WICHITA, Kan. (BP)–The capture of an alleged serial killer in Wichita, Kan., has generated a flood of national news coverage, including a Feb. 27 Associated Press report that the suspect had confessed to some of the killings.
However, while most reports have focused on the crimes and residents’ reactions, the arrest had spiritual significance for members of the Heart of Kansas Southern Baptist Association.
Less than seven weeks earlier, the association sponsored a noon-hour meeting at Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita to pray that “BTK” would be captured. Despite an ice storm, the Jan. 11 gathering attracted about 150 people.
Immanuel’s pastor, Terry Fox, said the news prompted a flood of congratulatory phone calls and considerable excitement among the church’s members.
The community “has seen what can happen because of prayer,” Fox said. “It’s just been neat to receive the kind of phone calls from people who have been calling.”
Fox also noted, “I don’t think Immanuel will ever be the same. There’s going to be a huge momentum to pray more. It’s taught our church a lesson … that when God’s people join together there’s incredible power in prayer…. Members are saying, ‘Pastor, God really heard us,’ and that prayer has helped capture BTK.”
Pat Bullock, director of missions for the Heart of Kansas association, expressed similar delight over an answer to prayer in a relatively short time.
“We put God out on a limb and I believe that’s what He wants us to do,” Bullock said. “I felt it was a little risky to do, but I still believe with all my heart that when I pray things happen all around the world. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be praying.”
Although earlier reports had tied the killer to eight murders, police said they had linked two other deaths to the suspect, Dennis Rader, 59, a resident of nearby Park City and a longtime member of Christ Lutheran Church there.
In a press release issued Feb. 26, the pastor of Christ Lutheran said Rader had held leadership positions over the course of approximately 30 years as a member.
“We are all concerned for Dennis Rader and his family,” Pastor Michael Clark said. “We lift up our prayers in support of all of them. The members of Christ Lutheran Church are in a state of shock and bewilderment about the turn of events that have unfolded this week.”
In its Feb. 28 online edition, the Wichita Eagle reported that members of Rader’s family were devastated and had gone to a secluded location in another state. The Eagle also said Rader’s bail had been set at $10 million.
BTK -– an acronym for bind, torture, kill -– reportedly killed his first eight victims between 1974 and 1986. The assailant resurfaced a year ago when he sent the first in a series of letters to police and the news media.
Since last March, a spokesperson for the Wichita police said they had received 5,000 tips and leads from the public.
The week before Rader’s arrest, Wichita police announced that the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit had confirmed two of the recent letters as authentic communications from the serial killer. One was a letter mailed last October. The other came from a package located in a park last December by a Wichita resident. Lt. Ken Landwehr, who heads the city’s BTK task force, said the package contained the driver’s license belonging to a female victim that BTK had taken from the crime scene.
Fox acknowledged that some Immanuel members wondered what would happen if the church took a visible prayer role and BTK either killed again or wasn’t caught.
However, Fox said despite the risk he is certain that God called Immanuel to host the prayer meeting. And now, members are “absolutely convinced” that God answers prayer, he said.
The outcome has raised an awareness of the need for the church to be a light in the community, the pastor said. When he got involved in the prayer effort, some members questioned the necessity, he said.
“The difference with this [issue] is there’s no history of it,” Fox said. “There’s no background of [pastors] preaching on Sunday morning, calling on a serial killer to either surrender or be found. I think it tread new water and was somewhat of a gamble.
“But I felt God leading me to do it, to have the meeting at my church and to lead out on it. Looking back, it was an incredible thing to do. I think it will be very well-perceived in the community that the church got involved in this.”
Fox formerly was a pastor for 10 years in Corpus Christi, Texas, and a chaplain for the sheriff’s department. Even though he was a volunteer there, Fox completed courses at the police training academy and said he spent about 30 hours a week working with the department.
That experience gave him more sensitivity to issues facing the Wichita police, who Fox said faced severe criticism for failing to capture the killer for so long.
The pastor said he knew the police were struggling and because of his background in law enforcement realized they needed support.
Fox said he knew all along that the inability to catch the killer was an indication of spiritual warfare.
“Good police work is important but warfare was involved and I felt like we needed to tackle that issue,” Fox said. “They can do a lot of good things but most of the offices have no understanding of spiritual warfare.
“We felt like Satan had just blinded the police department from being able to capture this guy. It had been a 30-year investigation. When we realized the police needed support, that’s when we stepped up to the plate.”
Since mid-January, Bullock said he had continually reminded pastors and various individuals in the association to continue praying about BTK’s capture.
The noon-hour prayer meeting at Immanuel generated nothing but positive feedback even though many are not accustomed to praying about social heartaches, the director of missions said.
When about 35 associational members gather March 1 for a weekly pastors’ meeting, Bullock expects the alleged serial killer’s arrest to be the main topic of discussion.
“It is exciting to us that we stepped out on a limb and called on the Lord,” Bullock said. “Everywhere we went [recently], people were so appreciative the church got involved.”