Selling Salvation?

Through the haze of late-night insomniac television viewing, the Rev. Peter Popoff's weekly program may, at first glance, appear to be just another get-rich-quick infomercial. Testimonials roll by from people who gleefully tell of receiving thousands of dollars in cash, new cars, and even houses. But when the raucous miracles begin, it becomes clear that this is much more than an infomercial — a faith healer is at work.

An energetic announcer promises that "God can reverse every negative verdict in your life." And the star of the show, Popoff, pronounces that he has the key to success and healing: a small plastic packet filled with miracle spring water. He'll mail it to you free of charge, and promises that if you send away for the water, you'll receive "miracle release, miracle money, miracle healing, and miracle deliverance in your life" as a result.

A miracle was exactly what Carol Bercier felt that she needed. In 2001, both of her sons had been diagnosed with serious illnesses and she was desperate for help. When Bercier came across Popoff's television ministry, she said she was quickly drawn to him. "I saw him talking to me, straight to me, like he was, he was just telling me exactly what I was going through," she said. "So, of course, I called, I called right away."

'Divine Leading and Direction'

Bercier said she soon received her miracle water in the mail, along with a letter from Popoff. "20/20" obtained a similar letter, which claims the miracle water comes from a Russian spring that, after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, had actually protected those who drank from it.

The letter goes on to say that this same spring water can miraculously protect the faithful today, and help them prosper financially — all they have to do is follow God's instructions precisely. Popoff strongly reminds viewers of his program about that, repeatedly warning, "Don't drink the water until you follow the divine leading and direction."

It turns out that those directions are quite specific. They command you to sleep with the water for one night, and then drink it immediately after waking up. Next, you've got to pray over the empty packet, and then send it back to Popoff — and don't forget to include $17.

Money for Miracles

If you follow the directions, you'll soon discover that the miracle water is only the beginning. Once on Popoff's mailing list, you'll receive letter after letter — as we did — asking for more money in exchange for miracles. One letter comes along with a tiny bag of "prayer-blessed" Dead Sea salt. The intructions tell you to eat the salt over a three-day period, then send in $27 to Popoff. According to an independent lab "20/20" hired to test the salt, it chemically bears no resemblance to real Dead Sea salt, and is closer to standard table salt.

Letters from Popoff also enclose trinkets like a piece of tinsel referred to as a gold and silver blessing bracelet, and a sheet of paper leaf cut-outs to be placed on a prayer chart and sent to Popoff. In that letter, you're told that "God is requesting an obedience offering of $200."

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