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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.