International Ministries

Transforming Prayer

July 29, 2011 Journal
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I slept, completely unaware of the spiritual power being set loose on behalf of a ministry in which I was to share.

I had just flown into to Orissa, a state on the eastern coast of India, four hours train ride south from Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta).  I visited Orissa twice in 2008 in the wake of waves of violence carried out by Hindu militant nationalists against the Christian community.  Hundreds of churches were destroyed, people were killed, homes burned and businesses looted.  Sometimes the Christians fought back, destroying homes of neighboring Hindus, but mostly they fled, suffered and prayed.  I led a series of trainings on conflict transformation and nonviolence trying to provide some immediate support and help for these traumatized and confused Christians. 

Since that time the conflict has calmed a bit thanks to a change in state government and actions by the Indian Supreme Court.  The hostility still simmers, but a growing network of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs are trying to shape a more peaceful community in Orissa.  At the heart of these interfaith peacemaking activities are some Baptists, led by Samaresh Nayak, the General Secretary of the Bengal-Orissa-Bihar Baptist Churches Association (BOBBCA).  Samaresh had invited me to do the peace-building training earlier.  He had marched for peace alongside other Christian and Hindu leaders.  He had provided aid to displaced Christians as well as to a Hindu village that had been attacked by Christians. 

Now Samaresh had organized a breakthrough interfaith event in the city of Balasore, bringing together various traditions of Hinduism, Protestant and Catholic Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.  We were to meet, discuss inter-religious peacemaking, and explore new partnerships for bringing about community harmony in the region.  I was to be one of the resource people, providing an international perspective on interfaith peacemaking.

Having just arrived after a long day of international travel courtesy of Murphy's Law (that's another story!), I went to sleep quickly after being shown to my room.  Little did I know that the real work was going on all through the night just a short walk away.

A group of women had gathered to fast and pray all through the day and night.  Deborah's Women's Prayer Band had been mobilized by Mahdu, Samaresh's wife.  Mahdu and the women poured out their hearts to God for God's Spirit to move on the upcoming interfaith peace event.  They knew well the suffering the violence had brought to their community.  They also trusted the heart of God for peace and the power of God to shape human hearts.  I knew friends back in the U.S., in my mission partnership network, and in my home church were praying for me.  But I doubt than anyone was praying with the fervor and focus of Deborah's Women's Prayer Band.

We had the interfaith gathering, and it was a great success.  Two of the more militant Hindus came, including a member of the most radical party that has often been implicated in the violence.  He spoke along with peacemaking Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.  As he listened to others, there was a change in his demeanor.  He was met with respect and love, discovering that people he had criticized were different than he realized.  By the end of the sessions we were all engaged in friendly conversations.  I shared some examples of interfaith peacemaking initiatives from other places around the world, including my home city of Detroit.  People responded to those stories, telling me how encouraged they were.  Samaresh was delighted with how everything went.

A few days later I was invited to do a Bible study on peacemaking with a group of women.  I'd known nothing about the Saturday all day and all night prayer and fasting.  When I shared about how the interfaith program went, I heard what journalists call "the backstory."  This was Deborah's Women's Prayer Band.  I had come that night to teach them, but as they shared their work and testimony they taught me.  They taught me about the passion of faith-filled prayer.  They taught me about being committed to the unleashing power of prayer.  The taught me that the success of our work is often due to factors and forces that we don't even realize are engaged.  I was blessed by their ministry of prayer.  I rode the wave of their spiritual power energized by the Holy Spirit without even knowing it.

Many of you are part of the supporting power God sends through people of prayer, generosity and commitment.  I might be at an event in Orissa, but there are all kinds of people holding me and friends like Samaresh in their hearts and prayers.  Without that support, strongholds like stubborn, violent hearts would not be melted by love and grace.  We saw miracles of changing minds and hearts, miracles born in the community of faith bold enough to prayer.  Thank you for all you do to share in that transforming prayer.

In hope and joy,
Dan Buttry