Munster -- Young and old, wealthy and poor, more than 5,000 people from Chicago through Porter County came seeking miracle healing Sunday evening at the hands of Benny Hinn, TV evangelist and faith healer.
They came to the Family Christian Center in wheelchairs, with canes and walkers, with cancer and multiple sclerosis. They carried children with life-threatening illnesses. They raised gnarled arthritic hands in prayer. Some waited five or more hours for Hinn to arrive at the church.
Slated to appear about an hour earlier than his 7:51 p.m. entrance into the auditorium, Hinn told those gathered that the rainy weather had delayed his flight.
That same rain and the large crowd created parking and walking problems for participants and police. When the church's parking lot filled up after 4 p.m., many began parking in surrounding businesses' lots.
Munster police ordered more than a dozen vehicles towed from the Whole Foods lot just east of the church, as employees stood just outside the firm's doors watching the action. At least four Munster Police Department squad cars were deployed to keep cars moving and out of business lots.
Even when they found a parking spot, many of those attending had to walk blocks in a cold, pelting rain. Approaching the church on 45th Street, they then encountered shoe-sucking mud before reaching the doors.
By 4:45 p.m., the church's security personnel began turning people away as the auditorium, balcony and overflow areas were packed. Folding chairs were placed alongside auditorium seats to accommodate the crowds, and the lobby began to fill up with spectators watching on several televisions.
Ed Power, head of security at Family Christian Center, refused to discuss the security arrangements, parking problems or crowd control.
Jerry Rose, founder and president of the Total Living Network (TLN), which airs Hinn's program, was on hand for Hinn's appearance.
Rose said the controversy surrounding the authenticity of Hinn's faith healings on his TV show, "This Is Your Day," doesn't surprise him.
"I've been part of the Pentecostal movement all my life. I'm used to controversy," he said. "This is what's at the core of Benny Hinn's program. I'm not surprised people are healed and I'm not surprised people don't believe it.
"I've seen God move in powerful ways. Benny Hinn is on our lineup of programs. That's a statement of our endorsement."
TLN partnered with the Family Christian Center's Pastor Steve Munsey to bring Hinn to the Munster church. Rose said he has had a long association with Munsey.
"He's on the cutting edge of media ministry that's centered beyond this church to the broader community," Rose said.
None of what the church's Pastor David Jordan Allen called the pandemonium of the event seemed to affect Cecelia Peterson of Merrillville as she cradled her 3-year-old son, Aveon, in her arms. Occasionally administering oxygen to her rigid, comatose child, Peterson said she was hoping to take her son up to the altar for healing.
Born normally, Aveon had a series of convulsions at 6 months old and stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead, but suddenly began breathing again.
However, his condition has left him in a vegetative state.
"I'm here for a miracle from God," she said, as a smile spread across her face. "I'm hoping God will heal him totally whole."
Leroy Purnell of Gary sat near the front of the church, his walker leaning against a ledge. But it wasn't the effects of his stroke he wanted healed; rather it was his "prostate problem" that brought him to the service.
"My wife was talking about it, and I thought I'd come and be healed," Purnell said. "I'm taking medication for my prostate problem. I don't want to be on the medication."
Diana Armstrong of Hobart said she, too, was praying for a healing from distonia, a neuro-muscular disorder that causes repeated muscle contractions. A member of Family Christian Center, she has suffered with distonia for 11 years.
"I want a healing, a complete healing," Armstrong said.
Armstrong's friend, Jennifer Salinas of Valparaiso, accompanied her.
"I want people to know it's not the man (Hinn) who heals. It is God working through him," Salinas said.
"He will work through anybody who lets Him."
Not everyone came to Sunday's service seeking physical healing.
Lucy Cardona of Lake Station said her husband left her, she lost her home and her only son died -- all within three months surrounding Sept. 11, 2001.
"I want to be healed of a broken heart," Cardona said, her face etched in lines of sorrow and her hands twisting in wringing motions. "I'm mourning the living and the dead. I want the Lord's help, not the world's help. I need peace in my heart."