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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week