By MARY SANCHEZ The Kansas City Star
Certainly there are more dangerous places for a young person to get lost.
IHOP, south Kansas City’s evangelical missionary movement, was created 13 years ago by a man who grew up in the Center School District. It’s one man’s version of religion made big.
The suspicious have long leveled the charge of “cult” against IHOP (International House of Prayer). That will likely increase in light of recent news coverage.
A young woman with ties to IHOP was found murdered at Longview Lake. A young man with ties to IHOP is charged with suffocating her.
IHOP, it should be emphasized, isn’t accused of anything criminal in the murder. Only those eventually charged will bear that burden.
But the praying elephant in the room is that this religious movement is the perfect cover for the sort of wickedness outlined in court records describing Bethany Ann Deaton’s murder.
Deaton, 27, came to Kansas City from Texas, drawn to do an internship with IHOP. She lived in a house full of people, including her husband, also drawn by IHOP.
IHOP has bought scores of area homes to provide quarters for similar young devotees.
This ministry is a siren call to young adults with a taste for wanderlust, a need to feel a part of something, determined to differentiate themselves from their parents, their high schools, their hometowns.
Founder Mike Bickle has a constant supply of converts. The business plan: Attract enthusiastic young people and evangelize them to believe the end times are near, that they are needed to go forth and make ready.
It’s why the former Terrace Lake Shopping Center is filled 24/7 with out-of-state license plates. They come for round-the-clock prayer.
There’s a muted energy in the expansive prayer room. And a lot of pacing as young people roam around the lines of chairs. It’s for the visual. The prayer is webcast. It’s led from a stage full of musicians and readers chanting repetitive phrasings of faith.
The young people aren’t out boozing it up or drugging, which can lead to bad outcomes.
But many also aren’t in college, living near family, preparing for a career. IHOP runs a “university” that isn’t. Not by accreditation.
Bickle’s been candid in interviews about hearing God speak to him, and believing he’s been to heaven twice.
For the curious, IHOP will hold its annual “onething” gathering Dec. 28-31 at the Kansas City Convention Center. More than 25,000 people are expected.
IHOP does not deserve the barbs likely to come its way as details of the murder unravel. But the organization can’t completely divorce itself from the fact that it lured characters involved with a horrific murder to Kansas City.
Drawing young people with grand ambitions, after all, is the mission.