We just had an outstanding thing happen in Hiawassee, Georgia. Generally we spend May 1, the National Day of Prayer, in Washington, D.C. because my wife, Ruthie, is a member of the National Prayer committee. Rather than go to the observance of this special day in Washington, D.C., we decided to stay home this year and do something locally. We contacted the Mayor and asked if we could sponsor a Mayor's Prayer Breakfast. The response was friendly, if not enthusiastic. Knowing Ruthie, you know that's all she needed. She began contacting everybody in town carrying with her her famous chocolate-covered strawberries.
The large Baptist church in town often does something on that day, but this year they were between pastors. We contacted the County Commissioner and he gave us free use of the brand new County Recreation and Conference Center. We discovered that the neutral venue was actually helpful because it encouraged more of the local churches to participate than if it had been in a church facility. Then things began to fall into place: the fire department volunteered to take care of the parking; the Chamber of Commerce handled registration and collection of funds (we charged $10 per place); I built a website (www.townsprayerbreakfast.org); two people volunteered to head up the catering; the Ingles Market in town provided half of the food; and local pastors flocked to help.
Ruthie put together a small steering committee of members from other churches which gave us good networks into the community. The Sunday before the event Ruthie and I started early and visited 15 churches with an announcement for the pastor to read - they were well received. In more than one place they stopped the service and had Ruthie come up front and make the announcement in person.
Her message was simple: we just want to come together as a community and pray.
When there have been other community events in town they've had a hundred or so show up. Though there was no marquis-name speaker to draw, we had nearly 300 people. Eight or so of the key leaders in the community - police chief, mayor, county commissioner, administrator of the hospital, president of the local college, EMT/fire chief, superintendent of schools, sheriff - came and took just a few minutes each to tell us how they sensed God's leading in the area where they serve. It was powerful; we thought the Sheriff was going to have an altar call. Then they told us issues for which they would like the community to pray for them and their needs. It was a deeply spiritual time.
One of the pastoral patriarchs led us in prayer for the nation. We gave out maps with every street and road in the county and encouraged them to pray regularly for the homes on those streets. The local National Guard presented the colors. Our family doctor wrote a song and sang it for the occasion. We said the pledge of allegiance, sang God Bless America and went home. It was a melt-down event.
As the folks were leaving we gave each of them a copy of Ruthie's book, Five Secrets for Peace In a Storm. Since then we've had requests for more as some of the people wanted to give them to family or friends. The local newspaper carried a story and color photo on the front page the week before the event and again the week after. Now we have more friends here than in any town we’ve ever lived in.
Ruthie and I were at the hospital a few days later when the Director of Nurses came up to us and said, “I had become so depressed and down I could hardly function. I wasn’t doing well at home or at work. But God touched me at the prayer breakfast. I have my energy and my joy back. Thank you.” Ruthie has since received various invitations to speak at some of the participating community churches and has begun begun following through on these opportunities.
We will be at a nearby Adventist church on Sabbath and several of our new friends from the prayer breakfast have said they will join us. One of our caterers will sing there and a couple of others will give their testimony about God’s leading in their lives. A few days ago Ruthie was talking to the Mayor who told her, "It was just wonderful, Ruthie. If you'll do it again next year I'll help." The County Commissioner volunteered that if we would lead out again next year he would give us - at no cost - the other section of the new Conference Center which seats about 1,200 at tables.
I think we're going to put together a little "cookbook" of what we learned because it is a reproducible concept and we'd love to see it happen all across North America. It helps position Seventh-day Adventists as spiritual leaders in the community. There is no SDA church here in Hiawassee but I write a weekly parenting column in the newspaper and everybody now knows Ruthie and where her spiritual roots are.
But even more important, it draws the community together to plead for God’s will to be done in our homes and our neighborhoods. After the breakfast as we were cleaning up, the sheriff re-appeared with ten prisoners from the jail to help; we were able to pray with them and give them a copy of Ruthie's book. I think it was then we discovered we weren’t sure if the event was over - or if it was just beginning.
Don Jacobsen, D.Min., is author of three books, former President of Adventist World Radio and faithful companion of Ruthie Jacobsen, NAD Prayer Ministries Director.