Kids starve themselves for salvation at Trinity Church

Trinity Church smells like a high school locker room: all sweat and perfume. It's Tuesday night and at least 1,000 young Miamians — Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, African-Americans, and Caucasians — are packed into a low-slung concert hall for a weekly event called "The Rendezvous," or simply "The Vous." The scene is straight out of MTV, but without ass cheeks and F-bombs. Christian rock blares from loudspeakers. On stage, a multicultural rainbow of singers jumps up and down to the ever-quickening beat. God only knows where they get the energy: Most of them are starving — literally.

Terrence Wilson, a pastor at Trinity in his late 20s, is one of them. He's one month into a 40-day liquid-only fast in the name of Jesus, but he's bounding around the stage in a backwards cap like he's Method Man, high on something supernatural. Beside him, Rabson Senat, who hasn't eaten anything but fruits, vegetables, and Ensure in weeks, is crooning to the rafters like he's R. Kelly.

"The liquid fast is really tough," says Senat, a handsome, black 26-year-old in a T-shirt and jeans. "I just drink water and a shake at lunch. Sometimes I get headaches for food, but they just remind me to pick up The Book and read."

Trinity pastor Rich Wilkerson Sr. — a prosperity-gospel televangelist and Ken doll look-alike — began promoting fasts 12 years ago as a way to deepen church members' relationships with God. Now roughly one third of Trinity's nearly 3,000 members are on some sort of fast, says Liz Eden, director of communication for the Pentecostal church in North Miami. Many, like fiancées Jason Hodges and Allison Funes, restrict themselves to consuming only liquids one day per week. Others practice a "Daniel fast," a fruits, vegetables, and nuts-only diet named after the Biblical figure who refused to eat at King Nebuchadnezzar's sumptuous table.

Not surprisingly, fasting for Jesus isn't always healthy. Andre Etienne, a student at Miami Dade College who will sprint the 400-meter dash in next year's Olympics for Haiti, was two weeks into a liquid-only diet when his body basically shut down.

"Everything was out of whack," he says. "My body was cold even though it was hot outside. My joints hurt." Despite getting sick and setting back his Olympic training for at least several months, Etienne says he has no regrets. In fact, he's now on a Daniel fast.

"Although it would seem kind of radical to some people, I didn't want to just play church," he says before going back on stage. "I wanted radical change in my life."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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