'Relentless' prayer & fasting lead church to equal annual baptism total in one month
That simple prayer appears to have held profound power.
Members of Immanuel Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky., say they witnessed something supernatural during a baptismal service requiring their own baptistery, a portable baptistery borrowed from another church and a swimming pool set up in the sanctuary.
Fifty-four people were baptized that day. With 21 more over the following three Sundays, the church nearly equaled in a month the number of baptisms it had all of last year -- the answer to its prayer.
"We believed that this was the heart of God," pastor Allen Bonnell said. "And what we began to do is to align our hearts, our goals and our ambitions with the heart of God, because God wants people to be saved even more than we do."
The congregation began planning, preparing and praying for a great harvest last fall, asking God: "Would you come in power and do what only you can do, so that when all is said and done, our people will say, 'That was of the Lord'?" Bonnell said.
For 21 days, many members participated in a "Daniel fast" -- a spiritual diet based on eating fruits and vegetables and drinking water -- while reading the Gospel of John, a chapter a day. "We were soaking ourselves in the Word of God, and we were praying to the Lord to bring about a great harvest," he said.
Bonnell launched a special emphasis, "Found People Find People," focusing on bringing people to church. "Those of us who have been captured by the love of Christ desire for other people to know that same love and forgiveness that we have in Christ," he explained.
His messages centered around the theme, "Chained," reflecting his desire for people to be set free from the bondage of sin, fear, hurt and brokenness in their lives through the Gospel.
On the first Sunday, members were asked to write on the church walls the names of people they wanted to see come to know Jesus in the next 21 days. "We literally had hundreds and hundreds -- well over 3,000 -- names that were written on the church walls," Bonnell said. Then the people committed to pray for three of those names for 21 days.
"That first Sunday we had a visitor who said something that we hadn't picked up on, but he articulated it very well," Bonnell recalled. "He said, 'You know what it communicated to me is, you care more about people than you do about your building.' We were like, 'That's it!' That's exactly what we believe."
The next week, Bonnell highlighted the blind man on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, who called out to Jesus, "Son of David, heal us." Calling his people to get their own hearts right before the Lord, Bonnell asked, "What are those areas that have you in bondage? What do you need Jesus to do for you today?" They responded by writing on another church wall things with which they were struggling in their personal lives.
"When we went back, it was amazing to see," Bonnell said. "It breaks your heart, and yet it also gives you great courage when you look at what people wrote that they were in bondage to," he said. Some also wrote special Scripture verses, a date when they were set free or what God was doing in their lives.
"Every week we saw people coming to faith and taking steps of faith," he said. The third week, on a huge scroll on the wall, individuals and families signed up for an hour that they would come to the auditorium to pray -- from Sunday at midnight until Saturday at midnight -- for each of the persons whose names were on the church walls.
"We are going to be relentless," Bonnell charged his members. "These names are never going to stop echoing through the halls of eternity this week. Every hour these names are going to be lifted up to the Father."
God's response was "amazing," Bonnell said.
He recalled finding a man sitting in the sanctuary one day with tears flooding down his face. When he asked what was going on, the man confided, "Somebody wrote my name on that wall. I remember hearing about this church being open for prayer 24 hours a day, so I knew I had to come here and get things right with the Lord." The man accepted Christ, and he and his wife were among those baptized.
Each week in worship the crowds grew and grew, and more than 135 people made decisions during the 21-day period.
All of the preparation led up to a key evangelistic service on Feb. 2, in which a friend of Bonnell's, Daniel Lucas, was guest preacher. Lucas is lead pastor of Crosspoint Church in Morehead, Ky.
"Over a tenth of those in our building that Sunday came forward," Bonnell said. "We had marriages healed, people come to faith, people surrender to the ministry, people getting right with others and, most importantly, getting right with the Lord. It was phenomenal.
"We still get emails about what God is doing in people's lives," he said.
Immanuel Baptist scheduled a baptism service the following week. "We knew we could get a crowd there for Daniel [Lucas], but we also wanted to get them to come back the next week," Bonnell said.
And they did. More than 1,300 people attended the baptismal service.
But there was a logistical challenge: How would they baptize all of the people in one service? They quickly set up a 15x15-foot swimming pool in the sanctuary, and they borrowed a portable baptistery from a church planter in Pineville, Ky.
"We basically rotated from our baptistery to the pool to the portable baptistery, so we wouldn't lose a lot of time as people got in and out of the water," Bonnell said. "We had everything from children, 8-9 years of age, to adults in their late 60s and early 70s. We had entire families, husbands and wives, come forward to give their lives to Christ.
"It's amazing! We've had a lot of fun, a lot of excitement," he said. "We are just trying to keep up with the Lord and what He is doing. But it was all birthed out of the Scriptures and prayer, and God deciding He wanted to do something.
"We just said 'yes' to the Lord," and they encouraged others to say "yes," too.
Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).