Could you imagine walking up to a complete stranger in the street and offering them prayer for healing? Some churches are trying it. Christianity went to find out more
I’m not sure which emotion is uppermost, fear or excitement. I am in Bedford on a sunny September Saturday as part of a ‘Hit the Streets’ day run by the King’s Arms Church, Bedford, a 500-strong Newfrontiers church. The church runs periodic training days in Treasure Hunting, a form of supernatural evangelism pioneered by Kevin Dedmon of Bethel Church, Redding, California, and I am one of around 70, most from outside Bedford, who will soon be let loose.
I have the fear that always comes with cold contact evangelism. I did weekly door-to-door for three years and a little open air preaching, over a decade ago, without ever really sensing a gifting for either. But there’s also excitement. In June, I saw God’s hand at work when I visited the birthplace of Treasure Hunting, Bethel Church. I have read the staggering tales of healing in Dedmon’s book, The Ultimate Treasure Hunt (Destiny), and now Christianity magazine is sending me to report what I find. As they say, maybe God will ‘show up’!
The church has seen some 100 people healed in the last few years, and the initial training from church members, Wendy and Rory, was a mixture of wisdom, humour and reality as they related what they had learned, shared the mystery and adventure of the approach, and set a great atmosphere for the rest of the day.
In Treasure Hunting, the treasure is understood to be the people in whom God is at work or will be at work as Christians make contact with them according to ‘clues’ which God gives. Those going on a treasure hunt spend time in prayer beforehand and ask God for clues according to five criteria – location, name, appearance, ailmentand unusual. We were taught to simply ask God to put words into our minds and write them down under each category – there may be a number of words or names under each. Teams then go out prayerfully, maybe to the location, or on the lookout for someone clearly suffering from an ailment that they received a word about. When they meet people who seem to fit any clue, they will typically show them the other clues. Many are amazed to see some details relating to them on a piece of paper that couldn’t have been known without divine revelation. In Dedmon’s book, one of a number of amazing stories relates how he was sent to a red-haired woman with a migraine married to a man named Ralph with a back problem – and how both were instantly healed!
If all this seems very slick, Dedmon stresses that this method is a means to the end of being available to meet and bless those God brings across our path. It is accepted that we may not ‘hear’ perfectly and that physical healing will not always be the end result. For example there are many stories of people coming to faith as they have sensed God’s interest in them.
After our prayer time my treasure hunt clues include: bath and fishmongers; James, Freda and Felicity; moustache, bandaged leg and amplifiers. I compare these with my other team members: Anna, Louise and Nicola, and discover no overlaps though two of the team have ‘bananas’ of all things! Anna, a youth worker from Kingston upon Thames and leader of our group because she had done this before, has ‘market’ and since we discover there’s one some 400 yards from where we had gathered, we set off hoping that this location might match the other clues that we have on our lists and lead us to God’s treasure. But the market yields little spiritual fruit: We have two conversations where clues didn’t match, though we were able to pray a general prayer of blessing for a woman in her 60s. I do not typically receive ‘words of knowledge’, so this whole experience is very new, and I’m not at all sure I have ‘heard the clues’ correctly. As we walk through the market, we see the sign ‘bathshop.com’ across the main street. ‘
Didn’t you have bath?’ asks one of the girls. Well, yes I did! Actually when the thought ‘bath’ came to mind, I initially dismissed it, after all Bath was a city in the south-west and my wife comes from a town near there. But we were told to write down whatever comes, however strange. So maybe bath has significance after all? My pulse quickens. We wander into bathshop.com. I’m feeling conspicuous – looking like a middle-aged man with three student age daughters. We wander round but see nothing that fits our clues.
As we stand outside, an elderly woman with a walking stick approaches and so Anna asks her: ‘Hi, sorry to trouble you, but we are doing an alternative treasure hunt and wonder if you might be one of our clues?’
We explain the Bath clue and she sees ‘walking stick’ on one of our lists. We show her the ailments listed and she identifies ‘shoulder pain’ as something that she is experiencing. Bingo (or whatever the spiritual equivalent is). Anna asks if she would like prayer. She would.
‘On a scale of 0-10 how painful is it now?’
‘Oh, I would say a four.’
Anna asks in Jesus name that the pain go.
‘How is it now?’
‘On a scale of 0-10?’
‘Oh around a two.’
‘Can I pray for you again?’
The same prayer and this time, she says the pain has gone, though she showed little delight. We hand her a card from the church and as she left we wonder whether she was simply being polite.
This is as close as we get to clues leading to healing, and have at least four conversations where there is no match. We return for lunch to discover some of the teams had clearer experiences of God’s hand. One guy who had suffered three football injuries and a car accident which had damaged his right knee was prayed for and astonished that the pain left, with the comment, ‘This is impressive!’
Another guy had the clues, black skirt, black jumper and ‘Tweetie pie’ (of Warner Bros fame!), and ended up at a shop that sold ‘Looney tunes’ items and meeting the woman in a black skirt and black jumper at a bus stop. She was pregnant and in pain, which went when she was prayed for. Another woman discovered that the woman she was led to was going through the same unusual operation that she had faced, and was able to pray for her. The feedback time seemed genuine and hype free – some shared that the healing they observed seemed to be partial (eg pain levels went down from eight to four) and most of the teams had nothing specific to report. We could only go by the testimony of those prayed for, though the church itself has had enough medically verified healings to be encouraged that some of these would stand up to medical scrutiny.
In all, five people said they had been healed. By the end of the day that had risen to ten, with more stories of partial, full healings and beneficial conversations.
In the afternoon we prayed again and this time Anna’s clue of ‘block of flats’ leads us meet three homeless people – two guys and a young woman (clues included ‘smoking’, ‘drug addiction’ and ‘pregnant’). They were asking genuine questions so Anna shared a basic gospel presentation and I prayed for the pregnant woman’s unborn child. We also pray for Marci, a teenager on crutches, surrounded by mocking friends. She seems genuinely touched by our interest.
I was disappointed that we had not seen anyone receive a clear healing touch from God, but the ease with which we were able to start and continue conversations made the method a definite winner. Of course in the ‘wrong hands’ this approach could still alienate people – rather in the manner some cold contact methods of evangelism do. For me the gentle ‘We are on a treasure hunt, you may be one of our clues’ was a relaxed and slightly fun way of approaching people and led to conversations. I appreciate some would use different language and might find it too corny. But no one was rude and as someone who has seen little fruit in cold contact evangelism, I was grateful that at the very least the people we met heard something about God and his love for them.
Healing on the streets
Treasure Hunting is but one way in which Christians are seeing people touched. ‘Healing On The Streets’ (HOTS), is a method that is sweeping across the UK. Individual churches and ecumenical groups in a town or city simply place a large banner with ‘healing’ somewhere prominent and provide chairs where people can sit and be prayed for.The approach has been pioneered by The Causeway Coast Vineyard Church, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, a church that began in 1999. Alan Scott, the pastor and one of the founders explains the rationale: ‘God has said, you reach people, I will build the church.
As we were looking to connect with the community, one of our staff members who had been with us five years, Mark Marx, decided to develop a team who would offer prayer on the streets. So for the last four years we have had a team on the streets every Saturday between 10am and 1pm in all weathers offering prayer to anyone who comes. Some times are more busy than others, but there would always be at least a dozen prayed for.’
For Scott the emphasis is very much being ‘on the streets’ – firmly believing that being visible is an important part of their mission. HOTS is part of a number of weekend activities including reaching youngsters, treasure hunting and offering food to those who need it. HOTS has had a significant impact on many people’s lives locally: ‘We have seen 22 people report that cancer has gone in the last two years. We can’t know if these are all down to prayer, but rejoice with those who are now cancer free. Maybe 90% of those who come ask for prayer for healing, though of course sometimes the presenting problem is linked to other needs. One woman had a hand crippled with arthritis and asked for prayer. The woman praying for her felt led to ask about her sister, and discovered they hadn’t spoken for five years. As they prayed that there would be forgiveness, the hand opened up and was healed.’
Rev Mark Barker is vicar of St Stephen’s, Tonbridge who encountered the phenomena when on holiday in Coleraine. He saw members of the Vineyard church praying for passers-by and decided to replicate it back in Kent. ‘We have a team of 20 involved, with10-12 of these out each week, praying in pairs for those who want healing,’ he tells Christianity. ‘Recently a woman with pain in her eyes reported a marked improvement and one time two people came to faith as a result of enquiry into what we were doing.’ Other churches have heard of Causeway’s approach and there are 640 churches and groups now engaging with HOTS in 21 nations: 325 in the UK, 201 of which have an active weekly ministry. When you bear in mind that the group in Newcastle represents 40 churches, but is counted just once, that indicates a massive expansion.
Alongside HOTS and Treasure Hunting comes prophetic evangelism, a variation on Treasure Hunting. Here the prophetic word comes as you prayer walk around the area. Biblical examples include Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and Nathaniel under the fig tree.
It’s not a new approach. Smith Wigglesworth, the Yorkshire evangelist famed for his unorthodox approach, would go looking for the lost in the markets when he wasn’t ministering in conferences and revivals. He would wait in the market, even all morning and into the afternoon, until he saw the person that the Lord intended him to reach with the gospel.
Many have become aware of this through Mark Stibbe’s book, Prophetic Evangelism (Authentic). Stibbe had a team involved in this ministry when he was vicar at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood. One person who read the book is a curate in an Anglican church who is gently developing a ministry of prayer in his town. ‘I became a Christian through Alpha in a church (St Paul’s Onslow Square) in 1995 which taught us to expect that God would be involved in remarkable ways in our lives. So seeing people touched by God in some way ‘outside’ the church is something I have always looked for and been involved with. I am by no means an expert, but just lately I have been taking people from our church one at a time and walking around our town praying silently for people and asking God to be involved and give us prophetic words if that’s his desire.
Recently I went with a young guy who had a clear sense that he should approach a woman who he believed was distressed. It turned out that she had lost her faith. She was facing a major trauma and had been searching for God and was bowled over that he had sent us to chat with her. She’s now back in church aware of God’s love again.’Healing on your streets? By now you may have already decided that there’s as much chance of John Sergeant judging BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing as you hitting the streets. However, a few things to bear in mind as you consider these approaches.
First, there is an upbeat expectancy to the whole process. If, when you pray for the sick, you would probably faint if they actually got better, then you will be challenged by the high levels of expectation. Dedmon’s church openly teaches that it is God’s desire that people be healed and that Jesus’ command ‘heal the sick’ means just that. HOTS training teaches that we have the authority to heal in Jesus’ name. The King’s Arms Church reports that as a result of Treasure Hunting many now feel freer to pray for friends and work colleagues and have seen five people come to faith as a result of God’s healing touch. Second, there is a strong sense that everyone can take part. Just as Jesus commands his disciples to heal the sick, then it is assumed that we as his disciples have the same mandate. The expectation is that everyone can receive a ‘word of knowledge’ or prophetic insight – this is not the domain of the specially gifted or ordained, but those with the spiritual bottle to step out and see what God will do.
The approaches are, however, mindful of the mystery of healing. Scott told Christianity of his real awareness that not everyone is healed, and the pain they have felt when God hasn’t intervened. Yet at the same time they are committed to fight in prayer for as long as the sick want them to, and have seen people come back two days, two weeks and in one case two years later to say that they have been healed.
The methods are not necessarily a quick route to church growth – of the 100 plus healed in Bedford, very few are at the church. But that doesn’t worry the team. They believe that the healing is the start of something life changing, and are content to be part of the process. At a time when gospel awareness is so low, here are Christians saying, ‘Well if they won’t come to hear the gospel, let’s take it to them.’ Many Christians are finding a new boldness and vigour as they see God demonstrate his compassion in tangible ways and see the reality of an authentic gospel of Christ. If the Great Commission is to be faithfully followed in the UK in the 21st century it will take many forms, but it seems to this novice treasure hunter that these three forms have an important part to play.
Healing: A range of views
Prayer for healing has always been part of the Christian Church. Even churches that would not see healing services as appropriate pray for the sick, and, in some, elders lay hands on the ill according to the directions given in James 5. But the expectation that healing might be part of what God is wanting to do in salvation is more rare. Some Pentecostal churches traditionally taught that physical healing is ours as part of Christ’s atoning sacrifice (‘By his wounds we are healed’ Isaiah 53:5). In the charismatic movement of the 60s and 70s it was believed that the Holy Spirit had given gifts of healing to the Church.
Most agree that there is no set formula to learn, though many argue that our faith seems to play a part. Some acknowledge that there are ‘gifts of healing’ (1 Corinthians 12). Very few would say, because I am a disciple of Jesus I should expect to see the sick healed as Jesus did. The use of healing as part of evangelism came to prominence under the ministry of John Wimber in the 1980s. He taught that the Church today needs to follow Jesus’ mandate to his disciples to see signs following the preaching of the gospel. Many churches, including historic denominations and new church streams, have experienced a new level of expectation of God’s working power, as the stories of the Gospels and Acts are replicated. Treasure Hunting, Healing on the Streets, and Prophetic Evangelism see this extended to outside the Church.