Thousands remember Broken Arrow minister for his faith and humor

Wednesday, September 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (AP) _ The Rev. Kenneth Hagin's mourners gathered by the thousands Wednesday, bound by stories of his ministry, his orneriness and his down-to-earth preaching on a higher faith.

The international evangelist whom parishioners simply call ``Dad'' was remembered in a memorial service that drew 6,500 people and 21,000 hits on a live Internet webcast.

Mourners spent more time clapping than crying at the Rhema Bible Church as pastors taught by Hagin shared their experiences in decades of ministering alongside him.

``When you were with him, you knew you were in the presence of greatness,'' said the Rev. Doc Horton, who had taught at Hagin's Rhema Bible Training Center in Broken Arrow, one of 14 worldwide. ``This man was a man of love in every way.''

Hagin died Friday at age 86 after collapsing in his home days earlier. He remained a traveling preacher almost until the end, preaching his last ``meeting'' in August in Toronto.

His son, Kenneth Hagin Jr., carries on his ministry as pastor at Rhema Bible Church and executive vice president of Kenneth Hagin Ministries.

``We're here today for a celebration and that's what I want it to be,'' the younger Hagin announced as the service began in the church's massive auditorium-like sanctuary.

When he asked all of the ministers who had been touched by his father's life to stand, more than half the auditorium seemed to rise to its feet.

Hagin, a McKinney, Texas, native, suffered from a deformed heart and blood disease as a child. He was bedfast at age 15 but described a miraculous healing that led him from his deathbed to start preaching at age 17.

He said Jesus appeared to him in visions eight times that changed the course of his ministry. In 1967, he began a regular radio broadcast and in 1974, he founded his first training center. The Rhema Bible Training Center now has 23,000 alumni.

``He was my spiritual dad,'' said Carolyn Everette, a Rhema graduate, as she found a place in a line of mourners that looped around the church and doubled back on itself three times. ``You didn't have to have an education to understand him.''

Sara Steenhoek described becoming hooked instantly to Hagin's radio program in Iowa. Years later, she and her husband packed up their three children and headed to Oklahoma to attend the Rhema school.

``I'd always wanted to come, just to find God's plan for our lives,'' said Steenhoek, now a program director at a retirement home.

But it was Hagin who moved her, preaching Christianity without lofty theological terms, acting like he was no better than anyone else and avoiding scandals that seized other ministries.

``He's always been rock solid,'' she said.

Others recalled a pastor who preach with passion but barely mumbled a word when he sat down to lunch with his staff. Hagin also was known for having fun, pinching people hard and occasionally swatting them on the head.

``That twinkle in his eyes, in case you didn't know,'' said his daughter, Pat Harrison, ``was orneriness.''

And speaker after speaker said Hagin paid no attention to his critics and in turn never said a negative word about anyone.

``There are people on the other side of the world who think they know him,'' marveled Patsy Cameneti. ``People who have never even seen him call him `Dad.' ``

Along with his son and daughter, Hagin is survived by his wife of 64 years, Oretha, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Even as his former students and family mourned him, they vowed to carry on his work and talked of meeting him in heaven. Hagin left them other words of comfort:

``If you hear that I'm gone,'' he said in 1995, ``you'll know that I got satisfied.''