bed during a tour of Cairo, Egypt.

Like the pancake house that shares its acronym, IHOP's prayer room is open 24 hours. The room is Bickle's brainchild, a place where everyone is welcome to practice "enjoyable prayer" through contemplative music and prophetic expression. It's in a white, modular, 7,000-square-foot building on Grandview Road, sharing space with Bickle's umbrella organization, Friends of the Bridegroom, and another subsidiary, the Forerunner School of Prayer.

The prayer room is the focal point of Bickle's growing religious and real estate empire in Grandview, where his followers are gathering to prepare themselves and the world for Jesus' reappearance and Judgment Day. The neighbors aren't sure what to think. "We've gotten mixed responses," Bickle says. "Some people are fearful we have an agenda. But we're really nice people, and we can't take your house."

Bickle has a knack for making people nervous. He upset local preachers back in the late 1980s and early '90s, when his Kansas City Fellowship church was home to the Kansas City Prophets, a group of men whose claims of visions from God still stir controversy worldwide on dozens of religious, anti-cult and personal Web sites.

The 47-year-old preacher, who says he has been to heaven, grew up in the Marlborough neighborhood, near 80th and Paseo, on a street where several front yards had beat-up cars resting on blocks. His professional-boxer dad and his homemaker mom did the best they could to provide for seven children. They didn't attend church at all.

When Bickle was a child, he would gaze at the star-filled sky over south Kansas City and wonder: Is there a God? He got the answer when he was fifteen and his football coach paid his way to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference in Estes Park, Colorado. After hearing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach speak of his personal relationship with Jesus, Bickle knelt alone in a grassy field in the Rockies.

"God, if this is real," he prayed, "I want it."

Back in Kansas City, Bickle walked the halls of Center High School carrying a massive Catholic Bible -- the only one he could find in his parents' house -- and wearing a 9-inch wooden cross hanging from his neck. He taught himself at "bedside Bible school," then went to the University of Missouri in Columbia for a year. He never attended seminary.

Bickle first pastored at a couple of charismatic Christian churches in St. Louis. He went to Egypt in 1982 to witness poverty firsthand and planned to move to Mexico as a missionary. Instead, after hearing God's voice say in Cairo that Bickle would help change the practice of Christianity in one generation, he returned to Kansas City.

When he started the Kansas City Fellowship church in Grandview that fall, Bickle encouraged his congregation to talk in tongues, the unintelligible speech that seems to erupt spontaneously from enraptured worshipers at Pentecostal and Holiness church services. He believed that people could be possessed by demons sent by Satan to battle the Holy Spirit. He believed that those demons could be cast out.

In March 1983, six months after Bickle's Cairo experience, a man showed up at Bickle's church office at Kansas City Fellowship. He was bundled in a winter coat, though the temperature outside was nearly eighty.

Bob Jones' fingers moved as he spoke, catching "the wind" of the Holy Spirit. He described seeing hundreds of bizarre visions. Then he said that God was going to raise a prophetic church in Kansas City and that Jones would be part of its foundation. Bickle says Jones predicted that God would call for a "time of prayer and fasting" with a sign: A previously undiscovered comet would soon soar through the heavens.

In May, a newly named comet passed the earth within 3 million miles, yet it was visible only by telescope.

Then Jones predicted a drought from June until August 23. Plenty of rain fell that June (nearly 6.5 inches at Kansas City's downtown airport), and more than an inch fell in July, but Bickle still remembers the inch or so recorded around the city on August 23 as a drought-breaking downpour. Surely, he thought, the "drought" proved that Jones was a prophet of God.

The prophet was a country boy from Arkansas with poor grammar and strange ways. His pant legs rode three inches above his socks. His bare stomach sometimes poked from ill-fitting shirts. Jones' rambling prophecies were metaphors that few could comprehend. In his "Technicolor visions," he stood in cloud-padded courtrooms of God or wrestled burly minions of Satan.

Yet he and Bickle became the core of the Kansas City Prophets. "His ministry style was like nothing I had ever seen before," Bickle wrote in his book, Growing in the Prophetic. "He would talk about feeling the wind of the Spirit or his hands getting hot during a ministry time."

Jones also spoke of an angel appearing to him along a dusty Arkansas road when he was nine years old. A few years later, the Lord called out to him from behind the stalks of a cane field. Despite -- or because of -- these divine contacts, Jones went on to a life of gambling, drinking, stealing and all-around sin. When he was 39 and living in Kansas City, Jones had a mental breakdown and was admitted to a veteran's hospital in Topeka.

"They told my doctor he might as well put me on the strong stuff," says Jones in one written account. "They said I'd be there the rest of my life."

The Devil told Jones to escape and kill the people responsible for his hospitalization, Jones recalls. He cried out to God, who advised him to forgive them instead. Hospital doctors discharged Jones the next day, he claims, with orders to "get a low-pressure job and never drink again."

After his release, Jones began to have "visions and words spoken to him by the Lord," according to a 1989 Kansas City Fellowship newsletter. His life was a barrage of "open visions, audible voices, angelic appearances and demonic confrontations."

By the time Jones met Bickle in 1983, Jones believed himself to be a full-fledged prophet. Bickle soon received another blessing when a second prophet, Paul Cain, entered his life.

In 1929, an angel visited Cain's pregnant mother, who was dying of four diseases, says a 1989 article in the Kansas City Fellowship newsletter. "Be of good cheer," spoke the heavenly being. "You shall live and not die. The fruit of your womb shall be a male child. Name him Paul. He shall preach my gospel as did Apostle Paul of old."

After his birth, Cain's mother lived sixty more years, and as a young adult in the 1950s, Cain briefly made a name for himself as an evangelical preacher traveling around the United States and Europe with a 12,000-seat tent.

When Cain was in his early twenties, an angel dressed as a monk appeared in his car on a midnight drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Lord was jealous of Cain's companions, the angel told him. Cain declared himself celibate after that, but in 1958 withdrew from ministry for 25 years. He took to the pulpit again in the late '70s, then joined Bickle and Jones at Kansas City Fellowship in the mid-'80s.

Bickle encouraged Jones, Cain and another man, John Paul Jackson, to prophesy before his congregation. Cain reported visions of a spiritual army rising up in Kansas City and a new breed of Christians who would perform miracles like those in the New Testament. Jones told graphic stories of terrifying journeys to heaven and hell.

Then in 1990, the Reverend Ernest Gruen, a pastor at the charismatic, non-denominational Full Faith Church of Love in Shawnee, Kansas, became fed up with what he believed to be false prophecies. He compiled a 130-page document full of transcriptions of KCF prophetic sessions. In one session, Jones had spoken of his descent through black smoke into the fiery bowels of hell, where he saw a former sinner's severed head swinging forlornly in a macramé basket.

"That's all he was," Jones told Bickle. "And over and over, through all eternity, that young man will say, 'But that priest said I was okay.'"

In another session at the church, Bickle had spoken of the night God pulled him to heaven through the roof of his Belton duplex. Also in the transcript, Bickle and Jones discussed Jones' ability to "smell sin," homosexuality, immorality and death because the Holy Spirit had turned his senses "golden."

Gruen was convinced that the Kansas City Prophets' visions were "from familiar spirits" and that Bickle's church was "close to becoming a charismatic heresy and a cult group."

A dozen local ministers jumped on the Bickle-bashing bandwagon, typing testimonial letters about church members traumatized by bizarre prophecies. For three years, Gruen criticized Bickle.

Then in 1993, Gruen suddenly backed off. Bickle and Gruen issued a joint statement that they had forgiven each other, according to a 1993 article in Charisma, a charismatic-Christian magazine. In the article, Bickle admitted that he had promoted mystical experiences in a "disproportionate" and "disastrous" way with an "elite" attitude.

A week after the joint statement was issued, Gruen abruptly resigned as pastor of his church, saying, "My sin causing this resignation is not committing adultery but committing divorce," according to a July 1993 article in Charisma. Gruen -- who still lives in the Kansas City area and whose answering machine indicates he's still with his wife, Dee -- did not return phone messages from the Pitch.

Today, Bickle says he made mistakes in the past. "We mismanaged the prophetic ministry without being accountable," Bickle says. "With any group, the more self-knowledge they have, the more self-judging they are, the safer they are. One of my big values is to look at precious things in our ministry and criticize. We are in the high-end of self-judging."

(Bickle did not disclose to the Pitch the names of all board members of his many nonprofit organizations, saying they are currently in the process of being reorganized. Bickle, along with his wife, Diane, IHOP Division Head Ed Hackett and a local businessman, Nick Syrett, make up Friends of the Bridegroom's four-member board of directors, according to the organization's 2002 annual registration report with the Missouri Secretary of State.)

Bickle says he never called his prophetic team the Kansas City Prophets. "I hated that name," he says of the moniker that is firmly bonded to his own name on anti-cult Web sites and other Internet pages. "It really hurt us because there was no such group. It clustered a whole bunch of personalities into one group and one stereotype."

The Kansas City Prophets disbanded soon after the Gruen controversy. When Bickle listed the Kansas City Fellowship with the Association of Vineyard Churches from 1990 to 1996, the denomination's leader, John Wimber, immediately put restraints on Jones' prophetic displays. Jones later left Vineyard. Today, Jones runs his own "prophetic ministry" in Waynesboro, Mississippi. He travels and speaks at charismatic-Christian conferences around the country.

John Paul Jackson founded Streams Ministries International in 1993. Now based in New Hampshire, the organization offers classes on interpreting dreams and visions. His Web site mentions an anecdote from Jones, who told him of a vision in which Jones battled a demon that resembled a "well-known Christian leader" until "Bob was finally able to grab a nearby monkey wrench and hit the demon in the head."

Cain has returned to Kansas City, where he is president of Shiloh Estates, another ministry associated with IHOP and Friends of the Bridegroom.

Bickle declined to discuss details of Gruen's "fabrications," saying that he wished only that all involved in the controversy would "be blessed."

In 1999, Bickle left the Kansas City Fellowship (by then known as the Metro Christian Fellowship) to found Friends of the Bridegroom and IHOP. Bickle based his bridegroom paradigm on verses in the Bible's book of Revelation that describe Christ as a bridegroom and on another verse in Matthew in which Jesus describes the apostles as friends of the bridegroom.

Bickle based his vision for IHOP on the prophecies of Jones and Cain, who had foretold that prayer and intercession would lead to a new, deeper understanding of Christianity. He envisioned a Church that would prepare itself as a bride for Jesus' second coming in the "great end-time shaking," a "lovesick bride," hungry for the love of God.

Beneath fluorescent lights at the International House of Prayer in Grandview, three men strum guitars, accompanied by a pianist and two female vocalists. A painting of Christ nailed to the cross hangs above a communion table draped in burgundy cloth.

Thirty people are scattered around the room, some seated in folding chairs, others standing with raised arms and closed eyes. A woman sleeps curled beneath a quilt on the floor, lulled by a soothing love song to the Lord.

Jesus, I'm in love with you.
Jesus, I'm in love with you.

A young man in shorts and sandals paces an aisle with his Bible. He speaks in tongues. He falls to his knees.

"We long for you, Jesus!" he shouts into a microphone a minute later, accompanied by music. "We pray for revival in Kansas City!

"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure the lepers!" the man cries out.

Prayer requests cover a white dry-erase board on the wall: Prayers for peace between the United States and Iraq. Finances for the sound system. Relief for refugees of war. Requests to heal IHOP staffers who suffer from migraine headaches. Prayers for the sick. Prayers that cashiers and a manager at a nearby Price Chopper might find salvation.

Outside in Terrace Lake Gardens, a subdivision off Red Bridge Road, a mile from IHOP, fliers with the slogan "Trying to Show God's Love in a Practical Way!" flutter from doorknobs. They are from IHOP's outreach team, which will send IHOP crews to rake leaves, clean gutters and spread mulch, all free of charge.

Back at IHOP, the Harp & Bowl News, the ministry's newsletter, announces the formation of fasting teams and a Saturday night service with a Preparation for the End-Times theme. There is a training seminar for IHOP's new "healing rooms."

The newsletter announces Pray, Walk & Talk, Saturday morning outings by IHOP staff and students through the "harvest field" of Terrace Lake Gardens. It has been determined that "most of the TLG residents are not living for God."

In the past year, hundreds of people, most between the ages of 18 and 25, have converged on neighborhoods off Red Bridge and Grandview roads.

They work as unpaid interns or staffers at IHOP's Grandview Road headquarters or attend IHOP's Forerunner School of Prayer, which offers courses in the Bible, contemplative prayer, evangelism and prophetic ministry. Young adults and teen-agers come to participate in "Fire in the Night," twelve weeks of intensive prayer from midnight to six a.m., six nights a week.

Many live at the former Red Bridge Apartments, a complex purchased by Friends of the Bridegroom in April and renamed Herrnhüt, after a town in Germany where a church's congregation prayed nonstop for 100 years in the eighteenth century.

In June 2001, Friends of the Bridegroom bought Terrace Lake Shopping Center on Red Bridge Road and opened the Higher Grounds Coffee Shop and Forerunner Bookstore. The ministry plans to convert the empty space that was once a Thriftway into a new prayer room and offices for IHOP to replace the Grandview Road headquarters.

The interns and students are ideal evangelists for IHOP. They're still young and compliant enough to follow IHOP's no-dating rule for Fire in the Night and the six-month internships. Most don't mind crowding into a two-bedroom apartment with six or seven people.

Full-time IHOP staff members receive no salary but pay $500 each and commit fifty hours a week to administrative work, the prayer room or classes. Six-month interns have a similar schedule and pay $1,400 tuition or $4,400 for tuition, room and board.

They work "to prepare the Church as a holy, lovesick bride for the unique measure of glory and persecution in the End Times," according to a Friends of the Bridegroom brochure. In addition to praying, sometimes through the night, students, staff and interns are encouraged not to eat for three days each month as part of a "global fast."

Bickle insists no one is required to fast. However, Friends of the Bridegroom's Global Fasting Web site declares that "every believer in the body of Christ who loves revival" is invited to "exercise their option to be wholehearted."

Recently Bickle called for an additional fifty days of "extravagant devotion strengthened by a spirit of fasting," from September 19 to November 7 of this year. In an announcement on Friends of the Bridegroom's Web site, Bickle says it's not exactly a fifty-day food fast but a time to add extra fast days each week.

"We will skip as many meals, meetings (social, administrative, etc.), conversations (unnecessary and idle speech) and entertainment (recreation) as grace enables us for fifty days," writes Bickle. He encourages devoting eight to ten hours a day "at the feet of Jesus gazing on the beauty of his love and majesty," in addition to reading the Song of Solomon, Revelation and all 150 Psalms every week for seven weeks.

Mark Murphree, a 25-year-old IHOP staff member, says he fasts but declined to specify how often or for how long. "We don't like to talk about how much we fast," he says. IHOP's "don't ask, don't tell" policy keeps worshippers from competing with each other to be most holy.

Murphree, who also attends Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, was raised a United Methodist and admits that he's had to broaden his idea of what is possible when it comes to prophecy. He is not a prophet, he says, but he doesn't disbelieve those who say they are.

"What makes people come here is the longing for something more spiritual than what they're experiencing," Murphree says. "People say, 'I read stuff in the Bible, but my life doesn't look like that.'" True Christians want their lives to look like those of the dedicated Christians in the Bible, says Murphree.

"Seeking to live lives totally committed to Jesus is what excites twenty-year-olds," Bickle says. Younger people read the Bible seriously, he explains. "When you're younger, you're more open, more naïve. When you get older, you're more cynical."

But the wholesome crowd hasn't made many friends at Terrace Lake Shopping Center -- which Friends of the Bridegroom owns and manages -- or in nearby neighborhoods.

"They're a pain in the holy butt," a cashier at the Discount One store tells the Pitch. One day, a young IHOP woman browsed the discount retailer's cosmetics-and-school-supplies aisle, singing and talking to herself. The woman suddenly dropped to the floor, where she sprawled facedown on the tile between the cotton balls and spiral notebooks.

"I thought she was having a seizure," says Dorothee Wright, the store's owner. "She told me, 'I just get the urge to pray, and I go down.'"

Glad Heart Properties, a for-profit real estate agency owned by Bickle's wife, Diane, moved into Terrace Lake a year ago. Their sons, Luke, 24, and Paul, 22, work there as agents. The agency sells homes to anyone, but Friends of the Bridegroom refers its staff, students and interns looking for homes to Glad Heart.

According to Diane Bickle, all corporate profits from Glad Heart go to IHOP and its ministries. But Glad Heart has worried some Grandview homeowners, who fear that their neighborhood is being taken over by religious-zealot real estate agents.

"A Glad Heart agent called us on the phone a couple of weeks ago, inquiring whether we wanted to sell our house," one resident a few blocks from the shopping center tells the Pitch, noting that most neighbors have been approached. "This summer, they went door to door up and down the whole block."

Friends of the Bridegroom rents the one- and two-bedroom apartments at Herrnhüt to IHOP interns and students of the Forerunner school. But the Herrnhüt Apartments are open to anyone, says Mike Bickle, and non-IHOP tenants won't be forced to move.

Last fall, IHOP sent letters to homeowners offering to mow lawns, rake leaves and shovel driveways. When Stephanie LaSalle injured her back, she called IHOP for help with her yard. A week or so later, a crew of teen-agers supervised by a tall, bearded man raked her yard and loaded leaves into a truck.

"One of the girls came up and said, 'We'd like to pray for your back,'" recalls LaSalle. "Next thing I know, they have all joined around me in a circle. The man starts praying, and his prayer volume kept rising.

"He looked wild-eyed, and the more fervently he prayed, the wilder his eyes would get," LaSalle says. "Next thing I knew, he broke hands with the circle, pulled out this little bottle of oil from his pocket and started to walk toward me."

LaSalle stopped him, and the yard crew respectfully backed off.

"It scared me more than anything," LaSalle says, "because it felt cult-like. Here was this very weird guy in charge of these very young girls. It felt like he had them under some kind of spell. I was afraid that these cuckoo, weirdo cult people were going to try to take over my neighborhood, but I never heard another word from them."

But another homeowner near the shopping center, Joyce Lile, says the IHOP kids impressed her when they cleaned her gutters, shoveled snow from her driveway and even left a plate of cookies as a calling card.

"I couldn't believe there are still teen-agers out there who do this," Lile says. "If more people could be like this, this neighborhood would be a much nicer place to live. Having [IHOP] back there is going to help this neighborhood."

At least one Discount One staffer was intrigued by stories she had heard about the store's new landlord.

"A woman from Canada told me that Mike Bickle has a golden aura around him and that he glows," says the cashier. "I was kind of disappointed when I finally saw him and he didn't glow."

A few doors down, inside the Forerunner Bookstore, CDs and books by Bickle and other religious leaders are for sale. There is the end-times section. There is the self-help-and-deliverance section, which displays a book by Joe Dallas, president of Exodus International, an ex-gay ministry. There are books on demonic possession and a manual on exorcism.

In the adjacent Higher Grounds coffee shop, young Christians highlight well-thumbed Bibles and sip lattés on cushioned benches and at wooden tables. A man recites verses. Outside, small groups sit at plastic tables.

"Keep on praying," a teen-age boy calls as one of his classmates leaves.

Back at Municipal auditorium, Bickle is again at the microphone, pleading for "more" -- not from God this time but from the crowd.

Friends of the Bridegroom needs money, he says.

Like the rest of the IHOP staff, Bickle draws no salary, he says. All interns, students and staff rely on financial sponsors to support the ministry's work. Bickle's thirty sponsorships, which he says total around $33,000 a year, include donations from Charisma magazine and the Metro Christian Fellowship (formerly the Kansas City Fellowship, which Bickle left in 1999).

At the conference, Bickle says later, 3,500 people attended and donated around $40,000 to IHOP and its ministry for the poor. They donated another $18,000 to compensate conference speakers.

All royalties from thousands of books and tapes sold by Friends of the Bridegroom, Bickle says, go directly back into IHOP and its other ministries, such as Mercy, Food and Clothing, a ministry to feed the poor. In 2000, Friends of the Bridegroom reported total income of more than $927,000 from its nonprofit operations and expenditures of nearly $714,000, according to a 990 form filed with the IRS. An accountant for the organization says it was granted an extension by the IRS and has not yet filed its 2001 return.

Friends of the Bridegroom envisions a future that will bring 2,000 students to the Forerunner School of Prayer and 5,000 staff members to the International House of Prayer, which currently employs 400 staff members and has a student enrollment of 300.

In 1997, Friends of the Bridegroom purchased 94 acres, dubbed Shiloh Estates, one mile south of Terrace Lake Shopping Center for about $1 million. There, as many as 500 IHOP staff members will live in studio apartments or townhouses. Shiloh Ministries reported income of $1.1 million in 1999, according to a 990 form. Shiloh Estates will train prophetic ministers, and Paul Cain, one of the Kansas City Prophets, will return as its president.

On one of Bickle's CDs, Our Prophetic History -- a series of lectures about IHOP -- Cain recounts a vision that he says he was prohibited from talking about when he was a guest on Pat Robertson's 700 Club TV show. "I can't even tell it on Pentecostal television," Cain says with a sigh.

Cain says the vision unfolded as though on a movie screen. He saw a stadium filled with thousands of people. Thousands more waited outside along with ambulances and hearses lined up for blocks. On a massive platform were "men and women of God" attending to "stretcher cases and gurneys and dead people from hospitals and morgues.

"They were saying, 'We've got a resurrection over here!' and somebody got off a hospital gurney and was raised alive," Cain tells the awestruck audience, which frequently breaks into wild applause. "News anchormen were saying, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we have no news to report tonight but good news! Every ball field, every sports arena, every auditorium and every available building is filled to capacity with men and women of God. ... The dead are being raised, and millions of people are falling on their faces saying, 'Jesus is Lord!'"

Then he reveals that he believes the phantom stadium is Arrowhead, but Cain has somehow managed to avoid seeing the city landmark, lest his hopes be dashed.

"I won't go anywhere near Arrowhead Stadium, because I couldn't stand the disappointment if it's not what I saw in that vision," Cain told Bickle. "I believe it will happen at Arrowhead and stadiums all over the world," Bickle tells the Pitch.

On the same CD, Bickle also tells of one of his own mystical experiences, one from August 1984, in which he was swept from his Belton duplex to heaven in the middle of the night. Bickle had been asleep but suddenly found himself "in the presence of the Lord."

"I think I'm in a dream, but I'm really not," Bickle says on the CD. "The room was 30-feet cubed, and the floor, the ceiling, the walls all appear to be clouds. I'm to the left of God's audible, thunderous voice." According to Bickle, God repeated the same message three times: "Young man, if you are impatient, you will cause much harm and much turmoil to many people."

"This is real," Bickle says he told himself as he stood on the clouds. "I am not asleep. How did I get here? Where am I at?" Then the great cloud opened, and Bickle tumbled through the sky.

"I was going down real fast, passing the moon," Bickle says on the disc. He plummeted through the dark night, spiraled down toward his duplex in Belton and crashed through the ceiling. Sprawled on the bed, he glanced at the clock. It was 2:15 a.m. But God wasn't through with him yet.

"I went shooting straight up again, totally awake," Bickle continues on the CD. "I went right through the ceiling and was standing in that clouded room again." God thundered more divine advice at him before the human meteor zipped back down through the sky and again smashed through his duplex roof. Amazingly, no time had passed. The clock still read 2:15 a.m.

Bickle tells the Pitch that he has discussed that heavenly experience only a couple of times in public and that he clearly remembers God telling him, "Be patient, young man." Although Bickle tells that story on the Our Prophetic History CD, a big seller at the Forerunner Bookstore, that experience was for him, not others, he says, and it doesn't matter whether others believe it happened.

"I'm superaware that what I'm doing [at IHOP] would be odd to people from the outside looking in," Bickle says. "Any time people claim to hear God's voice, see an angel or cast out a demon, those are odd concepts."

It's Friday the 13th, the final night at Municipal. Worshippers have come from all over the world to learn how to set up prayer rooms like Bickle's in their cities. The seminars done, it's time for one last charismatic fling.

In the packed auditorium, the throng sings, two barefoot women shake tambourines with long streamers attached, and guitarists strum vigorously. Suddenly the music stops, and everyone holds the same note in unison for nearly a minute: Awmmmm. Pandemonium erupts as some in Joel's Army speak in tongues while others continue to hold the note.

It's not a stadium, but it's a start.

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