January 11, 1998 in City

Power Team Still Defines Strong Faith

By The Spokesman-Review

There’s nothing like church for divine perspiration, and Pines Baptist Church in the Spokane Valley runneth over.

Sweat pours off “Giant” James Henderson as the 6-foot-6, 400-pound slab of humanity explodes an elbow through 10 layers of cinder block as if they were communion wafers. Sweat drips off Siolo Tauafea as the Samoan Superman hurls his bulked-up body into a 9-foot-thick ice glacier. The crunching impact creates enough ice chips to make a margarita the size of Comstock Pool.

Wait a minute, these are Baptists. Make that a Shirley Temple.

More sweat oozes off 6-foot-5 John Jacobs as the 320-pounder rips two Spokane telephone books in half with his bare hands.

Cover up the hymnals. The Power Team is back in town.

These gospel-spouting holy ogres don’t sing “Rock of Ages.” They’d rather grind it into gravel. There’s more wanton breakage than in Baghdad after a Desert Storm air raid.

God sure does work in mysterious ways.

Who’d have guessed that Jacobs’ goofy idea to break bricks for Jesus would be going strong 18 years later?

Yet his Power Team is a bona fide phenomenon. They wear cartoonish red-and-blue warm-up suits that resemble old Flash Gordon costumes. Most of their stunts - blowing up hot water bottles until they explode, tearing decks of cards in half, breaking ice - are really not-so-amazing chestnuts that were semifresh back in Vaudeville days.

But Jacobs and his burly cohorts have taken their shtick all over the globe, thrilling untold legions of gap-jawed gawkers. Kids especially love the Power Team, which is a staple on Christian cable TV channels. The group is on the road 46 weeks out of the year, performing in hundreds of churches as well as positive, nonreligious assemblies in public schools.

“God’s been real good to us,” says Jacobs, 37, while carbo-loading on a pre-performance platter of pasta and meatballs. “I don’t even know how it’s all happened, but our motives are pure. We’re sincere.

“The feats of strength are just a means of communication. In a brief time we give ‘em a message and hope and faith.”

And sometimes a little actual fear.

Jacobs recalls one local pastor who wet his pants when the Power Team sandwiched the poor Christian between a bed of nails and a block of ice destined for smashing. “I laughed my head off,” says Jacobs.

Biblically speaking, Barry Foster may be wise to gird his loins for tonight’s Power Team finale at North Pines Baptist. The meeting will feature Pastor Foster taking a turn in the nails-and-ice Bed of Doom.

“Unless the place is packed, I’m not doing it,” warns Foster. “I’m not giving it up for nothing.”

Forget how much weight Jacobs can lift. Who cares how many bricks he can crumble? Here’s the most impressive statistic: Jacobs and his wife, Ruthanne, are still a happy couple after 14 years of marriage and show biz.

Jacobs met the former Mead High School homecoming queen and Lilac princess after he paid a Power Team visit to her minister father’s north Spokane Church of the Open Bible. They set off on the road the day after their wedding and haven’t stopped since.

The Jacobses are big celebrities in the glitzy, often garish world of TV evangelism. But though that industry has been discredited by phony baloney infidels like the Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggart, the Jacobs have kept their marriage a priority. They recently adopted a son, Trey, and still travel everywhere together.

“I’ve lived a million lives in the last 14 years. I’ve never been bored,” says Ruthanne. “I knew it would be a wild life, but we’re still in love.”

Now that’s a real power team.

, DataTimes

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email