Like most 8-year-olds, the son belonging to the Rev. Michael Lord Sr. and his wife, Peggy, enjoys Saturday afternoon roughhousing with his brother Eddy, 5. Front-yard football gives way to some wobbly bike riding once Dad has unbolted Michael Jr.’s training wheels.
When Mrs. Lord calls the boys in for a supper of canned corned beef hash, macaroni and fruit cocktail with whipped cream, Little Michael says the blessing in a low, earnest voice.
Afterward, the family goes into the boys’ bedroom for evening prayers. The father reads the parable of the talents from the Bible and asks what it means. Michael answers, “It means, sort of, don’t toot your own horn.”
For the Lords’ son Michael, such a simple day is a rare treat. He and his family spend most of the year far from their brick home in Columbus, Ga. In 1975 alone, the yellow van with “Little Michael Ministries” painted on the side clocked more than 100,000 miles on the revival circuit. Little Michael Lord is a boy who likes comic books, swimming and Kool-Aid. He also is an evangelist, faith healer and the hottest new attraction on the trail that weaves through Bible Belt America.
“Are you gonna let the devil keep you out of heaven?” Little Michael challenges the congregation of 1,000, black and white, gathered in a revival hall in Jacksonville, Fla. “The devil makes you want to get drunk! The devil makes you want to chase women so you’ll wind up a telephone pole or in jail. The devil has got you brainwashed!” Little Michael shrills his message into a microphone that he handles with the easy familiarity of a Las Vegas headliner.
Peggy Lord, usually called Little Mommie, pumps out gospel music on an electric organ. The Reverend Lord, 37, and even Little Eddy take turns sermonizing.
But the show belongs to Little Michael. As he strides a few feet down the center aisle, the congregation hums in anticipation. “Praise God!” shouts one worshiper. “That’s right, sugar,” exclaims another. A young woman darts to the edge of the pulpit, “speaks in tongues” and falls to the floor. In groups, according to affliction, the lame and the ill are exhorted to come to the front. First uttering a prayer, Little Michael places his hand on the forehead of each in turn and pushes sharply. Those who swoon are cushioned in the strong arms of Bobby Stewart—singer, tutor and full-time assistant—who converted to Little Michael Ministries after witnessing the evangelist’s power in San Antonio last year.
One old woman recovers from Michael’s blessing, throws aside her crutches and walks wonderingly back to her seat. A girl in a wheelchair is pushed into range of Little Michael’s outstretched hands, which have been credited with cures for diseases ranging from breast cancer to sinus. The beatific touch administered, the girl sits speechless for a moment, then bursts into tears. She cannot rise from her chair. “I will pray for her,” Little Michael vows to the congregation. “Bring her back tomorrow.”
“Some women wouldn’t stay in a place like this,” says Peggy Lord, 33, glancing around the four-room cottage the family has rented for its stay in Jacksonville. “But it’s clean. I don’t care if it’s not carpeted. When people put their money in our trust, it’s God’s money and I don’t think we should spend it on expensive hotels and clothes.” The Lords make do on a $300-a-month stipend from contributions.
A few years back, the Reverend Lord, who has been preaching since age 7, gave up a sideline in insurance and real estate to devote full time to Little Michael’s ministry.
The Lords’ dream at this point is a 15-acre plot of land called Little Michael Campgrounds near Phenix City, Ala., and most of the money they raise goes into it. Last July their followers built a rough-hewn tabernacle in 10 days. Behind the pulpit are relics of Little Michael’s career—a tiny lectern and his first tuxedo. Eventually the family hopes to make the campgrounds a home for disadvantaged children, who will live in cottages under the supervision of couples. “We moved so much, I went to 14 different schools,” the senior Lord explains of his own upbringing. “I think it’s important for children to have one place they can call home.”
Although his father says Little Michael is booked up into 1977, the young evangelist has had to deal with hostility to his showbiz approach. When the Lords appeared on the David Susskind Show, the host asked tough theological questions of the boy that embarrassed the whole family. A newspaper columnist in Washington, D.C. wrote that Little Michael looked like “the cutesy ring bearer in a Mafia wedding.”
Mother Lord is visibly troubled by such remarks. When anyone asks why Little Michael has been singled out and blessed with the power to preach and heal, she has an answer: “He’s only eight years out of heaven.”