What began as a prayer meeting over the phone when stormy weather kept a church group from gathering has turned into a vision for an international prayer ministry using the latest in telecommunications to join the prayerful to Christ.
Two years since that teleconferencing encounter the Pray Live prayer ministry has expanded to a system that is technically capable of handling hundreds of simultaneous calls. The number of participants has been increasing mostly through committed praying volunteers and now includes prayer leaders and pastors.
¡°There was someone who started calling the line every single day and now they¡¯re one of the leaders,¡± said Wenda Royster, founder and president of Pray Live, a non-denominational prayer line. ¡°It has grown, almost like an e-church. We¡¯re even doing bible study and people are being connected through the line.¡±
The initial meetings were with parishioners at Edgewood United Methodist Church in Lutherville, Md., just north of Baltimore, according to Emily Stills, a prayer leader at Pray Live. The meetings in those days usually lasted no more than an hour. Today she says she gives six or seven hours of her time in the early morning to the 24 hour a day, 7 day a week ministry.
¡°I wake up thinking about the prayer line and how I will support someone,¡± she said. ¡°I¡¯ve told many and helped to recruit prayer leaders.¡±
Pastors have also gotten into the act, participating to create an online meeting place where they deliver sermons, give bible studies and organize prayer rallies for various causes, with participants that call in on a nationwide toll-free number.
Pastor James Dixon of Providence Christian Church in Indianapolis, Ind., who gives weekly bible studies about prayer and life applications on Thursday evenings, says that service is unique because anyone can participate from anywhere in the country and the medium encourages verbal communication.
¡°You¡¯re on a telephone and it¡¯s impossible to see faces,¡± he said. ¡°I concentrate on the being more conversational and open ended to allow people to communicate since you can¡¯t use expressions or body language.¡±
He feels the ministry is helping to make the world smaller as it unites people. He adds that participants can start at any level.
Most recently, a 24 hour prayer gathering for peace and nonviolence was convened on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It brought together clergy from various churches including the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the late civil rights activist Rev. King.
Spiritual leaders for intercessory prayer are also being nurtured through the ministry even if they start out in a small way.
¡°I believe this would be of assistance to someone who had a fear of getting up in front of the church or others,¡± said the Rev. Horace Smith, a Baptist minister who leads a social service ministry in Baltimore Called Group Ministries. ¡°Doing it from the privacy of their homes breaks down some of the inhibitions and becomes a training ground to publicly pray.¡±
In December helped organize a 24-hour prayer marathon for World AIDS Day which brought together members from over 50 churches from across the country.
"There was a unity there just to hear a lot of heartfelt prayers of those infected and affected, praying even for children who had no choice in it, and coming together on one accord to give prayers specifically to God," said Rev. Smith.
There is also the opportunity to request intercessory prayer. One leader on Pray Live emphasizes that when she prays for someone, one of her main concerns is to study the Bible often and let the Holy Spirit guide her.
¡°It¡¯s important not to say what is in you,¡± said Mary Janet Black, 61 of Indiana who said she had previous experience as a prayer line counselor. ¡°I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and listen prayerfully because I don¡¯t want to say anything that won¡¯t be the right thing for any situation to help that person.¡±
¡°I have to study the Word of God a lot,¡± she added. ¡°If I say anything it¡¯s His words. I yield to Him.¡±
Royster, who also hosts a Christian radio talk program in Baltimore and is a former television reporter, started the ministry with her own seed funds but says she envisions that it will expand internationally, with corporate sponsorships from Christians who can choose to provide their employees with access to the ministry at work.
¡°I would like it to be in every country, in many languages. I know that in third world countries they may not have the capability but possibly, a technology can be developed to help them pray together.¡±
For the near future, she hopes that one way the ministry can continue to grow through is by working with seminary and bible college deans to foster disciple to student relationships with where students come together with pray live and perhaps do a case study with the ministry or let future teachers practice on the line as part of their schooling requirements.
However Royster adds that ultimately the ministry¡¯s purpose is to spread the Gospel and provide a way for new Christians to link up with local churches.
¡°The most important thing is to win those souls and when they have prayer and have given their life to Christ, that¡¯s where Pray Live can refer them to a local body of Christ.
To participate with Pray Live, call 1-888-PRAY-LIVE