Pint-Size Preacher

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

Mid-sentence, Terry reaches out and palms the injured boy's head. "Heal him in the name of Jesus!" Terry hollers.

The crowd cheers. The music blares. Overcome, the injured boy throws down his crutches and prances off camera without a limp. "That child walked away dancing!" Monroe insists.

Around that time, Terry's audiences began to grow. With larger crowds came larger offerings. In February 2007, Terry preached at the Titus Harvest Dome Spectrum Church in Jacksonville before a gathering of 7,000. Trinity Broadcast Network, an international Christian television station, shot footage. Harvest Dome Minister Phillip Brown remembers the show was so popular they had to bring chairs into the aisles. "It was packed," he says. "You could see the hand of the Lord come upon him."

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.

Details

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

TV news quickly caught on to the phenomenon. That same year, Terry appeared on the Today Show. Then ABC Nightly News shot footage of the 9-year-old in a segment about child preachers, in which a mustached anchorman asked, "But whose Word is it?" They aired clips of women falling to their knees at Terry's touch. Randall Balmer, a professor at Barnard College, explained the young ministers were "parroting their parents." (He later told New Times: "There's an element of exploitation... it turns preaching into a spectacle.")

Some fans treated Terry as a Christ in the making. "We got calls every day," Monroe says. "They wanted him to cure their sick sister or their dying mama."

Other viewers approached Terry on the street. One star-struck 20-something ran up to the boy as he was boarding a plane at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport two years ago. "Can you touch my wallet?" she asked, explaining her financial woes. A 105-year-old woman vowed to have Terry bless her before she passed away.

Churches across the country began inviting the boy. The family stayed at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City — with $300-per-night ocean-view rooms — and the Hilton in Newark, New Jersey. A millionaire in the Cayman Islands put them up in her mansion, Monroe says. "She wanted to be the one to take care of Terry."

Adds Todd Durham: "It's very lavish... with limos and fine dining."

By the end of 2007, Monroe and the twins had again upgraded houses — to a cream-colored $278,000 pool home in Margate. Though she was still on government disability checks, Monroe opened her current storefront church on NW Ninth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. It was called True Gospel Deliverance Ministry. (She declined to talk about church finances, saying, "The money is our business.")

This past March 1, the New York Times ran a story about Terry, with the headline "11-Year-Old Boy in Florida Is a Man of God on Sunday." It heavily quoted Monroe, noting she "had a vision in which a child joined her at the pulpit." It makes no reference to the family's criminal history or the substantial offerings during guest appearances.

Adolfo Flores, the 21-year-old freelance writer, spent about six hours with the family for the article. He was unaware of the criminal charges but says he wanted to show that "the grandma was very controlling." Ultimately, he says, editors thought he needed more than a day to do so.

Flores adds, "You can tell they're in it for the money. It didn't feel right."

Monroe says the boy is doing God's bidding. She is cagey about Terry's income: "We're not making millions."

"I put more time and money into this business than I get back," Todd Durham adds. He says the cash will go toward Terry's education.

Terry doesn't pay much attention to the money. On a recent Saturday, he dedicated the entire day to preparing a sermon titled "God Is a Provider," while his cousins attended a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. (Later, New Times asked if he ever misses out on normal kid stuff. "No," Monroe answered for him.)

"People say my grandma is pushing me," Terry explains. "But God chose me."

Child preachers such as Terry are most common in Pentecostal communities, says University of Miami religious studies professor David Kling. They're also embraced at African-American churches, where there's a "strong folk and oral tradition."

These settings are ideal for "freelance evangelical preachers to collect unregulated income," he says. Sometimes there's a belief that giving money will be rewarded. "If people are convinced a healing is taking place, they are more willing to give," Kling says. "It's as if a transaction were occurring."


Back at New Harvest Church, on the treeless stretch of Northwest Miami-Dade, Terry's sermon has been over for ten minutes, but tears are still rolling down the cheeks of the pudgy woman with braids. She sits on the floor, sobbing to herself in front of the audience. A few older ladies stroke her hair, rub her shoulders, and then escort her back to her seat.

In the audience, Terry's mom and dad both wear T-shirts with their son's face printed across the chest. They read, "Little Man of God." As the boy steps down from the pulpit, several churchgoers form a semicircle around Monroe to gush over his talent. She smiles.

Pastor Gregory Thompson, who earlier encouraged his congregation to donate money to the boy, says Monroe phoned him a few days before the sermon. She offered him a chance to hear Terry preach. Thompson says it's unusual for New Harvest — which he calls "Bapticostal" — to have a guest minister. "But it's not every day you get a child like this," he says.

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