KILLEEN, Texas (BP)–Not far from Fort Hood, Skyline Baptist Church has joined a unique prayer effort for U.S. troops deployed overseas.
Skyline, in Killeen, Texas, is one of about 200 churches participating in an interdenominational prayer ministry called Pray FAST — an acronym for Pray For A Soldier Team. The program enlists local congregations to pray for soldiers deployed from Fort Hood to Iraq and Afghanistan by assigning each church’s willing “prayer warrior” three soldiers to pray for by name.
All soldiers deployed from Fort Hood are asked before heading overseas whether they would like someone to pray for them, through arrangements Pray FAST coordinator Cecil Wolfe made through proper channels with the support of the chaplains. Those who request prayer fill out cards with their personal information and prayer requests, and the information is forwarded to their prayer warriors.
“Our church has a big heart for the military because we are very close to Fort Hood,” Skyline pastor Kenny Rawls said. “In fact, I would say that just by guesstimate, one-third of our active members are active duty at Fort Hood. So we have a tremendous number of spouses who attend our church whose husbands are away fighting in Iraq or in Afghanistan.”
Such an intimate connection with the Army led naturally to fervent prayer for the troops.
“I feel very helpless as a civilian,” Rawls said. “We’re at war. What can we do? This is just one way that we as American citizens can get involved … .”
Many Skyline members know firsthand the benefits of prayer because fellow believers interceded for them when they were deployed overseas. One is Sgt. 1st Class Wally Northam.
Northam, 35, served three tours in Iraq and was on the prayer list at his mother’s church in Collinsville, Miss., each time. Church members would mail him cards expressing their prayer support, and Northam would look through them before he went on missions.
“You leave out of the gate every day and you are constantly fearful,” he said. “You don’t want to put on a false front, but you can’t let your subordinates see that you’re scared or else they become scared and then nobody can actually perform when they have to. So what I found with these cards was that the more of them you read, the better you felt.”
“So it kind of became an addicting feeling so that you weren’t just putting up a false front. You actually weren’t scared anymore, and your subordinates weren’t scared anymore. So they saw you confident and they were confident.”
When Northam’s fellow soldiers saw how prayer benefited him, they wanted people to pray for them too. The desire for prayer led to the platoon saying the Lord’s Prayer together before each mission.
In fact, a similar desire for prayer has spread, with as many as 85 percent of all soldiers deployed from Fort Hood now requesting a prayer partner.
“I would go so far as to say I don’t know if I would be alive if I didn’t [have people praying for me],” Northam said.
A RENEWED FAITH
Yet for Northam, prayer’s benefits extended far beyond preserving his physical life. God used it to renew him spiritually as well.
Although he grew up in church, life in the Army led to straying from his faith. Upon returning from his most recent deployment, his marriage was strained, he struggled to be a good father and he was simply unhappy.
One Saturday Northam went to a lake after an argument with his wife and began to think about the prayer cards his mother’s church sent.
“I started thinking about those prayer cards, and I started thinking about how the last time I was happy was actually praying with my platoon before we went out on mission,” he said.
So Northam went to church at Skyline the next day, then went again the following Wednesday, and again the next Sunday. He continued to attend, and one week later rededicated his life to Christ.
Since that day several months ago, his marriage has turned around and his young son has made a profession of faith in Christ. He is also deeply involved in prayer for other soldiers.
“I don’t think there’s a measurement scale for a miracle, but I think they happen every single day,” Northam said. “You don’t have to feed 5,000. It can be something as simple as two people who were probably doomed staying married finding what they loved about each other in the first place.”
Wolfe, who retired from the Army in 1999 after 30 years of service, said Northam’s experience is not unique. Time and again, soldiers report supernatural results when believers pray for them, he said. They have been protected from harm, received needed supplies and even felt a tangible sense of prayer support in times of danger.
The ministry helped one mother renew her relationship with an estranged son she had not seen in more than a decade. When she signed up through her church to pray for a soldier, the computer randomly assigned her to her son. Through the prayer partnership, they grew close once again.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stories,” Wolfe said.
He added, however, that more churches are needed to provide prayer warriors because approximately 2,800 soldiers are still waiting for prayer partners.
“We’ve jumped up to now where we’re asking for a prayer warrior to pray for three soldiers because we’ve had such a large influx of how many soldiers really need and deserve the prayer,” Wolfe said.
In addition to volunteers, Pray FAST also needs donations of Christian literature and pocket-sized Bibles for deployed soldiers.
Churches wishing to participate in Pray FAST should select a point person to e-mail Wolfe at [email protected] The point person should be competent in using the Microsoft Excel computer program and will work with Wolfe to match each prayer warrior with soldiers. Pray FAST is geared to churches, he noted, to avoid being overwhelmed by e-mails from individuals.
“It’s critical to start getting names as soon as possible so that I can fulfill the requirements of soldiers,” Wolfe said.
David Roach is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky.