A Christian megachurch in California is soliciting prayers and US$100,000 in donations on behalf of two of its members, who are holding out hope that Jesus will “resurrect” their recently deceased toddler.
Kalley and Andrew Heiligenthal say their daughter, Olive Alayne, passed away on Dec. 14 at the age of two.
Kalley is a well-known singer at the Bethel megachurch in Redding, Calif., and she shared the news of her family tragedy with her 262,000 followers on Instagram Sunday.
“We’re asking for prayer. We believe in a Jesus who died and conclusively defeated every grave, holding the keys to resurrection power,” she wrote in the post.
“We need it for our little Olive Alayne, who stopped breathing yesterday and has been pronounced dead by doctors.”
The post goes on to ask for “bold unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life. Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for.
“It’s time for her to come to life.”
More than 151,000 people had liked the post and another 16,000 users left comments by Thursday. A majority of the comments encouraged her to keep hoping for the child’s resurrection.
Her cause of death has not been released. However, the Redding Police Department confirmed that they responded to a medical call early on Dec. 14. “It resulted in a death,” Sgt. Brian Torum told McClatchy News.
The Heiligenthals are clearly being encouraged by the Bethel Church, a powerful Christian organization in Redding that claims to have approximately 11,000 followers and nearly half a million fans on Facebook. Bethel also has its own TV service, music label and media wing, and it’s in the middle of building a $96-million campus for itself in Redding.
The Bethel Church says it recently held its first-ever prayer service dedicated to a person’s resurrection. The group’s pastor, Bill Johnson, explained in a video on Wednesday that resurrection is possible because “we have biblical precedent; Jesus raised the dead.”
Johnson did not say how long the church would pray for a resurrection.
“Bethel Church believes in the stories of healing and physical resurrection found in the Bible (Matthew 10:8), and that the miracles they portray are possible today,” the church told the Redding Record and Spotlight newspaper on Tuesday.
The girl’s body has been at the Shasta County Coroner’s Office since it was transferred there from the hospital on Dec. 14, Bethel Church told local station KRCR News.
The church has set up a GoFundMe page to raise US$100,000 for the family, although it does not specify exactly what the cash will be used for. The campaign had raised more than $44,000 by Thursday afternoon.
The GoFundMe page quotes Kalley Heiligenthal’s post about resurrecting her daughter, then calls for people to help “bless, honour and support the family in the coming days.”
“We have set up a gofundme in an effort to support the Heiligenthals,” wrote organizer Peter Mattis. “Please join us with your prayer, your solidarity and your financial support.”
GoFundMe says the campaign is not in violation of its terms of service.
The campaign story is clear in that the funds are for financial support for the Heiligenthal family, and the family is entitled to use the funds for a memorial service of their choice,” the fundraising platform told Global News in a statement.
Bethel Church told KRCR that the page was set up to cover unknown expenses for the family during this time — as well as future expenses for their child, who is still deceased.
The church and the Heiligenthals have drawn sharp criticism from some individuals who have accused them of trying to make money off the tragedy. Some have also chastized the church for encouraging an impossible goal, rather than helping the Heiligenthals deal with their unfortunate reality.
“This is either lunacy or a giant scam in the making,” Twitter user @5thTMNT wrote on Tuesday.
“This is so sad,” tweeted author Chrissy Stroop. “I have observed firsthand people getting psychologically destroyed, for years, because they didn’t get an expected miracle. Waiting for a resurrection, though, is next level unhealthy. But they also have a GoFundMe seeking $100,000 for … what?”
Kalley Heiligenthal has been posting daily messages on Instagram, saying that each day is a “good day for resurrection.”
Tens of thousands of people have replied to her posts. Many offer messages of support. Others have expressed sympathy for the couple’s loss while pointing out that their expectations might be unrealistic.
“Is she currently on life support?” one person wrote. “Just curious on how that works logistically if she’s been pronounced dead?”