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The Sunny people are hard to reach. Not just spiritually, but physically. Living in remote mountains and valleys in Southeast Asia, straight, well-paved roads can be hard come by if you want to visit a Sunny village. And so you have to improvise. Maybe ride a dirt bike or a bicycle or a pickup truck. Sometimes kayaks are necessary.
All of these modes of transportation have been used by John* and the prayer walking teams he led as part of taking the gospel to the Sunny.
Numbering more than 100,000, the Sunny are subsistence farmers. Traditionally, they hold a mixture of Buddhist and animist beliefs.
As of 2012, there were no churches amongst the Sunny and less than 10 Sunny Christians.
That’s when the prayer walks began.
The Harvest is Plentiful?
John had been in the area for a few years by that point, learning about the Sunny culture while working with a business. The idea of using prayer walking teams stemmed from reading Luke 10:2, where Jesus says, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ John knew that other Christians, from all around the world, needed to be involved if they were to experience spiritual breakthrough. Workers of all kinds and durations, including short-term prayer teams, were needed.
Between 2012-2016, more than 45 prayer walking teams visited John in Southeast Asia and prayed among more than 200 Sunny villages. Most of the teams came from the US, but groups from Singapore, Australia, Thailand, and other parts of the world came as well. The trips lasted from three to 10 days.
Michael Williams, Prayer Mobilization Manager for OMF US, notes the special role that prayer walking can play in work among an unreached people group:
‘When you pray onsite, you get to smell, taste, and see what you are praying for. It inspires greater prayer with more depth and insight.’
Preparation for prayer walking trips often takes longer than the trips themselves. John was in contact with trip leaders coming to pray for the Sunny, suggesting ways the group could begin praying beforehand and providing logistical details. The teams were required to begin prayer walking in their home country before going to Asia to do so. On arrival, the team was given a full day of orientation, during which John would explain God’s heart for the nations and the role that prayer walking could play in God’s work among the Sunny.
Praying in Person
The group would then set off to pray. The format for prayer was pretty simple, John explained. The group used each hand as a way to remember how to pray. On the five fingers of the first hand the team would pray for ‘open hearts, open heavens, open homes, open highways, and open hands.’ The other hand reminded the team member to focus prayer on five different types of locations: government, education (e.g. schools), marketplaces (businesses), community places (parks, restaurants etc.), and place of worship (temples).
Persevering in Prayer
As the groups went along, they would not only pray, but also build relationships with the villagers. Sometimes, they would pray for various medical or spiritual needs that some of the Sunny people they met had. One year, a team met a guy who had problems breathing; they prayed for him and it got better. The next year, another prayer walking team went back to his village and the man wanted to be baptised. Others in the village did the same. Later, John went back to train a small group of believers. It was the beginnings of a Sunny Church.
The groups encountered a variety of challenges along the way. John related the story of how a screw fell off one of the team member’s dirt bike tires in a remote area. Soon after, a mini-van pulled up and had the exact screw they needed; the group was able to continue on the prayer journey. Sometimes, however, the challenges were more serious. There were times when the village leaders didn’t trust the foreigners visiting their village or when local police asked them to leave.
Spiritually, one of the challenges was to persevere in prayer. John notes how there was one area that prayer walking teams visited multiple times over a two-year period before seeing anyone place their faith in Christ. Over time, though, more and more Sunny became followers of Jesus in that area, as well as throughout Southeast Asia. Today, there are nearly 250 Sunny believers and six Sunny churches.
John credits God’s work through the prayer walks as a major reason for the growth:
‘Every significant place where we’ve seen spiritual breakthrough had been prayer walked before,’ he says.
John’s work has now shifted from leading prayer walking teams of mostly foreign Christians to discipling Sunny believers, who are now doing prayer walking themselves amongst unreached people groups in the area. God has answered John’s prayer from Luke 10:2 in multiple ways – by raising up prayer walking teams, of course, but also by mobilising longer-term workers from among the prayer walking teams, as well as people supporting the work financially, and now raising up Sunny Christians to take on the work themselves.
OMF (US) Writer and Assistant Editor
*Name changed for security.