Monday, 12 October 2009


Guillermo Maldonado stood in front of his audience, opened his Bible, and shouted into his microphone, quoting the book of Galatians, extolling the ``supernatural power of God.''
He asked his audience -- some in tears and many with arms raised and heads cocked toward heaven -- to ``let your fire come down!''
It would have been a typical service for Maldonado, founding pastor of King Jesus Ministry, a Kendall church that is one of South Florida's largest, except he was speaking to more than 13,000 people at a packed sports arena in downtown Miami.
It was midday Friday, and the crowd -- which came bearing prayer books, notepads and flags representing a dozen Hispanic nations -- had packed into AmericanAirlines Arena for Day 2 of one of the region's largest Christian events.
Before it ends Saturday night, the Apostolic and Prophetic Conference, in its seventh year, will bring eight internationally known ministers to Miami.
Less a conference and more a series of fiery speeches and spiritual rejuvenation, it shows the growth of Maldonado's following, which was only a dozen people when he first began preaching in his living room 15 years ago, and the increasing popularity of Pentecostal forms of Christian worship, which stresses a personal and visceral connection with God.
``All of those who have never spoken in tongues, raise your hand!'' the Honduran-born Maldonado shouted in Spanish as he jumped, punched the air, ran and screamed intermittently throughout his two-hour sermon.
Audience members, bursting with energy, cheered the preacher on, as the English translator by his side told the audience: ``Drink! Speaking in tongues! Be filled!'' before they created a cacophony of sounds.
The 10,000-member church booked the Miami arena for the first time last year after the event outgrew its West Kendall grounds. It is charging a $103 admission to the event, and most attendees so far have come from Maldonado's church.
Yet, with international branches in Colombia and Honduras, a television ministry and his own product line of inspirational books, DVDs, CDs and prayer manuals, Maldonado's reach is wide. A mini-bookstore set up outside the stands was selling his newest book, Jesus Heals Your Sickness Today! for $12.99.
Other speakers Friday included pastor Alan Vincent of San Antonio and Bishop Tudor Bismark of Harare, Zimbabwe. Pastor Benny Hinn of Irving, Texas, who has caused controversy with his international ``miracle crusades,'' during which attendees claim to be cured of sickness and faint backward at the flick of his hand, was also scheduled to speak late Friday night.
Besna Usuaga, 30, a member of Maldonado's church, said Friday that she was excited to see her pastor and others such as Hinn, and to ``feel the spirit in me.'' Usuaga, of Kendall, came downtown with her husband, with whom she joined the church three years ago after years of being a lapsed Catholic. ``But it's not the people who go and preach that you're looking for,'' she said. ``It's the Lord.''
Usuaga is part of a growing trend. While Catholicism remains the dominant faith among Hispanics, a Pew survey released last year shows that 1.3 million of immigrant Hispanic Catholics have joined Pentecostal churches since coming to the United States. Almost half of all Hispanics who have joined Pentecostal denominations were raised as Catholics.
``Some people come to concerts here, some drink, some smoke marijuana,'' Usuaga said while taking a break on the arena's steps. ``But once you are here, once you are inside, you don't need any of that.''