Several weeks before the national conference, I was thinking back about the 2006 conference. I remembered that on Friday morning, after the Thursday night VVN banquet but before the conference officially started, there was no scheduled activity and I wound up having to "kill" some time.
What could my fellow reps and I do to use Friday morning of the 2008 conference well? Furthermore, it would need to be something that didn't require a lot of planning by the VOM staff in Bartlesville--they already had their hands full just planning the conference.
The idea hit me, hopefully from the Lord, that we could have a prayer meeting. I sent out some emails to other area coordinators and several wrote back enthusiastically about the idea. Bill Wos offered to bring his guitar and lead in some songs. But we would need to pick a location and format for the meeting quickly -- some time between when we arrived on Wednesday and the anticipated meeting time on Friday morning.
Last Thursday, while I was in the area coordinator meetings, Kathy checked with the administration of OWU to see if we could have the prayer meeting in a building right on the OWU campus. They were incredibly receptive. Initially they offered the use of a very nice performance hall. When the area coordinator meetings were finished around 3 on Thursday, several of the area coordinators and I joined Kathy to examine the meeting hall. It was beautiful -- but not what we wanted. Steep steps, fixed seating, narrow walkways all contributed to an environment more suited for a performance than a prayer meeting that we hoped would be very participatory.
We trooped down to the cafeteria. I remembered how bad the acoustics were there in 2006 when Russell Stendal tried to speak. But it was very open, level floored, plenty of room to move around, and lots of moveable chairs. Bill found a portable sound system. We checked with OWU administration and they heartily endorsed our new location.
So, a couple hours later at the VVN banquet, I announced that we would be having a prayer meeting at the OWU cafeteria "in the building by the pond" the next morning at 9:00. My announcement was the very last announcement made at the banquet so I was hoping people wouldn't forget. I stood by the doorway as people were going out, but only a couple of them told me they were going to come.
The next morning it was raining. When I arrived at the cafeteria at 8:30, only a couple people were there--area coordinators who were helping to organize the event. But people began to show up--eventually an estimated 50 to 70 of them! Even my very busy supervisor, Mrs. E, came--for which I was very appreciative.
Bill led in a few simple songs, and then invited anyone who wanted to pray to stand up and do so. He offered the use of the microphone at front for those who feared their voices might not carry. He gave a few simple reminders (like, "This is a time for just praying--don't preach, don't describe the prayer request to us first, just pray!") and then stepped away from the microphone.
For about 60 seconds, which seemed like about 5 minutes to me, there was silence, with no one up in front. I think that is one of the most moving sights to see in a meeting of believers -- no one in charge but God! There is a legitimate and very vital place for leadership in a meeting, but in this particular case I felt we were warranted in letting go of the reins. In order to become a VOM rep, people have to go through fairly extensive screening, so I was not too worried about someone "flaky" taking control of the meeting. I was, however, worried that perhaps no one would get up at all. Bill had told me beforehand, "Sometimes people are scared to be the first one up. You might have to get up yourself and be the first pray-er in order to 'prime the pump'." But for some reason, I didn't feel like I was supposed to do that. During that 60 seconds of silence, I was praying in my heart, "God, this is Yours. If this whole thing was Your idea, move someone to come up and begin the prayer time. I don't want to 'jump start' this thing with just my own human power and psychological tricks."
The silent spell was broken. A woman walked up to the microphone and read Psalm 23. I had never before noticed how appropriate Psalm 23 was as a prayer for the persecuted church. She was followed by another person... and another... and another...
There followed one of the most wonderful times of prayer I have ever enjoyed in my life. I really don't know how to describe it to you. It was glorious. It was passionate. It was joyful. It was victorious. It was utterly spontaneous.
About 10:00, we interrupted the meeting to transition to praying at various prayer stations that had been set up around the room. This gave an opportunity for more people to pray at the same time for various topics such as "The families of those persecuted", "The Chinese Olympics", "The persecutors", etc. At one part of the room, Mrs. E had set up a laptop with a recent video showing a 25 year old Christian woman being killed by her Muslim neighbors for refusing to deny Christ. I had never seen an actual murder before. It was gruesome, very sobering. But yet we could not see the end of the story: we could not see on the video her welcome into heaven, or how many of her neighbors may yet be converted due to her dying witness.
People ran out of steam on the prayer stations sooner than we had expected. We wrapped up the meeting around 10:30. Perhaps we shouldn't have interrupted the first part of the meeting so soon. But we were doing what we thought was best at the time, and God honored it in spite of our ignorance.
Many people commented afterwards on how much they enjoyed the prayer meeting. It was anything but boring. I am not sure what all the ingredients were that caused it to be such a blessing. But I think it had something to do with us all being "in one accord". As reps, we all shared a common passion for the glory of God to be advanced around the world through His suffering but victorious bride. We laid aside more personal prayer requests (bunions, backaches, finances, wayward children, etc.), which might be called "defensive prayers" and focused on prayers for the advancement of God's kingdom around the world, what we might call "offensive prayers".
It may have been just as well that the meeting wrapped up earlier than expected, because my next adventure was just around the corner, unplanned by me.
But wow, wouldn't I like to be in another prayer meeting like that one!