Money can't buy you a miracle, televangelist Benny Hinn told a crowd of hundreds Wednesday night.
"Only a fool believes that," Mr. Hinn said, during the first of three services the controversial faith-healer and prosperity gospel proponent is holding this week at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. "When you obey God, you touch his heart. ... Abundance will come."
In his casual, conversational style, Mr. Hinn was relating the tale of his 2011 divorce and remarriage this year to his wife, Suzanne, crediting another pastor, Jack Hayford, with helping him get through the ordeal.
"We lost our home, our savings," Mr. Hinn said. "Everything was lost in that divorce."
Mr. Hinn said, even in the midst of his financial travails, God told him he should make a donation to Mr. Hayford -- $2,000 a month for the rest of his life.
Shortly after that, Mr. Hinn said, donors who had also been directed by God started pouring in money to help Mr. Hinn pay his debts and get his ministry back on track. He claims to have preached to more than 1 billion people worldwide through his healing services, "crusades" and daily television show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
"Say tonight is my tonight for an awesome miracle. All the losses in my life will stop. ... Everything you lost will be restored. And restored double," said Mr. Hinn, who also announced that he had been invited to preach in mainland China.
Convention center staff said the hall had been set up for 2,800 people but was only about half full. Envelopes for donations, with boxes to check for cash, check, VISA, MasterCard, American Express and Discover, sat on every chair.
"The seed we sow tonight will be the seed that triggers the harvest," Mr. Hinn said. "All the losses will stop."
Mr. Hinn, who was born in Israel but later immigrated with his family to Canada, says a 1973 visit to Pittsburgh to see faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman at First Presbyterian Church launched him on his pastoral path.
"Just a few blocks from here is where God touched my life," Mr. Hinn said. "When she walked on that platform, Jesus walked on that platform."
That church is uneasy with Mr. Hinn's ministry, said the Rev. Tom Hall, First Presbyterian's pastor, adding that church board debated whether to allow an event that will feature Mr. Hinn in the church next year before approving it.
"We are also concerned that Pastor Hinn lives a lavish lifestyle, he travels with an entourage and bodyguards. "When the Lord himself came, he was a poor itinerant preacher," Rev. Hall said. "While we have concerns about his methods, people do seem to be helped by his ministry."
Mr. Hinn, 60, told the audience he had been preaching since age 21.
Mr. Hinn's ministry, which brought in nearly $98 million in 2006, according to a U.S. Senate report, was one of six "media ministries" targeted in a Senate Finance Committee inquiry launched in 2007 by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in response to complaints that the tax-exempt organizations were spending donations on expensive houses, hefty salaries and high-priced jets for the celebrity preachers and their families.
Mr. Hinn's organization pledged an array of reforms related to how it handled finances and perks for Mr. Hinn and his family, such as houses and credit cards.
Mike Lober, a 46-year-old engineer and devout Christian from McKees Rocks, was outside the convention center handing out booklets asking "Are you born again?" to people arriving for Mr. Hinn's service.
Mr. Lober said he was "evangelizing" against Mr. Hinn's ministry.
"He preys on people who are sick and uses the name of Jesus Christ for his personal gain," said Mr. Lober.
Inside, however, there was fervent faith in Mr. Hinn's motivations.
Mary Katsakis, of White Oak, who uses a wheelchair, was taking a break in the hallway during the service.
"I have followed Benny for 25 to 30 years," Ms. Katsakis said. "A lot of people don't believe in him. ... There is just nothing like the presence of God that he ushers in. ... I have seen many miracles."
She added that Mr. Hinn preaches in many of the poorest parts of the world and never charges admission.
"I don't care if he buys five airplanes because that man is exhausted. He's not doing it for the money. I can guarantee it," Ms. Katsakis said.
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909.