By Jenny Neyman
As Stephen Powell paces the grounds of Farnsworth Park in Soldotna, he looks like he was plucked straight from the mall or a movie theater: Jeans and a T-shirt. Brown oxford shoes. He’s outgoing, greeting whomever he sees and repeating their names to commit them to memory. He speaks excitedly and forcefully, but flashes an easy smile. Clean-shaven with neatly trimmed light brown hair. Nice-looking to the point of being unremarkable. Nothing to attract attention — until he gets a microphone in his hand.
“Come to Jesus tonight! Get healed in your body! Get healed in your soul! If you need Jesus in your life, you need to repent for your sin!”
This delivered in a locomotive cadence: brisk and rhythmic, monotone yet swelling, punctuated with arm-flung gestures and grimaces that could be agony or ecstasy.
“If anyone within the sound of my voice, if you need to accept Jesus as your lord, if you need healing, if you want to get cleansed in the blood of Jesus, cleansed in the soul and the body, then come up here now.”
The volume of Powell’s voice as he warms up to his sermon is easily enough to make him heard through park. The mic and amplifier he uses, plugged into a portable generator, fling his voice beyond the boundaries of the grass and parking lot into the surrounding Birch Street neighborhood, a block off the Sterling Highway.
“Jesus is the savior of your soul! He’s your maker! He’s your father! He’s all of it! He’s everything!”
Jesus pronounced as two syllables, with emphases on “Je.”
“The devil has rights over you through sin. He does. The Bible says he has the legal right to come over you, because of sin. But Jesus said he would set us free.”
Pretty heavy stuff for a sunny summer evening, when sharing a park with kids on a swing set, teenagers rolling through on bikes and skateboards, and a 1-year-old’s birthday party.
“You’re not promised tomorrow! You’re not promised the next day! You’re not promised next month! What will you tell God when you stand before him?
“We claim this city for your glory, God. This city is not for Satan!”
Powell is 22 years old.
He grew up south of Soldotna with his two siblings, the kids of Dennis and Jenice Powell. He attended Soldotna Church of God, where his mother has been a pianist for 28 years. He played sports, hung out with friends and graduated from Skyview High School.
And somewhere in there, he became “on fire for Jesus.”
Powell says he first came to Jesus when he was 14 attending a youth conference in Los Angeles.
“There were thousands of kids all worshiping the Lord, and it had an impact on me,” he said.
He became increasingly active in his church youth group and led a youth ministry at his high school. But it wasn’t until 17 or 18 that he really turned his life over. He was at a low point, he said, after a disastrous relationship cost him his friends, his mentor in the church and his hope for the future.
“I went through my struggles. I went through some really hard times. It left me in a place where I had nobody but the Lord. He used that because when you don’t have anything but the Lord you tend to cleave to him more than you normally would,” Powell said.
It was at that point, in 2004, when he gave himself completely to Jesus, he said.
“I started seeking him with all my heart.”
Everything he did, everything he thought was focused on his relationship with God, he said. He stayed up nights praying, spent entire days reading the Bible. He took three months off work and sequestered himself in his room at his parents’ house, praying, fasting and studying the Bible.
Powell says he was visited by Jesus.
“Jesus anointed me with oil in my room. It is so real I feel it dripping off my ears onto my shoulders. I can feel it in my hair. It’s that tangible,” he said.
Another visitation last February made him feel as though Jesus had inhabited his body and released several gifts inside him, Powell said. He has numerous other accounts of witnessing angels and other supernatural and divine phenomenon.
“Like the wind blowing when I pray. There would be no wind all day. And sometimes it would blow into the room,” he said.
Between 2004 and now he became convinced God wanted him to spread the Gospel to others in Soldotna, and beyond.
“Out of your relationship with Jesus you should minister,” he said. “That’s your place of power. It’s a product of a changed life. That’s where God flows through the most.”
He’s dedicated his life to it and has founded the Peninsula Healing Campaign to carry out his mission. It’s an open-air ministry where he brings the Gospel to people outside the walls of a church. For a 12-day stretch in early August that meant reserving Soldotna Creek Park and then Farnsworth Park every evening, then coming out and delivering a sermon to whomever may hear him — whether it was a dozen people who came specifically for him, park-goers not sure what to make of his performance, or just his mother and grandmother, there to support him.
“We just find places where we can preach it publicly,” Powell said. “In the winter we want to have Sunday church meetings. The Lord told us to start a church, so we’re doing that. … God just wants a harvest of souls on the peninsula.”
His ministry has a particular emphasis on young people. He made a point of talking to any teenagers in Farnsworth Park whenever he was out preaching, and praying with them if they let him. Toward the end of his campaign Powell counted eight teenagers he had saved during the course of his park sermons, including one who said he had to go to jail the next day, so what could Jesus do for him? Powell said he told the boy to pray and accept Jesus into his life. The next day, the boy came back and said he got a call saying his jail time wasn’t going to be enforced, Powell said.
“We’re seeing miracles out here,” he said. “Not just physical miracles. He would never have heard the Gospel if he hadn’t been out in the park.”
Even if Powell couldn’t engage kids directly, he still tried to reach them with his sermon, talking at them with his mic about the power of God and pitfalls of drugs.
“There is no high like the most high. All drugs are a substitute for Jesus. If you’re on drugs tonight you need to find Jesus and you can stay lit for all eternity.”
The Peninsula Healing Campaign has been a difficult road for Powell. Nearing the end of 12 straight days of his energetic preaching, Powell was hoarse at the end of each night. He said Jesus also works healing miracles through him, leaving him able to feel infirmities in those around him. He’s felt Jesus work through him to cure deafness and alleviate back pain, he said.
“We’ve had barrenness. People were trying to get pregnant for years and couldn’t. We laid hands on them and 15 minutes later they were pregnant. I don’t know how that works, but it just works,” Powell said.
He says he’s been rewarded for his efforts. His wife has been his biggest reward. After rededicating himself to God as a teenager, he felt compelled to switch churches in fall 2004. When he did, he met Amanda, now 20. The two were engaged in July 2005 and married in June 2006. They have a child together.
“I had terrible exp-eriences with relationships, with women and stuff. He gave me my wife. The Lord just totally blessed me wi
th that. I was so hurt by what happened, I didn’t ever want to get married,” Powell said. “… It was a gift from God. God gave me my wife. It’s a real testament to his power to save someone.”
Powell finds work when he feels compelled by God to do so. Otherwise he relies on donations and help from his supporters.
“Me and my wife are living on this faith,” he said. “We’re just starting in seed form but we’re not waiting for all the stuff we need before we start preaching. God will provide. We survive by prayer. We survive by the Lord.”
Powell’s mother, Jenice, said she is proud of her son and she and her husband support him 100 percent.
“Since he was 16 he had a passion for the Lord when the Lord started working on his soul. The Lord did a lot of things in his life. He kind of swayed a little bit for a while there, but he came back over and he made up his mind — it was everything or nothing for God. He told me he wasn’t going to be on the fence,” she said.
She said she and her husband have been concerned at times about their son, especially during the three-month stretch where he confined himself to his room praying. Now she doesn’t question it.
“We started to worry a little bit. But my husband and I came to the conclusion that, how can we say that God does not tell him something when he says he does because he prays much more than we do,” she said. “He says that God does, and he truly lives the word of God.”
Jenice said she wasn’t surprised when her son forged such a personal relationship with Jesus. In a way, he seemed marked for it from birth.
When she was six months pregnant with Powell, she became ill and spent the next three months in the hospital “fighting life or death for him,” she said. The doctors couldn’t explain why the baby was having trouble, but couldn’t induce delivery early because his lungs weren’t strong enough, she said.
“He was born 10 days before his due date, the biggest of my three kids. His lungs even today are stronger than anyone I know, out of all my kids,” she said. “I believe the enemy tried to steal him at that young age because he knew the call that was on his life.”
Jenice said she knows Powell’s goals in ministry will make for a sacrificial life, but she knows he is willing to do what God wants him to do.
“It has just been an adventure,” she said. “I can’t wait to come out and listen to him. I want to see what will happen in his life.”
Even in his role as spiritual leader, Powell still has some of the tendencies of a young man — including being embarrassed by his mother’s praise.
“Don’t exalt me too much, Mom,” he said. “I’m just a boy in love with Jesus.”
For more information on Powell and his ministry, visit http://www.stephenpowell.org.