Along a dreary strip of West Florence Avenue, just down the block from Angelina's Sea Food and across from Revived Faith Community Church, squats a spotless tan and bright red building whose sign proclaims: Ablaze Ministry.
In its foyer rests a book of prayer requests: End his demon possession, asks one signer; let me walk with God, requests another; deliverance from drugs, pleads someone else. From beyond the foyer comes the rumble of hundreds of voices--old black women from Inglewood on their knees; middle-aged white women from Rancho Palos Verdes seated and bent in prayer; whole Korean families from Los Angeles praising the Lord during a Friday night prayer clinic.
All of them seek a oneness with a spiritual force they believe greater than themselves. All of them issue ecstatic, unintelligible speech. All are talking in tongues, articulating what Paul in the New Testament called the unutterable groaning of the spirit within, a spirit in search of God's wisdom, God's voice rather than man's, as some theologians explain.
To talk in tongues is a gift, the Bible says; so, too, is the ability to interpret this language of prayer. Jean Perez has both gifts, she believes. And she is a vehicle, she says, for God's healing power--a power that singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson claims helped cure him of a crack addiction three years ago, he writes in his recently released autobiography, "Smokey (Inside My Life)."
"I'd never seen a woman preacher before, and she was dynamite," he writes of Perez. "She didn't come at you from the Bible; she came from the street, said how she'd done it all herself--the drugs and drinking--and she'd seen another way. She was real. Her speech was captivating."
"I feel the anointing coming on," Perez says of the night Robinson--frail, eyes sunken in his head, pus in his bowels, the lining of his stomach eaten away--walked into Ablaze.
Robinson, brought to the church by his friend, actor Leon Kennedy, writes in "Inside My Life" that he was "skeptical, even as she started healing people. . . . I watched as she touched them, prayed over them and caused them to pass out from the power of their prayers."
Perez, who had never met him before, motioned for Robinson to come to the podium. Tentatively, he made his way to where she stood.
"I know who you are," she told him. "I didn't call your name because not everyone recognized you. You look so bad. . . ." he recounts in his book. "The Lord put you on my heart. . . . He sent you here tonight so I could heal you in the name of Jesus. I know about your pus, I know about your stomach, I know about your heart palpitations and the way you sweat at night."
Robinson says he was "stunned." He hadn't told anyone about any of those things.
As she prayed for him, she passed out, was revived, prayed again, then fell unconscious again for a few moments. When she awakened, she told Robinson he was a "powerful spirit in the Lord."
The composer of "The Tracks of My Tears" says he left Ablaze that night in 1986 feeling higher than at any time in his life.
Since that night, he writes, he never has touched any form of any drug.
So far, Robinson has been the most famous person to be touched by Perez, an independent, nondenominational minister. But the 48-year-old pastor says she has been helping drug addicts get unhooked in her Crenshaw area community for years.
Now, with Robinson, Perez is speaking around the country, conducting "Smokey Robinson Set Free Drug Clinics." And today and Friday, she will mount one of her separate "Crack Attack" clinics at the Ablaze Believers Christian Center at 2323 W. Florence Ave.
As with previous clinics she has conducted, nurses and doctors will be present to provide counseling and referral information for drug users, says Perez, who recognizes that faith in Jesus alone won't necessarily beat a drug addiction.
A registered nurse by profession, Perez was born in Port Arthur, Tex., was graduated from Texas Southern University in Houston, then came to Los Angeles 29 years ago.
She was raised in a middle-class Baptist family but became a Catholic while a teen-ager because "all the cute boys back then were Catholic." In high school, she was a teen-age disc jockey for radio station KJET when "Earth Angel" and "The Great Pretender" filled the airwaves, she says.
"I was known as Groovy Jean on the Scene," the Ablaze co-founder says with a laugh.
After college, she married Joe Perez, co-pastor of Ablaze but a Catholic when they met. "Marrying Catholic" held her to that faith for awhile, she says. But she was a Christian who didn't take Christianity seriously until 12 years ago. That's when she was born again, "while I was in a bar drinking Harvey's Bristol Cream." (A friend in the bar told her about the Lord, then invited her to church.)