But then he was back on his feet, a cripple again. One day when Nick was 11 and scheduled for surgery that would leave him in a body cast for a year, his father got a phone call from a pro wrestling pal, the Great John L. You’ve got to take your kid to see this faith healer, insisted the Great John L. This cat, Leroy Jenkins, had just made the hernia plaguing a bodybuilding buddy of theirs disappear!
Out of desperation, not belief, Bill took his son to the faith healer’s revival in Santa Barbara on Feb. 4, 1965. Nick’s heart thumped as he was summoned to the stage. He took a seat, and the healer pressed his palms against Nick’s heels. “It’s your faith that will make this happen,” he told the boy. Nick prayed feverishly. Bill broke into a sweat at his side, fearing that the man was about to yank the shorter leg from its socket. Instead Jenkins bowed his head and said, “In the name of Jesus,” and Nick felt hot and strange inside.
All at once, Bill and Nick swear, Nick’s right leg began to lengthen before their eyes, to grow until it was just as long as his left one—a hair longer, according to the bewildered orthopedic surgeon who would measure it a few days later.
Nick rose, at the healer’s urging, almost trotted down the steps and took a seat, muscles quivering in his leg where none had been.
He would always have a slight limp, would never become the athlete he longed to be to make his father proud. But an even bigger change occurred the day of the faith healing. Wild Bill glimpsed what he’d been on the lookout for in all those bars and all those rings—a being mightier than he. He still couldn’t quite believe, the question of faith burning him like a fever, and so he began inviting ministers from different religions to his house, two at a time, and pitting them against each other, holding Reverend Run-offs: Competition was the only way Bill knew to bare the truth. The winner was a charismatic missionary who began holding spiritual meetings at the Pap-pas house, at one of which a man spoke in tongues and delivered a prophecy: Bill Pappas would buy 100 acres in Oregon and start a children’s home. Nick’s father decided to find out, once and for all, if all this healing and tongue-babbling and God business were true. To bet the house on it.
Bill sold his house, sold or gave away almost everything he owned, even gave his roadster to the faith healer. Nick climbed into a 2�-ton flatbed truck one summer day in '65, along with his father, mother, younger brother, Tom, and sister, Linda, and they headed north toward the 75 acres in a valley in southern Oregon that Bill had just purchased, on first sight, for 27 grand. A barn came with it, a miner’s shack and the Big House, a three-story shell without doors, windows, electricity, heat or running water. Perfect. Bill christened the property Living Springs.
For nearly a decade the Pappases lived without telephone, newspapers, radio or television, but they had what the prophecy had promised: God, a vast swath of land and children, dozens of children—suicidal children and incorrigible children, filling up bedrooms as fast as Bill could plaster and paint them. Best of all, the Pappases had a fresh start, new identities. They were born again.