Heidi Baker is a well known Christian figure who has dedicated her life to ministry in the African country of Mozambique (1). Through stories coming from Baker’s compassionate work on the ground, there has been an arousal of academic interest in some events surrounding her.
Baker’s ministry has seemed to have garnered the reputation for remarkable occurrences, and it was not too long until it caught the attention of western scholar and researcher Candy Gunther Brown. Brown is a Professor in religious studies at Indiana University who has since identified Heidi as being “a hero to young women.” (2).
Proximal Intercessory Prayer
Brown was intrigued by the claims of healing and looked to examine them through scientific protocol (3). The study examined “proximal intercessory prayer” (PIP) meaning that the people prayed for were not at a distance away from the intercessor who was doing the praying. Rather than blind prayer studies where controlled groups are separated by distance and location, Brown’s study looked at “direct-contact prayer, frequently involving touch, by one or more persons on behalf of another” (p. 864). It is a prayer Brown says is similar to the New Testament accounts of Jesus and his disciples laying hands on the sick. At this point in the academic literature, proximal intercessory prayer has received little attention, and Brown’s study is an attempt to fill this gap.
Acquiring the Data
She traveled to Mozambique with a small team where they would accompany Baker on her ministry outreaches. The study explains that,
“… the site was selected because Iris leaders are widely reputed among Pentecostals globally as “specialists” in praying for those with hearing and vision impairments—especially during village outreaches in rural Mozambique” (p. 865).
During evangelistic meetings, blind and deaf persons were directed to designated spots to receive prayer for healing by Baker, Baker’s ministry team, and other Western and Mozambican affiliates. Through this Brown and her team were able to test 24 Mozambicans before and after prayer. The process of PIP included spending 1–15 minutes (sometimes an hour or more, circumstances permitting) administering proximal intercessory prayer. Hands were placed on the recipient’s head and sometimes the person was embraced in a hug, keeping their eyes open to observe results,
“In soft tones, they petitioned God to heal, invited the Holy Spirit’s anointing, and commanded healing and the departure of any evil spirits in Jesus’ name. Those who prayed then asked recipients whether they were healed. If recipients responded negatively or stated that the healing was partial, PIP was continued. If they answered in the affirmative, informal tests were conducted, such as asking recipients to repeat words or sounds (eg, hand claps) intoned from behind or to count fingers from roughly 30 cm away. If recipients were unable or partially able to perform tasks, PIP was continued for as long as circumstances permitted” (p. 865).
Brown’s team evaluated a consecutive series of 24 Mozambican subjects (19 males and 5 females) reporting auditory (14 subjects) and/or visual (11 subjects) impairments who received PIP. Only one subject reported having both a hearing and vision impairment.
To test hearing Brown’s team used a handheld audiometer (EarscanES3, Micro Audiometrics Corp, Murphy, N.C., calibrated 3 months prior to the study, with calibration valid for 12 months) to measure hearing thresholds. Ambient noise coming from the nearby crowd was taken into account and measured with a sound meter (Tenma model 72–935) in dB SPL in order to investigate whether or not it influenced readings. A total of 18 ears in 11 individuals with hearing impairments were analyzed, and subjects responded by button press on the audiometer or verbally.
Visual testing included testing 11 visually impaired subjects “using 40cm (6 subjects) and/or 6 m (5 subjects: this chart was used for elderly subjects reporting distant vision problems) logarithmic, “Illiterate E” visual acuity charts (Precision Vision, LaSalle, Ill.), using both eyes together, or with each eye separately as time allowed. The minimum measurable acuity was 6/120 on the 40-cm chart and 6/30 on the 6-m chart. A pre-measured string was used to hold charts at the appropriate distance. As researchers pointed to each letter, subjects pointed or verbally indicated which direction it faced; researchers did not indicate whether responses were correct making it less likely that subjects memorized the chart” (p. 866).
Where hearing is concerned,
“There was a highly significant improvement in hearing across the 18 ears of 11 subjects (t(10)3.93, P0.003,two-tailed) (Fig. 1). Two subjects showed hearing thresholds reduced by over 50 dB HL. AN was very high during testing (50–100 dB SPL), but AN (85 dB SPL), calculated for each subject individually as the average of the minimum and maximum noise during measurement was unchanged between pre- and post-PIP tests (t(10)-0.48, P0.64, two-tailed), indicating that AN was not likely to be a confound (Fig. 1, A). The average 3 kHz threshold after PIP was 49.4 dB HL, which was slightly high, perhaps due to high AN” (p. 866).
“Significant visual improvements (both difference and ratio of before vs after) were seen across the tested population (Wilcoxon signed rank test z2.49, P0.02, two-tailed) (Fig. 2, A). Three of eleven subjects improved from 6/120 or worse to 6/24 or better, and one subject improved from unable to count fingers at 30 cm (6/2400) to 6/38 (Fig. 2, B). All but one vision subject was tested in broad daylight; the remaining subject was tested after dark, with electricity provided by generator-powered stage lights and a flash-light (See Subject E in Supplemental Digital Content, http://links.lww.com/SMJ/A1); the lighting level did not appear improved between the pre- and post-test (conducted less than one minute later), making it unlikely that variable lighting was a confound” (p. 877).
What Accounts for these Remarkable Results?
The study then matches the data to possible explanations accounting for the visual and hearing improvements. This includes hypnosis because some have suggested hypnosis to result in statistically significant visual acuity improvement. But this is disqualified given that several studies of hypnotic suggestion showed an average 2 or 2.5 times increase in visual acuity, while other studies reported no improvement in vision or auditory thresholds after hypnotic suggestion. However, in Brown’s PIP study, the average visual acuity improvement measured was over tenfold, significantly higher than in suggestion or hypnosis studies.
What about demand effects? According to the study,
“demand effects may also account for some cases in which subjects reported improved hearing (but not vision) despite no measurable improvement. It should be noted, however, that in the Mozambican cultural context, traditional healers typically charge clients more when healing occurs; thus, subjects may have been predisposed to minimize reporting post-PIP improvements… It seems much less likely that subjects who went from being unable to read a single line (in which case it is unclear that this experience constituted practice) to reading far down the chart were exhibiting practice effects” (p. 867-868)
And Practice effects?
“Practice effects might also have contributed to some observed improvement, but these would also be present in hypnosis studies to similar degrees and therefore may not fully account for the larger effects observed here. Furthermore, the amount of practice was minimal at best. Subjects with measurable hearing thresholds experienced the test tones of a given frequency only a few times in each ear, following the Carhart-Jerger protocol.” (p. 867)
The Three Findings of the Study
The study has three main findings (p. 868). The clearest finding is that the PIP assisted improvements:
“First, Mozambican subjects did exhibit improved auditory and/or visual acuity subsequent to PIP interventions. Second, the magnitude of measured effects exceeds that reported in previous studies of suggestion and hypnosis.”
Third, and most striking, is that the study suggests that PIP may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care,
“Although it would be unwise to overgeneralize from these preliminary findings for a small number of PIP practitioners and subjects collected in far-from-ideal field conditions, future study seems warranted to assess whether PIP may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care for certain patients with auditory and/or visual impairments, especially in contexts where access to conventional treatment is limited.”
Beyond the Study
Beyond this study, Baker’s ministry has been associated with some other remarkable claims including the multiplying of food (4), to raising the dead which have led thousands to Christ. Professor Craig Keener in his two-volume work on the subject of miracles explains that “Unless one works from controlling presuppositions that miracles cannot occur, most would consider the Bakers credible sources” (5). Keener has interacted with several eyewitnesses who have all attested to miraculous occurrences within Baker’s ministry. This included a “young filmmaker” who witnessed hearing being restored to the deaf, which is what Brown’s study itself demonstrated. Amanda Hammill Kaminski, who had met Heidi Baker through YWAM, informed Keener that her roommate had spent some time working with Baker and during that time witnessed numerous conspicuously visible miracles. Another eyewitness, Kathy Evans, who works with the Bakers’ ministry, visited them with a team of students and witnessed a middle-aged man born deaf being fully healed. According to Keener, there are multiple, credible “independently confirmed reports about the ministry of the Bakers and their Mozambican colleagues…” According to Baker, the formula is simple, “When we walk as Jesus walked, we will be blessed.”
1. Chan, P. 2012. Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the Abandoned. Available.
2. Chan, P. 2012. Ibid.
3. Brown, C., Mory, S. Williams, R. & McClymond, M. 2010. “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique” in Southern Medical Journal. 103 (9): 864–869.
4. Keener, C. Miracles. p. 503-505 (Scribd ebook format)
Some years ago a visiting Anglican clergyman from the UK related in my hearing how he had been in a West African country and was invited to be part of a “healing meeting”. So many people came forward for healing prayer that all they could do was line them all up and simply go quickly from one to the next, place hands on them, pray “In Jesus Name be healed” and move on. However, at one point a commotion began back down the line. Upon investigation he found a women _looking_ at the two false eyes, now in her hands and not in her head.
I have a nonmedical PhD. I’m trying to understand the results. it’s not a matter of stats, but what do these decibel, etc. measures mean in real life. I am not seeing how to look the paper up in google scholar. What is the name of the paper and the journal? I’ve seen it before, but that should be clearer (maybe I need to read not skim.)
Thanks for posting this. It’s interesting.
[…] from the dead whereas the other concerns a team of western researchers who documented medical evidence for the healing of two dozen […]
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Yet another false prophet you can put on the pile. She’s only following the other frauds – Peter Popoff, Benny Hinn, Paula White, Jimmy Swaggart, Tom Bentley, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Peter Youngren,…and on and on. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Convincing argument, John….
O.K. How about we get some actual scientists and not someone from a “Religious studies” department to go investigate this? Although I know it sounds all sciency, there are things conspicuously absent. All I can reach of the paper is the abstract, but, no where do the words “Compared to controls” appear. This should be a tip off that the “researchers” went and found what they were seeking to find, which is a very common and well known bias. Also, the sample size is terribly small. None of these claims that I’m aware of ever stand up to actual scientific scrutiny.
if these things were genuine the lady would still be there healing people, or in a hospital instead of doctors
Yet the statistics show it is genuine.
[…] Heidi Baker, the CEO of Iris Global Missionary who cares for poor youth in Mozambique, caught the attention of Candy Gunther Brown, Professor in religious studies at Indiana University. Brown and her research team followed Baker’s ministry and documented incredible circumstances involving 24 Mozambican subjects that Baker had prayed healing for. In nearly all of the cases the healing of vision and hearing in the subjects required serious and costly medical surgery and intervention that were unavailable to most living in the country. Brown’s research team detected statistically significant improvements in hearing and vision of the subjects that Baker had prayed for. Note, Baker’s case study is far from the likes of the petitionary prayer criticized by Brain above. Proximal intercessory prayer involves personal contact (hugging, hands on head, shoulders, back etc.) between the individual prayed for and the person praying. This is quite different to a controlled group praying on behalf of another group from a distance. These differences are well explained in the journal article itself. Additionally, rather than attempting to manipulate God into answering prayer, Brown and her team simply accompanied Baker on her mission and documented the results the best she and her team could. There was no notion of forcing God to act as it so seems to be the case in petitionary prayer studies. For those interested in reading the full journal article in which the statistical and empirical evidence is documented, the 2010 edition of the Southern Medical Journal can be accessed online in its fullness (3). […]
Can I have a miracle?
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[…] his article Bishop shares a second academic source who supports the medical evidence of healing through […]
[…] Craig Keener’s massive academic tome on miracles or the established study of proximal prayer of Heidi Baker, or psychiatrist Richard Gallagher’s striking cases of encountering alleged demon possession in […]
I too heard a story from a friend of mine, a nun/nurse/international Red Cross, who spent a couple of days with Heidi. She reported witnessing Heidi walking through a large crowd placing her hand on people here and there and saying “You are healed in Jesus name” (or something very close to that), and she witness various healings. My friend had heard a report from her brother, a priest/physician of a blind boy who was totally healed through Heidi’s ministry. The doctor knew of this boys condition before the healing – his lids were fused shut and sunken, as if there were no eyes in the sockets. After he had been healed, his eyes were open and he could see! This was the reason for my friend’s visit – to see for herself if the claims were real, and to observe what the “source” of the healings was. She was convinced that these were true healings in the name of Jesus.