Local pastor honored by congregation
By Kirsten Ballard
Published in News on August 30, 2014 11:36 PM
Apostle Lester Coward sits behind the desk in his office before giving a sermon at Deliverance Temple Revival Center.
DUDLEY --Apostle Lester Coward's influence extends beyond the pulpit.
His work is seen at the barber shop, the auto shop, the bank and the doctor's office. He is many things to many people -- a preacher, a counselor, a friend.
But to Leslie Holmes, he is a miracle worker. She had an impossible choice -- the life of her daughter or her unborn grandchild.
She called Coward to her side in the hospital, and together, they began to pray.
"He said everything would be all right," she remembers, eyes shining.
And it was.
Coward explains what his parishoners call "his gift" simply.
He is merely the messenger.
"The prophetic word is the word of God revealed to the prophet," he said. "I have the prophetic word. I am a seer, the Lord shows me things."
Sixty years ago, Kinston-born Coward gave his first sermon. Since then he has traveled West Virginia, Florida and Georgia evangelizing with his self-described "radical ministry of deliverance" before landing at his own church, the Deliverance Temple Revival Center, in Dudley 39 years ago.
In 1976, Coward heard the Lord tell him that he would have a church. The small, white cinderblock exterior does not look miraculous. But for Coward's followers, it is more than a building. It represents hope.
Last Sunday his congregation gathered to celebrate its pastor's decades behind the pulpit.
"He's not an ordinary pastor," Ms. Holmes said. "He's everything in a bundle."
They don't try to explain why what they call "miracles" -- or why God chose their pastor to send His blessings.
It is a matter of faith, they say.
For Alonzo Holloway, Coward is the mechanic.
Holloway carries a blood red, anointed scarf in his 1978 Lincoln. Coward told him the car would prosper.
"To this day, there is not a dent on it," Holloway said.
For church drummer Ricky Harper, Coward is the accountant.
"He said I would come into a home that I didn't have to pay for," he said. "I'm in a home that I didn't pay for."
Some members of his congregation say Coward can predict when a check is coming in the mail, down to the very color.
Worshipper Michael Harper's blessing is skin-deep.
"I was going bald, but the man of God anointed my head and said, 'Everything that is out of place get back in place.'" Harper proudly showed off his full head of healthy hair.
And for Ricky and Michael's father, Jesse Harper, Coward's prayers brought something even more miraculous.
"I looked in the mirror to see one side of my face had fallen," Jesse Harper said.
After his stroke, doctors told his children he would have to have around the clock care. "The apostle came and prayed for him that night," Ricky said. "The specialist came back, and when they walked in, they asked me where Mr. Harper was. My dad was sitting in his chair. They said, 'That's not the man we looked at yesterday.'"
Coward helped bring Wanda Pickett and her husband a family.
"The apostle told me to write a letter asking the Lord for what I wanted," Ms. Pickett said.
She wanted children and a home, but doctors told her that children were an impossibility.
"Through his prayers, I have four children and I live in the same house I had when I met him."
Her testimony is supported by a chorus of "amens."
Coward often anoints towels for healing.
"The towel is just a towel in itself," he said, holding up an ordinary green terrycloth hand towel. But after his prayer, Coward has his congregation put them on ailments, in cars for safety and wherever else they need a little help.
Michael Harper carries his in his truck.
After a hard day of work, "I was frustrated and weary. I took that towel and looked at it. I said, 'I don't quit. Michael, I do not quit," his voice quaked with emotion.
And in that moment, it was -- all right.
Coward's congregation is often encouraged to ride on his faith when they feel lost.
"That was one of the best nights I've had since I've been there," Harper said.
"Give God the glory," Coward said.
It is about waiting for the right time, the right message, the right time to hope.
Next to Coward's pulpit, a reminder is tacked to the wood paneling: "Don't give up on your miracle. You're next."