Pint-Size Preacher

Terry Durham might be some kind of prophet. The question is: Who profits?

Around that time, Monroe began to lead a small church congregation in a blue townhouse in Sunrise. Terry, then a chubby toddler, would suck on his index finger, watch her preach in the living room, and imitate her vocal inflections, she says.

By 2003, she and the twins moved from the $67,600 townhouse into a white $216,900 Oriole Estates home, where a glistening swimming pool sometimes served as a baptismal font.

A big-screen TV set flickers on a lazy Saturday afternoon in March at Sharon Monroe's dimly lit, one-story Margate home when the phone rings. "Praise the Lord," she answers. "You calling from Jamaica for Minister Terry?" she asks, her drowsy brown eyes shifting from the television to the boy. There's a pause. "Yeah, you want him to pray for you?"

Pint-size preacher Terry Durham
C. Stiles
Pint-size preacher Terry Durham
The audience reacts to Terry's sermon.
C. Stiles
The audience reacts to Terry's sermon.


Click on the photo below to view outtakes from this story:

Terry leans against the kitchen counter, flipping through a watch catalogue. As Monroe hands him the phone, he closes his eyes. In a gentle voice, he asks the Lord to help the ailing caller. "You know there's a problem she's facing now, Father God," he pleads. "I'm looking for a breakthrough in the mighty name of Jes-us!" When he opens his eyes, they are raw and damp. He looks deeply empathetic.

Monroe hears the prayer end and tells Terry to remind the caller he'll be touring Jamaica April 26. A bottle of prescription painkillers and a pack of baby diapers sit next to her on the counter.

New Times asks Terry how he'd describe God. "I think —" he begins.

"It's a Spirit," Monroe interrupts.

Though Terry's family life has been dark at times, the trouble seems to have propelled him in the opposite direction — into an insular world marked by prayer and good deeds. Like his followers, Terry believes he has "a gift" that allows him to channel a higher power, cure the afflicted, and uplift the hopeless.

He says he got the calling when he was 3 years old. Tina Bernard — a short 38-year-old Bahamian who cared for him at a six-room Christian day care called This Generation of Hope on West Broward Boulevard — says, "You'd never forget this boy." One morning she arrived at work with a throbbing headache. Terry waddled over, took her head in his hands, and closed his eyes. She swears the pain faded upon his touch. "I felt a burden lift," she says. "I was lighter afterwards."

At the time, Monroe would take Terry with her whenever she preached. "This boy didn't know nothing but church," remembers the boy's aunt, Robbie Stone. "He was always in his room listening to Jesus music."

The next year, Terry says, he realized, "God speaks through me." He thinks for a second, trying to describe it. "It's like a nice breeze come over me."

Adds mom Nicole: "He wasn't an ordinary child; he was more like an adult."

At age 4, Terry was reclusive; he dealt with asthma, endured hernia surgery, and took prescription medication for digestive issues. One day, when Terry was 6, Monroe says, his cousins awakened her. "Something's happening to Terry in the bathroom," one of them said. So she got up, pressed her ear to the door, and found him preaching to himself.

That year, Monroe says, she allowed Terry to give his first sermon at her church, True Gospel Deliverance Ministry. It was then run out of Temple Beth El in Palm Beach County. He moved on to the Good Shepherd Church in Fort Lauderdale. Says Pastor Ernestine Cooper: "The message that comes out of him isn't from a child — it's the power of God."

In the months that followed, Terry's health complications faded and he began to make friends. Says twin brother, Todd Jr., who plays drums during the sermons: "[Kids] knew he was a preacher, but they liked him anyway."

Over the next few years, Terry preached every Sunday at Monroe's church in Palm Beach, where the family collected donations. Monroe says she put the money Terry earned into a personal account for him.

In October 2003, Monroe, who didn't work outside the church, was sued by Ford Motor Credit Company, which claimed she owed $1,300, and threatened to repossess her Ford Explorer. Terry's Bank of America account was frozen to pay for the SUV.

The Sun-Sentinel in March 2006 ran a soft profile about Terry, calling him a "wonder boy" and dubbing him "The Little Man of God."

A few months later, Todd Durham built a website that called the boy "the world's youngest licensed and ordained minister" and sold "Terry Durham products." The site shows a photo of the child — akin to an actor's headshot — clad in a pinstriped suit. In one hand, he holds the Bible. With the other, he points at the camera. "Please be advised Terry Durham is an international minister," the site reads. "Booking will result in a contract and service fees."

On a recent Friday night, in an empty church parking lot, Todd Durham becomes animated as he speaks about his son. "Terry is the Hannah Montana of Gospel!" he says. "When you're hot, everybody wants a piece of you."

The scene could have been plucked from the documentary Jesus Camp: In an immaculate white suit, a 9-year-old Terry puts a microphone to his lips as benchfuls of children stare up at him in admiration. It's early 2007, and he urges the church crowd: "Don't lose faith." As he speaks, a young man with buzzed hair and a neon green shirt limps on crutches toward him.

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