BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–The idea was birthed just days before the CBS miniseries “Jesus” aired in mid-May: a prayer line.
Ricky Creech, director of missions for Birmingham (Ala.) Baptist Association, was asked by the president and general manager of the local CBS affiliate, Eric Land, to preview the miniseries and call him with a response.
“When I finished it,” Creech recounted, “I could not sleep, wondering what we could do with it.”
Creech called Land to voice his approval of the production May 11, and the conversation ended with Land lining up six commercial spots for the Birmingham Baptist Association at a reduced rate. Three spots were scheduled for both nights of the miniseries, May 14 and 17, but one extra spot was given during the final night.
Twenty-seven prayer partners from 17 Baptist congregations volunteered to staff the prayer line during the Sunday and Wednesday night broadcasts. The volunteers were trained by Jack Green, retired Southern Baptist missionary to Korea and the missions team leader at Huffman Baptist Church. Complimenting the group, Green said, “To respond on such short notice, you know when something great is going to happen.”
Green explained the role of the volunteers as that of an encourager and prayer partner.
“The fact of the matter is community relationship,” Green said. “We ought to be convinced that we are going to take these [callers] to the throne of God through prayer,” he said prior to the Sunday evening episode, which ranked No. 1, even above ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
A total of 126 calls came in during the two-night span, including 15 hang-ups and three complaints about the “unbiblical nature of the miniseries.” Of the 108 callers seeking prayer or information:
— Six resulted in professions of faith, including the spouse of a local minister.
— 18 were rededications of professing believers.
— Three were suicidal.
— Six requested prayer for their health or the health of a loved one.
— Six sought guidance and wisdom.
— 10 sought prayer regarding their finances.
— 15 wanted to pray about their family life.
— Seven needed prayer for the release of drug addiction.
— 14 wanted more information about Jesus Christ.
— Nine sought prayer and additional counseling.
— 21 needed prayer in general.
An e-mail address also was advertised during the commercial, but no messages came electronically.
Quotes from some of the callers included:
— “I feel guilty and alone; please help me.”
— “I am captive in my own home.”
— “I want Jesus.”
— “I’m like Herod, I want a sign.”
— “I know God loves me, but I’m not sure if people do.”
Along with the ministers and laypeople who served as prayer partners, Shirley Richards, corporate director of Samaritan Counseling Center, also was on hand as a trained counselor.
“The ministers and laypersons who did the initial response to the calls did an excellent job … and knew when to call me in,” Richards said. “The persons [I talked with] really needed professional help in addition to the prayer partners. They particularly wanted Christian counselors.
“While people may debate about the movie itself … the fact is it became an opportunity to share Christ and offer resources for people who needed them,” she said. “The people who called in seemed very grateful to have someone to talk with and were apparently in quite some crisis in their lives.”
Richards cited two aspects of the prayer line: church followups and Christian counseling followups.
“It is a good example of the local association and local church and local counseling resources working together,” she said.
James Shepard, a member of the prayer ministry at The Church at Brook Hills, saw the prayer line as an opportunity to reach people.
“There’s a lot of people who will never go to church, but [might watch this movie on] TV,” he said. “We don’t know what the Holy Spirit will do. And it is better to have a number to call than just to leave them without a way to get an answer to their questions.”
Norm Reynolds, also of Brook Hills, described his opportunity to lead a caller to Christ as “an awesome experience to see the Lord move.”
The female caller told Reynolds her life was a mess and she needed Jesus. “We reviewed [the plan of salvation], and she accepted Christ,” Reynolds said. “She was excited about Jesus living inside her and wanted to tell her co-workers,” he said.
“I’m excited to see needs met through this media — to see people respond and call out and see the Lord meet them about their need,” Reynolds added.
While volunteers responded quickly to the need for prayer partners and the prayer line happened almost overnight, Creech finds the most interesting twist to be Land’s initiative in making the opportunity available.
Land, who is Jewish, said, “For me it was a fascinating look at history and a history that, unless you are a theologian, you might not have the opportunity to study or delve into.
“It was a great opportunity for the Jewish community to have a better understanding of history and the New Testament,” Land said.
“I’m proud that CBS dedicated itself once again to providing top-notch programming, a quality production and a commitment to making the story not only historically relevant but also fact-based,” the station manager said.
“This was a win/win (situation) for everybody and most importantly for the viewers,” Land said.
“We were able to show Ricky how, with very few dollars, the association could reach a once-in-a-lifetime audience,” Land said. “Ricky and his group were supportive of the program and the quality in which it was produced and wanted to take an active role with the parishoners.
“I think faith issues along with family values have become more of an outreach from both churches and synagogues … where family values have become much more of an issue in everyday life,” Land said. “Going with that is religious observation and an interest in organized religion. As society becomes more frenzied, people need an anchor in their lives.
“CBS was able to fill that need,” Land said. “It is important that the message the Baptist association created not be related to one special episode. Hopefully the power of the media can be used to reach out.
“Television is a great denominator in our lives,” Land said. “Whether we live as Judeo or Christian, being able to share in each other’s history, I think, helps to galvanize society in general and bring it closer.
“If that special was able to do that, then I think it is incumbent on everyone to erase the lines of racism and bigotry and find new ways for us as a people to share and celebrate life, liberty and our pursuit of freedom,” Land said.