Just by seeing this title with the word “prayer” in it I think will limit the number of people who will bother to read this blog. While, as Christians, we talk about “prayer” regularly, how many of us really pray? I mean, actually stop what you are doing, sit down, or kneel, or even more bizarrely prostrate yourself, shutting out all distractions, and talk to the creator of the world? Here is where I lose even more readers! I know many of you are thinking, “you mean really pray?”
At the same time our churches talk about prayer all the time, yet honestly, for most of us, the only prayer we do is the brief 35 seconds before we chomp into our dinner or the couple of 45 second transition segments between singing a hymn, a scripture passage and the Pastoral message on Sunday. So, are we people of prayer? Are we people who commune with God and know his heart?
Many times when I visit churches I invariably get invited to speak at an early morning group of “prayer warriors” who meet regularly at a coffee shop, or in an office at a church; and quite often before 6am. This is what we jokingly call an “ungodly hour”. Why do we joke like that? As a visiting speaker I can’t decline these early morning invitations because it would look odd for the visiting missionary to decline a “prayer meeting”. Also, my personality is one which would rather please others than to show any discomfort. So, out of religious and personal duty I attend. Let me tell you what I usually find at 6:00am prayer meetings. In a church of 800 regular worshippers on Sunday there will definitely be less than ten people. I have been in churches of around 2,000 people and had the same small number show up. In fact, I have been in churches of more than ten thousand with the same result; All over America, and the world. It is not a Western phenomenon, it is global. I laughed at an experience I had when I was invited to an “all day fasting and prayer meeting” at a church in Cambodia. It started at 9:am and went to 1:pm, only four hours long. It started after breakfast and finished only an hour after the regular lunch time when the entire group of those who assembled to fast and pray went to an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant to ‘recover’ from their fasting and prayer. I kid you not.
I am not going to try and convince you that I am something I am not. Do I pray? Yes, and often, but I rarely spend hours in prayer at one time. I don’t set rules and standards that insist that to be a pastor with me you have to kneel for 5 hours a day praying to be accepted, though I have heard some do that. I do know that prayer has great value. I am blessed to have thousands of people who pray for me and I know it affects what I do and the spiritual strength I need to accomplish the ministry God has given me. When I tell a person I will pray for them I really do. I don’t just say their name out loud with a general “God bless Billy Bob” as I send out an e-mail saying I am praying; then only to quickly jump back to a TV show I was watching. That kind of “prayer” has little value to me.
Right now I am in Ethiopia and one of the things I have been so blessed with was to join with the Ethiopian’s prayer times. They pray with anointing. They pray with power. They pray with their whole bodies: standing, sitting, jumping, prostrating, as God leads them and without inhibitions. So, here in Ethiopia I heard about an annual missions fasting and prayer gathering. It is held on the annual Orthodox holiday of the “Day of Epiphany”. I had no idea what that was, I had to look it up. It is the day that Orthodox Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus. It was at this time that the Trinity was demonstrated in the voice of Father God and the dove of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. So, here in Durame, Ethiopia (if you check Google maps you will see simply a blur, because to the Google minds there is nothing of value here to put this small town into high resolution) the Christians gather annually to pray for missionaries to reach the lost. Yet, Durame is a kind of “end of the earth” destination. Even in Ethiopia there are plenty of people who have no idea where Durame is. But God and his angels certainly do.
Get ready to be encouraged. Do you know how many people showed up this last January? Nearly 100,000 people. These 100,000 people showed up to fast and pray for missions. Now, let me tell you a bit about Durame. It is the homeland of the Kambata people, but several other tribes live nearby as well. There are no paved roads anywhere near here. Electricity rarely stays on for more than an hour at a time. There are no “mega-churches” in the town, but there are plenty of “small churches” of about 300-500. There are a few churches with have over a thousand people, but none are especially large.
So, now you know the number of people who come to fast and pray is pretty amazing, but that is not the most amazing part. Can you imagine where they meet? It’s not exactly like any place in Durame, Ethiopia, much less the capital Addis Ababa could host a crowd of 100,000 people. They hold it each year at the top of a mountain, a pretty high one, overlooking Durame. So I asked one of the Christian leaders who attends the gathering each year what was up at the top of the mountain. “Nothing”, he replied. It only a bare mountain top with one large tree. There is no road or path to the top, it is only a slick red clay mountainside that all of these people need to climb up.
Not only that, the prayer service begins at sunrise. So, these people walk in the dark for at least 3 hours up to the mountain in the dark just to pray and fast for the day. They come down before nightfall. Regardless of rain or frigid temperatures (it is usually quite cold, even approaching freezing in January) they walk up the mountain to carry a special offering for missions. The leader of this prayer festival, Dr. Desta has now trained and sent out more than 130 missionaries across Ethiopia from this mountain top. Looking at the steep mountain, it would probably take me at least 5 hours to walk up it. But honestly, when I heard about this I thought this is something I would love to do. I would love to pray, I mean really pray, with 1,000 people, but can you imagine 100,000 people praying on a mountain top? I cannot imagine that God would not be close to them. I cannot imagine that such commitment to prayer would not draw a person closer into the loving embrace of the Father.
What does it take to be this kind of person of prayer? Well, I can tell you it doesn’t take a fancy church. All their churches here are made of compressed mud. You’ll never see one of these churches on a post card, or turned into a museum. It doesn’t take money, because the people I have met here in Ethiopia are much poorer economically than most nations I have visited, including Cambodia. It doesn’t take a giant state-of-art facility, for these people. To them an unnamed barren mountain top three hours walk away seems perfect. It doesn’t come out of a point of personal need, because they are not going there for their own personal prayer requests and needs, but to pray for the unreached people of the world and to offer personal sacrifices to God there. These sacrifices to God could me money, it could be crops, or it could be their own life. It is not selfish, but it is an attitude of giving which drives them.
So, what causes this passion for prayer to be so strong that they want to walk hours up a mountain in complete darkness, and sometimes in the rain too, to fast and pray for others? I believe it comes from the conviction that they know prayer really makes a difference. I believe they think their group of Christians, united and praying for the lost people of the world, will make a difference. They believe lives will be changed. They believe that God will use them to change the world.
On the side of this mountain is based the Kale Hewyet School of Missions. This is where I annually teach. Though I have been invited to speak in large and prestigious theological seminaries, this mission school has my highest priority every year. It is here that God teaches me more about him. It is here, not where I love to teach and imparting new knowledge to students, but where God can teach me new things and where I can learn from simple people. Though they are simple people and have great passion, they truly believe that through prayer and the power of God, they can indeed change the world. And they are doing it, from Durame, Ethiopia.