New Testament Miracles
For Gomes and other church leaders Charisma interviewed, miracles are fueling much of the church growth in India.
Just ask Meshek Manepally, 46, a shop owner from a town in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. In late 2007, while attending one of Gomes' events in Pratipadu, he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth. His family had no idea what was wrong with him, but they panicked when he stopped breathing. His skin turned darker and his body became stiff.
Manepally's son, Varaprasad, loaded his father in a three-wheel car to take him to a hospital. But while the family waited to maneuver the vehicle out of the crowd, Gomes' staff alerted him to the problem. He walked over to the car, crawled inside and prayed for the man.
Within a few minutes, Manepally was revived, and his son committed his life to Jesus after witnessing the miracle.
Said Manepally: "They told me, 'You were dead but now you are alive!' " His wife, Laxmi, said people in their village who heard about the resurrection spread the news. "For 10 days they came to see him. They treated him like Lazarus in the Bible," she says. "They told us, 'Your God is the true God.' "
Evangelist V.A. Thampy and his wife, Mariamma, witnessed a similar miracle 10 years ago in another village in Andhra Pradesh. A Christian woman named Maria had died, and locals would not give her a proper burial because her family had no money. She had been dead two days, and ants were crawling all over her corpse.
"She was ice cold," Mariamma says. "But after we prayed for her she came back to life. She still has the scars from the ant bites on her body. But she travels with me now, telling the story of what she saw in heaven while she was dead."
The Thampys, who lead an evangelistic ministry called New India Church of God, say signs and wonders have triggered thousands of conversions since they began their work in the southern state of Kerala in the late 1960s. Despite waves of persecution from Hindus and traditional Orthodox Christians, they have planted more than 2,000 churches in 23 Indian states and seven other countries.
"One hundred percent of Indian people are sick and possessed by demons," says V.A., who started his ministry by preaching from a coconut tree. "When we preach the gospel, they are instantly healed."
"Most Indian gurus are possessed by demons," Mariamma adds. "When we pray for them the demon manifests and comes out. We have many former gurus in our churches today, including one who was deaf and dumb and was healed."
Similar outpourings of miracles have occurred in Punjab, in far northern India near the Pakistani border. Pastor John Howell, 62, has planted hundreds of churches in villages there-often after an instance of healing. In one town near Firozpur, south of Amritsar, about 50 curious Hindus attended a church service held outside the tiny home of an 18-year-old woman who was healed a week earlier of an incurable heart condition.
"After she was healed, her parents threw away their Hindu idols," Howell says. "Now everyone in this village is visiting the church to see her." That church, planted in 2006, grew to 75 members after the first week-in a region where Hindus enforce strict laws about food, sacred cows and proper worship.
Miracles are not always welcome in India. On more than one occasion, Hindu radicals insisted that Gomes prove his healing power. Witches and Hindu priests also have opposed him.
In one town religious fanatics registered a case against him, claiming that he was practicing medicine without a license. "But on the very first day of the crusade," Gomes says, "the Lord healed many crippled people and they started walking. The police who witnessed this ended up asking for prayer."