DURHAM — Many Christians believe in the power of healing prayer, even if they've never witnessed it.
At The River Church on Holt School Road, members not only believe in healing prayer, they say it took place in front of their eyes. It happened Dec. 13 when a young mother brought her severely disabled 8-month-old baby to church.
The girl had been shaken by a babysitter in the summer and was largely unresponsive after emerging from a medically induced coma.
Kristie Hammonds of Raleigh brought her daughter forward to be prayed over by Pastor Sheryl Brady.
As captured on video and posted on YouTube, the girl, named Christiana, was lying in her mother's arms with her eyes shut as Brady began praying. Soon a packed house began speaking in tongues, waving hands, shouting and pleading with God for the girl's recovery.
Twenty minutes later, the mother returned with the baby. This time little Christiana opened her eyes, stuck out her tongue, and seemed able to respond to sight and sound.
"The healer is in the house!" shouted Brady, a Pentecostal preacher trained by Dallas megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes. "He can heal you, and you, and all of you."
Nearly half a million viewers have watched the YouTube segment, "A Christmas Miracle at The River." The clip has given the little-known church instant celebrity, and a tough act to follow.
At Sunday's service, Brady and her followers did their best. After a prelude of rousing music and sermons, Brady presented the mother - who returned this time without the baby - with the keys to a Raleigh apartment and a check for one year's rent, along with dining and bedroom sets, towels, pots and pans, and even a bucket with cleaning supplies.
By the time the three-hour service was over, a church member popped up and added the keys to a car.
"I want a complete, absolute, 100 percent miracle," Brady said.
Like other Pentecostals, Brady and her church believe the Holy Spirit bestows special gifts on Christians, such as the power to heal, prophesy and work miracles.
But whether it was prayer or a gradual physical recovery that animated the baby is hard to tell.
Meanwhile, Christiana is still fed through a gastric feeding tube. She cannot hold her head up, and for the time being, she resides at the Hilltop Home on New Bern Road in Raleigh, a residential center for children with profound developmental disabilities.
Raleigh police arrested Tammy Danielle Evans, 22, of Raleigh on July 21 and charged her with felony child abuse in connection with the shaking incident, police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.
'Power is in Jesus'
Brady did not claim the baby was healed.
As she explained to her followers Sunday, "Christiana was not in a coma per se that day."
Nor did Brady claim she was the agent of healing.
"There's no healing power in me," she said. "All the healing power is in Jesus Christ."
But she did hold out hope something was unfolding.
"It's obvious to me, to the mother and to all the world that something significant happened that day right before our eyes," she said. "It's not a complete miracle, but it's the beginning of one."
Hammonds said her daughter has never been more responsive. She's awake for longer periods of time, seems to show some movement in her paralyzed right side, and for the first time this week made some gurgling baby talk noise.
"I believe in prayer more than therapy," said Hammonds who grew up in Monroe, near Charlotte. "Belief is what will get her to the next level."
Hammonds, who was laid off from a Sonic Drive-In after the baby's trauma, has been renting a room in a boarding house on Avent Ferry Road. She has two other children who live with her mother in Monroe.
During Sunday's ecstatic service, members said they viewed the timing of the healing prayer - nearly two weeks before Christmas - as providential.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Reginald Arnold, a member. "We cannot go back to anything less. This is the beginning of something awesome."
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