Want to open closed places? Send in prayer warriors first

BANGKOK, Thailand (BP)--God opens closed places. But he often uses prayer warriors as front-line marines.

Southern Baptist missionary Jack Martin and his Thailand prison evangelism team discovered that anew when they tried to locate a prison they had received government permission to enter.

Confused, they arrived at a different prison. Thinking it was the facility they sought, they presented a gift to the bewildered warden. Martin realized the mix-up as they talked, but also discovered the warden had studied at the missionary's alma mater, St. Louis University. Result: instant friendship.

The team still made it to the "right" prison in time to preach to 120 inmates who had never heard the gospel -- and also received a cordial invitation to return to the "wrong" prison later.

"Mistake? Not in God's plan!" Martin reported by e-mail to his U.S.-based prayer supporters. "You have been praying for the prisons and God is answering big time!"

More than a century ago, Scottish missionary Mary Slessor went to West Africa -- then a notorious graveyard of missionaries. She eventually died there too, but not before braving countless hazards, confronting cruel tribal practices and spreading the gospel for nearly four decades.

Yet for all her heroic struggles, Slessor wrote a simple truth to her supporters back home: "Praying is harder work than doing."

Praying -- strategic, specific, intercessory praying -- also should come before doing.

Many believe the historic Shantung Revival in China early in this century began with the prayers of one person: Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen. Monsen was a missionary second, an intercessor first.

Spiritual awakening, observes International Mission Board prayer strategy director Randy Sprinkle, always starts with the praying person, but never ends there.

One thing's for sure: Great Commission Christians are praying. Millions of believers now unite, in person or in cyberspace, for prayer vigils, prayer networks, prayer chains, prayer rallies, prayerwalks, prayer marches, 30-day prayer seasons for Muslims and Hindus, prayer for people groups and concerts of prayer -- all intended to advance world evangelization and reach the unreached.

One manifestation among Southern Baptists is the annual Day of Prayer and Fasting. This year's observance -- scheduled for the 24 hours beginning at 6 p.m. May 21 -- will focus on the people of North Korea.

In 1748, the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, a central figure in the Great Awakening, predicted prayer movements for world revival would expand in generations to come, culminating in a massive world movement at the end of the millennium.

Four years ago, mission researchers counted 170 million Christians publicly committed to daily prayer for world revival and evangelization. Twenty million identified prayer as their primary calling.

"The decade of the 1990s has been a period like no other," Sprinkle contends.

"Yes, that's a bold statement when you think about 20 centuries. There have certainly been periods and places where the Spirit of God moved and the people of God responded with intercession and praying without ceasing. But the results have been regional -- the Great Awakening in the United States, the Welsh revival, the China revival, the Korean revival. In studying the history of prayer and spiritual awakening, I've never seen anything like we're seeing right now. The spirit of prayer is upon the earth."

It's no accident, Sprinkle adds, that the escalating prayer movement has coincided with a new awareness of unreached peoples -- and amazing breakthroughs in reaching them.

"Isn't it interesting that pretty much the whole evangelical world suddenly has a people group focus?" he asks. "I don't think that's just because we got swept up into the latest craze."

For specific prayer items (updated daily) about missionaries, nations and peoples, connect to CompassionNet on the International Mission Board's World Wide Web site (www.imb.org) or call the PrayerLine at 1-800-395-PRAY (7729). You also can have both sent via e-mail.

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