‘The Power of Prayer’ –
A familiar phrase to many Christians, especially those who have read Hudson Taylor’s biography, A Retrospect; the first chapter is devoted to it.
Taylor’s life is filled with stories of prayers answered. Even before he was born his father had prayed that the Lord would call his son, should he have one, to serve in China. The primary place of prayer in Hudson Taylor’s life has been an integral root in the growth of the CIM and OMF. This has not changed. Through the decades, missionaries and ministries have come and gone, strategies and plans have changed, but prayer has remained of utmost importance.
The China Inland Mission was birthed through prayer. Hudson Taylor’s great belief that people could be, ‘moved by prayer alone’ put prayer central to all operations. Any obstacle or hindrance to the advancement of the Gospel was met with prayer and the conviction that God was sufficient to complete his own work.
J.O. Fraser stands out as a man who called others to prayer. Situated in Lisuland, Yunnan, he saw the seemingly impossible task of leading tribal people to faith. He asked his mother to gather together a group to regularly pray for victory over the forces of sin and evil. As they prayed so God worked and when the stronghold was broken, soon he was baptising thousands of people; the Church among the Lisu was born. From this example other people formed similar prayer groups.
New missionaries were encouraged to start groups among their friends who would pray regularly for them. These groups continued faithfully for decades and sometimes the prayed-for missionaries outlived their support group. Newcomers to OMF often express concern about how old prayer group members are, not realising that they were young when drawn together to pray. Nor do they realise that previous generations expressed similar fears. Prayer groups often remember the details they have faithfully prayed for, and returning missionaries are amazed at their questions, which reveal an insightful grasp of their unique situations. The longevity of prayer groups’ leaders has been remarkable. One man reluctantly laid down the task at the age of 98. And the prayers of previous generations continue to have effect. One group leader, who retired in her nineties, sadly did not live to see her own grandson join the mission.
After the exodus from China, prayer became the only means of ministry into the country. Exiled missionaries gave themselves to prayer through the twenty-five years of almost complete silence as the Church experienced real persecution. Faithful prayer was not dependent on up to date information. Despite all the fear in the fifties and sixties that Chinese Communism would overwhelm East Asia, there was a prayerful expectation that God would not abandon the work. When we look at the Chinese Church of today we can be thankful for all the prayer that went up in those years.
As the CIM became OMF and moved into new countries, new patterns of prayer were developed. Missionaries were encouraged to write regular prayer letters to a group of prayer partners. Alongside the personal letters there were prayer diaries compiled both for inclusion in Millions (the former name for Billions) and then prayer letters for specific countries. Alison Pateman was the person who ran the prayer department for many years. Reading her prayer diaries today is a spiritual treat as one sees the skill with which topics were chosen and the steady answers to prayer. Country letters were generally compiled by serving or retired OMF members as they worked through the mass of field letters, communications from missionaries and their own continuing contacts, to present a balanced picture of the prayer needs of specific countries.
The modern computerised wired-up world gives the opportunity for instant knowledge of the work in East Asia. This can be both a blessing and a hindrance, the wealth of information available to everyone presents a challenge to persistent believing prayer, since one can easily become distracted.
But still prayer groups are being formed to support those going to the countries of East Asia. God’s ear is still open to the cries of his children. We can look back at 150 years of prayer with thankfulness to God for those that have achieved so much by regularly coming into his presence with their prayers. Without such people, humanly speaking, what would have happened in East Asia? A prayer group of ageing people is a strange sight in the modern world. Regular prayer meetings are a distant memory in many churches. But these are those who have overthrown empires and achieved untold victories and for who we should add some verses to Hebrews 11. They will have their reward.
In March 2015 OMF International UK had the opportunity to thank National Conference attendees for standing with us in prayer for East Asia. A large part of this was the special thanks to the many prayer groups around the country,
both new and old, who have dedicated themselves to prayer over the years. We hope that this article, along with the video shared at the conference, will serve as a reminder that the prayers of these faithful groups have been, and will continue to be, vital in all that we seek to do.
Prayer Groups Animation