All Christians would state that prayer is essential but when push comes to shove, we find that our prayer life sometimes betrays what we say we believe. It’s not that we disagree with Jesus, Paul, or the Bible in general, it’s just that, well, we are “busy” serving Jesus, and God seems to be working without our prayer. If we are honest, we might even admit that prayer interrupts our acts of service. We think brilliant thoughts like, “I am too busy serving Jesus and telling men about Jesus to spend time speaking with Jesus about men.” Of course, we would never phrase it quite that way, but I know I am guilty of neglected prayer. Recently I had an experience in Africa which confirmed for me what I already know to be true, but needed to see in action.
God moves when people pray.
In late June we took a team of youth to South Africa to help J-Life Ministries run a sports camp for youth, most of whom were underprivileged. These kids were hungry spiritually and, for the most part, anyone observing could tell that the kids were soaking up the Word and they wanted to know Jesus and grow closer to Him. Everyone was soaking up worship except a 12-year-old girl named Alicia (not her real name). Alicia would sit vacantly staring during worship and preaching. Afterwards in small group breakout time, she would remember nothing of what took place. Her cabin leader spent time asking her about life at home and discovered Alicia’s family was deep into the occult. Ritual sacrifices overseen by a witch doctor were common and she was often tormented with fear. It was difficult for her cabin leaders to discern how much was real versus simply a 12-year-old girl exaggerating for attention. The camp staff thought it wise to schedule a counseling session for Alicia for the next day with two female J-Life staff members named Nichole and Melanie. Knowing that Alicia would receive special attention the next day, everyone headed off to bed.
The next morning at 5:00 a.m. Nichole and Melanie were awakened by shattering glass. They quickly awoke and turned on the lights to discover a shelf of coffee mugs had gone from the wall behind a table and landed in the middle of the room. They were both unnerved but unsure what to make of it. On the way to breakfast Nichole and Melanie discovered from Alicia’s cabin leader that she, too had awoken at 5:00 a.m. in terror and asked her cabin leader to comfort her, as she was terrified “something” was oppressing her.
It’s noteworthy that this was occurring at the tail end of the camp. Kids were sick. Counselors were sick. We even had camp counselors bickering and getting on each other’s nerves. In light of all the events of the evening regarding Alicia and the general difficulties we were experiencing, we held an emergency staff meeting. We updated everyone on the spiritual warfare and reminded one another that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. We also established a 24-hour prayer vigil where we knew someone would be praying continually for the staff, the campers, and for Alicia.
During the 24-hour prayer vigil Alicia met with J-Life staffers who confronted her occult background. The encounter that followed was much like what you would read in Luke or Acts regarding a demonic possession. Not stuff you see often in Iowa City. With ancestor worship very common even among those who profess Christ, demonism is not uncommon in Africa. She was delivered, felt better, and was able to focus during the remainder of the camp. The next morning her cabin leader led her to faith in Jesus. Alicia’s older sister also received Jesus that day as well. God answered prayer.
It’s funny how fast a visible manifestation of evil will drive a group of Christians to intentional intercessory prayer. We know that regardless of how evil is manifest, it is real and the enemy is active. But we are often lulled into a sense that somehow our ministry activity is enough and that by simply speaking “Jesus words” or doing “Jesus deeds”, the community and the cultures we serve will be won. We have forgotten we are engaged in the struggle of the ages. Our goal is not merely to convince people of the truth of the Gospel. We are contending for the hearts and souls of people in our own community. The enemy is active in keeping people blind to the truth of the Gospel, promoting disunity, and otherwise keeping the church asleep to her desperate need and abundant resources in Christ.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12
We can do nothing without prayer and can do all things through prayer.
“…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” – Ephesians 6:17–20
The same enemy that shields eyes from the truth of the Gospel in Africa is the same enemy that shields eyes from the truth of the Gospel in Iowa City. The enemy’s tactics may be different in different cultures, but our Gospel and our Jesus are the same today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow, whether we are in Africa or Iowa City. The Gospel is made effectual through the prayers of the saints.