Prayer ministry touches community members, participants
by Myra Holmes
On the third Saturday of each month, a team of prayer volunteers from Mountain View Community Church, Fresno, Calif., takes the church’s prayer ministry to the streets. And to the mall, the grocery store and fast food restaurants.
The volunteers, usually about 10-25 people, first gather for a time of listening prayer, asking God who he wants them to encounter and encourage that day. Then they disperse to find those people and pray for them.
This unusual approach is simply “allowing yourself to be put in a place to share God’s love and compassion with people,” says prayer team member Ernie Escobedo.
Mountain View lead pastor Fred Leonard says the ministry is born out of a deep belief that God is a Good Father who seeks the lost and the prodigals. Leonard points out that people often ask God for a sign that he’s near and that he loves them.
“We’re willing to listen, then take a big risk and leap of faith and go encounter those people,” Leonard says.
Escobedo adds that Mountain View believes prayer is important not only within the church walls, but also in the community. “We’re expecting that God’s arms are bigger than our building,” he says.
Volunteers listen first
Beginning with a time of listening is critical. Escobedo says such listening prayer is based in strong prayer training at Mountain View. “Listening prayer is a huge part of what we do,” Escobedo says.
Through practice both on third Saturdays and during other prayer times, he says, participants learn to distinguish between a distracted mind and a nudge from God, no matter how strange it seems. And the hints do sometimes seem strange: a name, a place or even objects such as a penguin, vacuum cleaner or cow.
Armed with these God-given hints, the prayer volunteers disperse in pairs and trios to find the people God wants to touch. They go to public places like Target, Kmart, the grocery store or, if the hint is a chicken, perhaps to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. “God has taken us just about everywhere,” Escobedo says.
When they find someone to whom they think God is directing them, they introduce themselves, saying they are looking for the people God wants to bless that day and tell them how they match the hints the group has been given. People are usually “blown away,” Escobedo says, when they hear that the group—and God—has been looking for them. “It breaks the wall down.”
And then they pray.
Volunteers equipped for any situation
Mountain View has an extensive prayer training ministry, led by prayer ministry pastor Esther Leonard, and Escobedo says the volunteers are well-equipped to pray in any situation. Whatever the volunteers might encounter as they take prayer to the community, they have first encountered at Mountain View.
Fred Leonard says it’s a form of proclaiming God’s kingdom on earth—a value Anabaptists hold dear. He points out that Jesus sent his disciples not only to proclaim the gospel verbally but also to heal, cast out demons and raise the dead. So the prayer volunteers pray for and expect healing of all kinds—physical, emotional, intellectual, relational.
And God does heal. Escobedo says one man was healed from blindness. Another time, the team met a woman who tearfully shared about her difficult marriage, and the volunteers were able to pray for healing in her marriage. While the volunteers didn’t see immediate healing, the woman shared that she never talks about her difficulties but was encouraged by the encounter.
Most of the time, Escobedo says, the response is very positive. “They experience God’s love.”
Of course, negative reactions happen, too. Volunteers have encountered those from other faiths who politely decline the offer of prayer. Some people simply don’t understand. One woman recently was frightened by the strangers with their odd request. Escobedo assures them, “This is not normal; this is Jesus at work.”
The volunteers have been asked to leave public places, but they have also experienced God’s protection, like the day they encountered store staff around every corner, but were never confronted.
Escobedo says the volunteers learn to trust God with the responses and the results. “You put it on God,” he says. “When you do that, he’s going to be faithful.”
Sharing God’s love and compassion
The goal of the prayer ministry is simply to bless: “Our main goal is to share Jesus’s love and compassion,” Escobedo says. “Our goal is to allow Jesus to touch them and for us to be used as vessels to reach out to people, however God wants to do that. All we’re doing is being a vessel of Jesus’s love and compassion.”
They do offer a Mountain View business card with service times and contact information as a resource, and sometimes people follow up or come to a service, but that’s not the primary goal. “We don’t want them connecting with us,” Escobedo says. “We want them connecting with Jesus Christ.”
After they’ve prayed in the community for a while, the volunteers reconvene to share their experiences. Often the sharing is lengthy as volunteers share story after story of God touching lives. “Everyone’s faith is built up,” Escobedo says, and the next time they go out, they go with a sense of greater expectation that God is indeed at work.
Escobedo readily admits that it’s not an easy undertaking. Fear, hesitation, uncertainty and skepticism are all common reactions. But growth happens outside of the comfort zone. He says that allowing himself to be stretched in this way has changed him in positive ways “It’s made me want to hunger more for Jesus. It’s made me want to do what he does and go wherever God wants me to go.”
Leonard says that kind of openness is key to this prayer ministry. “God is a Good Father. When his children cry out to him, he uses us as his hands and feet. He wants to use everyone that way. Most times, though, we aren’t asking, we aren’t looking and we aren’t available.”
He says that people all over are seeking God. “God is sending someone to go meet them. Why not me? Why not you?”
Those who are interested in learning more about this kind of prayer outreach can contact Esther Leonard through Mountain View. –Myra Holmes