Welcome to the Holy Bickle Empire in south Kansas City.

Return Of The Prophets 

Welcome to the Holy Bickle Empire in south Kansas City.

Page 7 of 9

"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.

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