There’s a discernable difference between the outside world and the sanctum that is the Ventura Healing Room.
It isn’t the kind of difference that will hit you in the face. The subtle quality is like a change in one note of a complexly orchestrated perfume, or the difference in temperature of just one degree that has you sweating and reaching for a fan all the same.
It’s also the combination of the soothing, quiet music you hear when you walk through the door; the sounds of softly whispered voices in the dimly lit, tranquil waiting room; and the sense that those who are here are in search of something that human hands can’t manufacture. From the get-go, it’s clear that this is a peaceful place.
Situated in a quiet stripmall-esque industrial park on Sperry Avenue, the Healing Room isn’t a sanctuary you’d stumble across by accident. But, of course, if you ask the man in charge — that would be God in the larger sense and Jeffrey Barsch in the smaller — there are no accidents.
On the inside
After you walk past the doors of the lobby and into a spacious thoroughfare topped with black-and-white-checked linoleum, Pastor Jeffrey Barsch and his wife, Katy, are people you’re likely to see.
“We’re dealing with a different population than what you’d see at a regular church,” says Barsch, explaining that the Healing Room, which is Christian in nature, welcomes those who practice any religion or none at all. In fact, many of those who visit the Healing Room have been turned off by organized religion in one way or another, and are looking for another means of exploring spirituality and healing.
“Some are Christian and have cancer and need prayer,” says Barsch, a former college professor and career psychologist who, bundled casually in a sweatshirt jacket and the warmth of his smile, is healing personified. “Others are just desperate, and they need a miracle.”
Miracles and signs are what the Healing Room is all about. As a member of the International Association of Healing Rooms, the Ventura Healing Room is founded on the spiritual concept that those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus can help to heal others — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. “We feel that, when you speak about Jesus and teach about him that signs and miracles will follow.”
And, at the heart of the healing, is prayer.
After being greeted in the lobby, visitors to the Healing Room are given a sheet of paper on which to write their names, basic information and the problem or problems they’d like help with. They then sit in the waiting room for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour —depending upon how many volunteer prayer team members are on hand — during which time they sit peacefully and meditatively in the half light, as the soft music plays. “It’s like going to an urgent care center,” Barsch says. “Sometimes there are 20 people ahead of you and sometimes there are two.”
During their wait, the same kind woman who greets visitors at the door comes in, rubs what appears to be a bit of oil on the tops of their foreheads and whispers a lovely, breathy prayer as her hand rests at the top of their heads. The waiting, or “soaking,” room is a place for visitors to quiet their minds and prepare for spiritual communion with God and to be receptive to the thoughts of the prayer team.
“This is not about confronting people about their lives,” Barsch says. “It’s about encouraging them … There’s no story in the Bible where Jesus judged people who came to him for help. He never bad-mouthed anybody who came to him — and that’s the way we need to be here.”
The nonprofit Ventura Healing Room, which runs solely on donations to pay the rent for the building in which it is housed, has been up and running for three years, though it has been in its present location for just a few months. Prayer is always free and visitors are never solicited for donations, though there is a donation can in which visitors can voluntarily place contributions.
None of the 38 prayer team members — who must be Christian, attend church and be referred by a pastor — or Barsch receives payment for their services. Last year, Barsch and his prayer teams served about 495 people who heard of the Ventura Healing Room purely by word of mouth. (The Healing Room does not advertise.)
“I would say this becomes a special place where the presence of God can be found,” says Barsch. “The Healing Room is not a church and we’re not trying to steal people away from churches. This is a Jesus hospital.”
One day, Barsch said, he would like for him and his teams to be invited into hospitals to pray with and for those who’d seek the Ventura Healing Room.
After a wait in the soaking room, those who do venture to the Ventura Healing Room are led to the prayer room, where soft, ambient music plays and small clusters of chairs split the room into several tiny groups. The voices of those praying aloud can be heard, but not loudly enough to be disruptive or distracting.
Here, the prayer teams — who take visitors’ registration forms and fold them in half so they don’t see the visitor’s name, only their prayer requests — speak with the visitors about their concerns and let them know if they have a prophecy, or vision, about the problem.
The prayer groups don’t read the visitors’ names before seeking signs or God-given visions, to keep the experience as pure as possible. If a prayer team member has seen a mental image or sign regarding the visitor, that image is discussed with the visitor and the rest of the team, which is made up of two or three members.
After the problem or problems at hand and any potential visions are discussed, the prayer team asks the visitor if he or she would allow the team to lay hands on — on a head, arm, or shoulder, for instance — as they pray aloud. According to the Bible, the laying on of hands was practiced by Jesus. The prayer team then focuses on the visitor as he or she sits quietly, listening as the team prays for 20 to 30 minutes.
In essence, the prayer session as a whole is a spiritually oriented, encouraging counseling session designed to help visitors heal body and soul.
“I truly believe that when you pray in the name of Jesus, when you pray for people, it’s God’s presence,” Barsch says. “This is a place where people can feel close to God.”