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Twenty years ago, Jim Bakker was a man in exile.
Banished from the televangelism empire he founded near Charlotte, N.C. Toppled from power by moral indiscretion and accusations of financial improprieties. Hounded by reporters, day and night. Abandoned by fellow preachers, followers and even friends from his childhood growing up in Muskegon, Mich.
''My whole world,'' he said, ''collapsed.''
In 1987, Bakker resigned as an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God after it was revealed he had paid $265,000 in alleged ''hush money'' to a former church secretary, Jessica Hahn, after a sexual encounter with her seven years earlier. The scandal came with heavy consequences. Bakker stepped down as president and board chairman of the PTL (Praise The Lord) television ministry and was forced to leave Heritage USA - a 2,500-acre Christian retreat and theme park he had designed and founded in Charlotte, N.C.
He and his then-wife, Tammy Faye Bakker (now Messner), fled with their two children to a home in Palm Springs, Calif., where they sought refuge from everyone but their closest and most trusted colleagues.
It was, he says, a public fall from grace for which he still seeks forgiveness.
''I apologize,'' Bakker said in a telephone interview, nearly 20 years to the day after his resignation. ''I am so sorry. If I've ever hurt [anyone] or embarrassed you because of my failures, I say please forgive me.''
Bakker is now 67 and living in Branson, Mo. After being off the air for 16 years, Bakker and his second wife, Lori Bakker, launched a new television ministry - ''The Jim Bakker Show'' - from Branson in 2003.
''The amazing thing is I'm back on television,'' he said. ''It's what I know, what I do. It's my calling.''
Set in a converted restaurant he renamed Studio City Cafe, the hourlong show Bakker hosts Monday through Friday has a set far less lavish and a budget far smaller than the former PTL Club. There's none of the 24-hour broadcasting capabilities or satellite dishes of yesteryear when he and Tammy Faye ruled the airwaves.
There are just 30 employees on ''The Jim Bakker Show'' - a far cry from the 3,000 workers at PTL Club and Heritage USA. But none of that fazes Bakker. He's just glad to be back on television.
''Ten years ago, I thought [TV] was the last thing I'd do again,'' he said.
His journey to Branson started soon after his release from prison, where he served five years on fraud and conspiracy charges for overselling ''lifetime memberships'' to a luxury hotel at Heritage USA.
At its peak, PTL drew 12 million viewers, who contributed $1 million annually to the ministry. Between 1984 and 1987, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker received annual salaries of $200,000 each, plus a $4 million bonus.
The year he was forced out of Heritage USA, the facility drew 6 million visitors, making it the third-largest theme park in the country. It trailed only Disney World and Disneyland in numbers.
For all of his problems, Bakker is credited with revolutionizing Christian television - with the help of co-host Tammy Faye, whose gospel music and over-the-top personality offset his quiet, almost shy ways.
Since his release from prison in 1993, Bakker has preached a message of restoration, healing and hope.
''I'm not back for the perfect people, the people who have it all together,'' he said. ''I'm here for the broken and the bruised and the hurt. I'm here to say we have a God of second and third chances.''
In 1998, while volunteering in an inner-city ministry in Los Angeles, Bakker was introduced to a youth minister named Lori Graham. He likes to say it was love at first sight. They married within the year and moved to Lynn Haven, Fla., where they started a camp for inner-city children.
In 2002, the couple adopted five children, all siblings - Maricella, now 17; Lori, 16; Clarrisa, 15; Marie, 11; and Ricky, 9 - whom Lori Bakker had befriended in Phoenix. ''They are the most wonderful children,'' he said. ''They make life worth living.''
About that same time, he was invited to speak in Branson by a former PTL Club ''partner,'' Jerry Crawford, who credits Bakker's ministry for patching up his marriage during a difficult time. Bakker said he almost didn't accept the invitation.
''I was in a fearful time,'' Bakker said. ''I didn't think people would want to hear me speak.''
Much to his surprise, he was not only welcomed, he was embraced by the people of Branson. With its 40 theaters and 100 shows, Branson was a natural fit for Bakker. ''Show-business people have had their ups and downs, too. They've been broken and disappointed and don't judge,'' Bakker said. ''Like the Bible says, love covers you.''
Once a man in exile, Bakker is once again in a building phase. This year, he and Crawford have started building Morningside Church: A Place of Refuge - a Christian retreat center and retirement community being built on 600 acres just outside Branson. The main building will serve as world headquarters for ''The Jim Bakker Show'' and its related ministries.
The current show will move into Grace Chapel, where Bakker also will conduct Sunday services. Anyone who's seen his new show sees a different Jim Bakker today than the guy who preached ''the gospel of prosperity'' 20 and 30 years ago.
At the end of his hourlong program, Bakker asks for $1,000 ''Builders' Club'' donations to help make the down payment on Grace Chapel and promises a Builders Bible sent as ''a love gift.'' A $5,000 gift will get a donor's name placed on an ''Amazing Grace'' plaque. He also asks people to send in donations to help keep the program on the air.
''We need to preach the Gospel now,'' he told an audience during an April 10 broadcast. ''These are the times of the Bible.''
Jim Bakker, shown here in 1998, the year he volunteered in an inner-city ministry in Los Angeles, where he met Lori Graham.