PUBLISHED SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18, 1997
Copyright 1997 The Pensacola News Journal. All
exaggerate the facts
By John W.
Steve Hill opens his front door
with a welcoming smile. He likes to talk to
interviewers, he likes to talk about his work for
God and he likes to hear himself talk.
Even before he completes a tour of the
buildings, pastures and fields on his ministry's
40 acres in Lillian, Ala., he goes to a VCR and
turns on a video to show his success as an
It is a tape of himself on stage in a Dallas
arena, coaxing hundreds of people down to the
floor for an altar call.
"By the time it was over, we had to move
all the chairs from the center," he says,
standing by the television set and pointing at
The tape shows Hill working his audience,
churning his way around the stage like a human
lawn mower cutting a swath through sin.
Hill's message to the Dallas audience: God
does not welcome a prideful man.
Hill's enthusiasm for his success and his
mission supersede that message. The way his eyes
gleam as he describes enemies he has attracted
through his evangelism, the way his fist pumps as
he cites the number of people he has saved, the
way his voice resonates as he describes himself
as God's messenger all suggest he is a man who
takes pride in what he does and who he is.
The stories come fast and furious. His blue
eyes often brim with tears and just as often
blaze with intensity.
He tells countless stories of his past,
casting them as freshly recalled anecdotes though
they come verbatim from his books and sermons.
He also tells present-day stories, casting
them in vague details and dramatic references for
which he provides no documentation.
He says there are businessmen who want him
dead because he saved a stripper who also worked
as a prostitute.
He says covens of witches have threatened him
and even sent a gunwoman from Mississippi, armed
with silver bullets, to kill him.
Recognizable in public
Hill, 43, faces the spotlight dead on and does
not turn away, despite the demands and
disadvantages of celebrity.
He says he is so recognizable now that he
cannot take his family out in public to eat
dinner or shop because he would be surrounded by
a throng demanding to be saved.
He says he sleeps no more than four hours a
night. Since June 14, 1995, he has held center
stage for hours, four nights a week, at the
He says that on his off days, he rarely rests.
He takes the revival on the road to larger cities
such as Dallas, Memphis, St. Louis and Anaheim,
Yet, there is much he does not say.
He does not argue when people draw comparisons
between him and Jesus Christ.
He does not disclose what he has done with
one-third of the $2.2 million his ministry
collected over the last year.
He does not expound beyond his scripted life
story unless he is confronted with contradictory
evidence. He says no one in the media who
interviewed him in the last two years closely
questioned his account of his past; instead, he
says, each one became a friend and a believer.
When the News Journal asked him to clear up
contradictions between what he says about himself
and what police and court records show and
between his self-description and others'
description of him he had no ready answers.
After the News Journal interview, Hill asked
his mother and his attorney to call the News
Journal and dispute the record.
The News Journal, during a four-month
investigation of the revival and its leaders,
interviewed people whom Hill said played an
important role at every stage of his life.
Each told a story far different from the one
Hill wrote in his autobiography, "Stone Cold
Heart." The young man they remember is
unlike the young man Hill says he was.
They tell of a bright boy who was an average
They tell of a business-minded teen-ager with
a creative flair who was capable of convincing
others to follow him, no matter what.
Many things have been written about the
already-legendary day when Steve Hill came to
Pensacola in June 1995 with three sermons tucked
in his bag.
The legend holds that he was supposed to stay
just one day Sunday to preach a Father's Day
sermon at the Brownsville Assembly of God church.
Hill has said often that what happened on
Father's Day 1995 was an unplanned, monumental
move of God the Holy Spirit literally descended
spontaneously on the church and has remained.
June 1995 was not the first time Hill had
spoken at Brownsville; he and Pastor John
Kilpatrick are old friends, having met in the
mid-1980s in Marianna, when Hill asked for money
to further his missionary crusade.
In recent years, Hill and Kilpatrick talked
frequently, and Kilpatrick told Hill that he and
the congregation urgently wanted a revival.
Hill could see it in the making.
"John Kilpatrick told me, All this
glitter, this glamour, this big church, a
television ministry none of it means anything to
me. I want revival. I want revival,'" Hill
said in a recent interview.
Hill was well versed in revival methodology.
He had spent more than seven years in foreign
missions and had witnessed huge, dramatic
revivals. He observed the renowned Carlos
Anaconda, the man responsible for the Great
Argentine Revival. He visited a church in London
Holy Trinity Brompton Church where a world-famous
charismatic movement is under way.
Just before coming to Pensacola, Hill
conducted an eight-day revival in Saraland, Ala.,
which he had hoped would build into something far
Hill had told close friends that he yearned to
lead an extended revival.
"I've always been praying for
revival," Hill said in the recent interview.
"And after Argentina, after seeing it, I
came back. You just won't settle for anything
A number of people have raised questions about
the Brownsville Revival and about Hill why has
God decided to flow through him into Pensacola?
Hill says he too has pondered those questions.
He says the answer is in his past and in his
ability to connect with people.
"I have had a genuine conversion
experience and a genuine relationship with the
Lord," he said. "I've been down a rough
road. I've been able to relate."
And his past- the drugs, the down days, the
despair- has helped him.
"It definitely hasn't hurt me," he
Hill looks far different today than he did
when he was a teen.
The hair is shorter and styled, no longer
hanging past his shoulders in thick strands. His
mustache is groomed; his clothes are
All of this, he says, is the result of his
When Hill sat down to write his 55-page life
story, his purpose, he says, was to show people
the transformation that occurred when he
converted, turning his life to Jesus Christ in
Yet for all its colorful moments, the book
fails to provide clear details about Hill in his
For this, it is necessary to look back at
Huntsville, Ala., and the days when he and his
parents, brother and two sisters lived on a
tree-lined street with nice homes and front yards
teeming with kids. It was safe to walk to school
and children could play outside after dark
Hill was the neighborhood leader, according to
his older brother, George. They rode their bikes
at night with other neighborhood boys. They all
wore white T-shirts with stenciled insignias as
they pretended to be the desert-weary soldiers
from television's popular show, "The Rat
They were in a Cub Scout troop in which their
mother, Ann, served as den mother.
As a teen, George Hill said, Steve got into
music and performed so often at the local
recreation center that he enjoyed free admission.
He played trumpet in a four-piece Tijuana
Brass-style band that did covers of popular
"He was growing his hair longer then,
getting the attention of girls," George Hill
Steve Hill's older sister, Marcia Pate, 47,
who lives in Huntsville, had already graduated
when Steve entered high school, but she remembers
him as a typical kid brother.
He was closer to his younger sister, Susan,
who went from fighting with him on the playground
to assisting him on profitable "trash
night" expeditions. She says Steve would
take her around the neighborhood, picking up
"good stuff" that people threw out.
"Steve was awesome," recalls Susan
Hill, now 40.
"When he was in high school, he was
business-minded," said Susan Hill,
remembering a time when her brother ordered a kit
to make yo-yos that would glow in the dark. She
sat and helped him put them together so he could
sell them at nearby Grissom High School.
Hill remembers that differently. He says he
did make the yo-yos but he put drugs inside them.
Yo-yos with drugs cost $10; those without cost
The drug scene was new to Huntsville in the
late 1960s and early 1970s, and adults had little
awareness of drugs' rapidly rising popularity.
"There wasn't any precedent for
this," said his sister, Marcia.
She remembers that he had black lights in his
room, but at the time she thought nothing of it.
George said he has no idea when Steve started
trying drugs. "We shared a bedroom, but he
wasn't doing any of that stuff at home."
Searching his memory, George said: "I
think he was into LSD and pot in high
Said Susan: "I know he was into doing
drugs, in rock and roll bands. There was always a
crowd at the house."
Marcia is certain that her brother's friends
were not criminals. They were clean-cut boys, and
Steve was their leader.
"Good kids followed Steve," she
"He can lead in any direction he
A mother's son
Ann Hill has moved from the house where she
raised four children and lived alone for more
than 20 years after her husband died.
Today, she lives a few miles away, in a home
owned by her daughter Marcia. She is surrounded
by pictures of family and her table tops are
laden with many copies of books written by her
Her parents were born in Finland. Her father
was a Lutheran lay preacher who regularly held
prayer meetings in their Connecticut home.
Though she is still a devout Lutheran, she
said, she has attended the Brownsville Revival
several times and flew with her family to see her
son on stage in Memphis during a two-day revival
She believes in him, she said, because she saw
The morning of Oct. 28, 1975, she called Hugh
Mozingo, a Lutheran vicar, to come pray for her
son. She feared drugs were going to kill Steve.
After Mozingo's visit, she and Steve met in
"He had the countenance of a little
child," she said. "He was pure and
Hill used that exact phrase in his book. When
asked about his past, Ann Hill simply quotes what
he said in his books.
She will not answer specific questions about
his drug use or his condition on the morning of
Oct. 28. Instead, she refers to what he wrote in
"Stone Cold Heart."
It is only when asked about his days as a
child that she speaks freely from personal
"Steve -- he was always inventing
something," his mother said, remembering the
hours he spent outside building things. One time
it was an elaborate water system he constructed
with pipes. It was so unusual, a neighbor called
to ask what in the world he was doing.
When she watches her son today, on stage,
preaching againsts sin, she gets an overwhelming
"I don't think of him as my son. He's
God's messenger. He has the gift of talking to
Christ," she said."I just feel as id
I'm listening to someone whose sole purpose is
nning souls for Christ. That's all he wants to do
is save souls. People relate to him so easy
because he's been there."
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