"It must be a miracle," says Sue Barker. "Otherwise I'd be dead." Mrs Barker is convinced that God healed her of a life-threatening blood disorder while she prayed at a meeting run by the American stadium evangelist Morris Cerullo; tonight she will stand before 16,000 people at Earls Court Arena to say so.
The 25-year-old working class mother from Northampton is the latest witness called by Dr Cerullo in a three-year battle to convince doctors that miraculous healings take place during his meetings. So far none of the cases he has offered has withstood close medical scrutiny.
Dr Cerullo (the doctorate is honorary) has been bringing Pentecostal crusades to this country for more than 30 years. In 1992 he decided to adopt a more aggressive style of advertising, but it backfired badly. The Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints against a series of posters that showed discarded white sticks, hearing aids and wheelchairs, after agreeing with complaints that they exploited the hopes and fears of vulnerable people.
Doubts started to grow among his own Evangelical constituency, with concerns over his fund-raising techniques. He has written letters to supporters offering personal miracles in return for money to help clear a pounds 2m debt - which he blamed on the Devil.
Despite being at the centre of his latest PR disaster, Sue Barker remains a devoted fan. She had already suffered distress once, when she agreed to her story being used for one of the posters in a new pounds 150,000 advertising campaign on Underground trains and billboard sites throughout London, but was upset when she saw the results.
"I couldn't have a baby," said the headline over a photograph of a smiling mother and child. "Miracles happen." But Mrs Barker already had three children when her own alleged miracle took place, and her husband had only just applied for a vasectomy.
So why is she prepared to share the stage with Dr Cerullo? A trusting soul with a childlike faith, she says the misuse of her story "must have been for a good reason" and has no doubts about the validity of her miracle. Her story began in 1993 when doctors said she had pulmonary embolism, multiple blood clots in the arteries of her lungs. She was prescribed a drug called Warfarin and told to avoid smoking, alcohol and fatty foods, and on no account to get pregnant.
Two months later she attended a Mission To London meeting with a friend from the Charismatic church she had joined the previous year. Was she looking for healing? "I was curious. I'd heard that God could heal people, but I thought, 'Surely not in my condition'."
During a prayer, members of the audience were told to place their hands on the parts of their body that needed healing. "I went along with it, put my hands on my chest and closed my eyes to try to concentrate."
She felt a burning sensation start in her fingers then move through her chest and back. "This warm air was going through my lungs. When we'd finished praying, I heard God say to me, 'You've been healed. Claim your healing.' It wasn't like I'm speaking to you now: it was deep within me. I was gobsmacked, to tell you the truth."
Back home, she immediately came off Warfarin. The doctors thought she had gone mad. "They said I was taking a big risk and I could drop down dead if this blood clot flew off and hit my heart."
Mrs Barker returned to work, but was rushed to hospital in Kettering after a few days. After blood tests and a scan, doctors there said the good news was that there was no sign of the pulmonary embolism. The bad news was that she was pregnant.
"I thought I was going to have a deformed baby. But then I thought, 'No, God healed me. God wouldn't allow this to happen.' So I said I was not having an abortion. The doctor hit the roof: he thought I was being very stupid."
In March 1994 her daughter Shona was born, a premature but healthy child. Tests showed no blood clots, or even the scars they should have left, she says. She has not taken Warfarin since and says that Northampton General Hospital is prepared to back her story, although she has not yet received that in writing. The consultant who had treated Mrs Barker was unavailable for comment.
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