The healing power of faith

Christians use prayer to improve patients' bodies and spirits.
Sunday, August 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inside the doors of a nondescript office in building 3 at Doctors’ Park, more than 250 cases as varied as rotator-cuff injury, toothache and depression have been treated. The 36 people who volunteer in the office did it all without using one X-ray, dental drill or prescription drug.

But the difference between this office and other medical practices is that the people who work inside aren’t medical doctors. They are Christians from Columbia churches, and for nearly a year, they have worked at the Columbia Healing Rooms using prayer to help make people well. Dennis Sievers, the office’s director, has been involved with healing ministry for 25 years. He started the local healing center because he said he believes God wanted the ministry in Columbia. The practice is based on the Bible and its promises that God is a healer, he said. The Bible, he added, sees the human as having three parts: body, soul and spirit.

“Physicians tend to treat the physical — the body — and we have psychiatrists and counselors who tend to treat the mind and the emotions, but nobody touches the spirit,” Sievers said.

While many Christians believe God is a healer, this style of treatment hasn’t been popular until recently. Columbia’s healing room is part of the International Association of Healing Rooms, a group started three years ago by Cal Pierce.

There are healing rooms affiliated with the international group in 45 states and 18 countries, at more than 270 locations around the world, a representative for the group said. Considering the growth, Pierce said he wasn’t surprised that Columbia and the Midwest have followed suit.

“Wherever there’s sick people — people who need to be healed by God — there’s a need to have this ministry,” Pierce said.

A typical session begins inside one of five prayer rooms with a discussion of what needs to be prayed for. When a cancer survivor told Sievers’ wife, Sandy Sievers, and Ron Webster about her 21 days in a hospital after surgery, Webster anointed her forehead with almond oil as Sievers took her hands.

Closing her eyes and speaking strongly, Sievers began: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ... we pray that she does not have cancer and does not have to go back there ... we believe you only have good for us.”

Webster’s deeper voice continued after he took the patient’s hands. “Lord, we ask you to heal her from the inside out ... you created this flesh, and now you’re going to heal it ... heal her completely ... from head to toe ... just come, Holy Spirit ... let your healing power flow through us,” he said.

Near silence filled the room when the prayer was finished, the only sound coming from the air vent. The intense prayer lasted nearly 10 minutes.

One of the white walls inside held a picture frame that surrounded the words “His Presence.” Dennis Sievers said the words are a reminder that God is doing the healing.

The healing process is like using a telephone, he said: The volunteers are the device, and God’s presence is the power. Without the power, it can’t work.

“We don’t heal anybody; Jesus is the healer,” Sievers said.

Also adorning the walls are Scriptures upon which the practice is founded, such as Matthew 8:16, which says Jesus “cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill.”

David Recker, one of the healing center’s founders, addressed a common misconception.

“We don’t tell people not to go to doctors; we don’t tell people to throw their medicine away,” he said.

Sievers looks at healing as a process of working with doctors and accomplishing something medicine cannot. But he does want patients to visit doctors to know if they have been medically healed and can stop their prescribed treatments.

Sometimes, Sievers said, doctors can’t explain what happens. “That’s not surprising, God’s not bound by science,” he said.

David Weston, a nurse at University Hospital, said he believes he has seen God’s healing power when patients recover despite doctors’ predictions that they wouldn’t. But he had never experienced it for himself, he said, until he injured his right shoulder at work. The pain was so excruciating that he could not do simple things like holding or playing with his 1-year-old twin daughter and son. His supervisors had him see a rehabilitation doctor, who ordered that he not work for two weeks. A physical therapist thought the injury was significant as well.

He visited the healing rooms one week after the injury. During the prayers, he said, his shoulder was filled with a feeling of fire — but not a painful one. Afterward, his shoulder felt better immediately.

By the time Weston saw the physical therapist again, he had recovered to full range and strength. Doctors looked at the MRI and couldn’t find anything that could have clinically explained his injury from a few days before, he said.

“I know God’s word says it’s possible, but I guess it kind of took me a little more from the believing to the knowing,” Weston said.

As excited and impressed as the doctors were by Weston’s recovery, they were still skeptical. Harold G. Koenig, the co-director and founder of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University’s medical center, said the medical community rationalizes such healing experiences “as being due to a spontaneous remission that would have occurred anyway, or the physical condition is considered to be psychosomatic to begin with.”

Koenig began his studies on the link between spirituality and science in 1984 as a resident doctor at MU, with a survey of how religion affected the well-being of older adults in Missouri. Now a leading expert in the greatly expanded field, Koenig said that despite the skepticism, medical doctors are beginning to accept and address the role religion plays in health.

“It is possible that through a person’s faith and belief, that this might activate the healing process in the body by affecting the immune system, endocrine system or cardiovascular system that can be affected by emotions and thought processes,” he said.

Regardless of what forces are at work, the ministry in Columbia is growing. After being open once a week for seven months, the center’s hours expanded to Tuesday and Thursday nights in June. Sievers’ goal is to expand the ministry to an additional weekday afternoon once there are more volunteers. Meanwhile, Sievers said, he’s going to be listening to God. “This is God’s ministry; we’re just the servants. Whatever he wants, we’ll do,” he said.

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