Fridge-freezers for Jesus

If a man strikes you, you should turn the other cheek, says the Bible. But if your assailant is one of the athletic evangelists known as the Power Team, it might be better to run away. They're spiritual, but they are also large.

James Henderson is the largest man I have ever met. He is 6ft 5in and weighs 390lb, but those statistics cannot do justice to his extreme ginormousness. He is a fridge-freezer with skin. He is so big, in fact, that I cannot speak. The man has just flown in from Texas. He is jet-lagged. He has bothered to come all the way to Hackney in east London to tell me what it is like to be a Muscleman for God. He has also promised to break a few concrete blocks. I should be talking to him about his life, his work, his story. Instead I am staring at his neck.

It is a tree trunk. James is saying something about God when I interrupt. "So how big is your neck?" I ask. His gold tooth flashes. "Twenty-three inches." I stare at him some more. To fill the silence, James volunteers the fact that he has to have his clothes tailor-made. I look at his black tracksuit and wonder if he always has to wear stretchy material. Then I wonder who sat next to this guy in the plane all the way from Texas. Then I ask whether he has ever met anyone who was so big. "Well I met myself this morning when I woke up," he says rather gently. I do not want to make this man angry. It is time to snap out of it.

This is easier said than done when you are at the Kingsway International Christian Centre. This is one of the fastest-growing churches in Britain and it is located in what used to be a warehouse, next to the dog track, on an industrial estate in Hackney. There is no steeple here, or stained glass, or pews. Instead there are 4,000 orange plastic chairs and a PA system that seems to play the New Testament on a continuous loop. The church's motto is "Raising Champions, Fulfilling Dreams!", and it publishes a magazine called Winning Ways. On the first page there is an article called "Ten Things Single Women Should Not Do". These include "Don't Get Foolishly Passionate" and "Don't Get Into Foolish Submission".

James, plus some 25 other members of the Power Team, are providing the Easter entertainment here this year. It is a Biceps for Christ kind of show, with the men blowing up hot-water bottles, snapping baseball bats, breaking walls of concrete, bending steel bars and ripping up phone books. In between violent outbursts, they talk about the Lord. The whole thing is a bit like evangelical wrestling. On Monday there is a special show with a mass baptism. A pool has been rented and at least 400 are expected to get wet.

There are two kinds of Americans: polite ones and rude ones. James Henderson and his fellow Power Team member, Jeff Neal, are in the first category. In fact, they may be founding members of the first category. They call me "ma'am" quite a few times before we even sit down in the orange chairs for a chat. Behind us, on the dais, some wavy concrete blocks are stacked up, ready for demolition. The Power Team manager wants to know whether James is going to split them with forearm, elbow or hand. It is decided that this one is for the elbow. I am told that one Power Team member has perfected the art of breaking blocks of ice with his head.

James introduces me to Jeff Neal, Man of Steel. He is relatively tiny, at 6ft 2in and 335lb. He was brought up a Christian, but found his own particular divine moment at age 13. Since then he has been "walking with the Lord". Both he and James talk in an evangelical kind of way. When something important has happened in their lives, it has been "divine intervention". They say that the Lord always picks you up when you are down. They say that they are in the Power Team as a way of getting our attention, and then they make a bid to save our souls.

I ask about drugs. It is the obvious question in the circumstances. Jeff used to play professional American football. He is a champion weight-lifter. James is the four-times World Heavyweight Lifetime-Drug-Free Power-Lifting Champion. Just try getting that on a name badge. But, really, what about drugs? "No! And I never have. My strength is enhanced naturally," insists James. Is he sure? "Well, I've drunk a couple of beers in my life," he says. "That was before the Lord," says Jeff. "You don't drink at all now."

They advise me how to blow up a hot-water bottle, and then James stands up and walks stiffly towards the stacked concrete. I ask why he is limping. He says that he has come all the way from Texas and is stiff. I ask him if I am irritating him. He says that he cannot be irritated and taps my arm in a sort of a power josh. (Later, I check for bruises.)

James says crashing through bricks is all about technique, not strength. "You need consistent drive," he says. He stands behind the bricks and says "Pray for me." I think this may have been a joke. Then there is a blur, a thud and a crash. The pulpit area is littered in concrete. The team manager tells me that it is far more impressive when the concrete is on fire. I pause. How does that happen exactly? Divine intervention? Nope, he says - lighter fuel.

The Power Team appears at 6.30pm every night until Monday 5 April, at the Kingsway International Christian Centre, 57 Waterden Road, Hackney. Free bus service from Hackney Town Hall and Stratford. The hotline is on 0181-525 0000

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence