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Church carries cross across Missouri to pray for Baptists’ annual meeting

OSAGE BEACH, Mo. (BP)–At least 25 prayerwalking men from First Baptist Church, Oak Grove, Mo., took turns carrying an 11-foot, 75-pound cross from Kansas City to rural Lake of the Ozarks, site of the 166th annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

As they made their four-day trek, they were joined by uncounted others from churches where they stopped for prayer.

“We tried to stop at as many churches as possible along the way,” said Randy Messer, pastor of the Oak Grove church. “Our prayer was that messengers from the churches would come to the convention with broken hearts, empty agendas and humble spirits.”

Missouri, like Texas, is embroiled in a conflict that threatens to tear apart the state convention. It’s a conflict only God can resolve, Messer said during a prayer rally Oct. 29.

“We didn’t ask churches whose side they were on. We just asked them if we could pray,” Messer said. “Person after person and church after church said, ‘We’re not interested in the fighting. We’re interested in coming together as a convention and doing the mission of God.'”

Messer knows about doing the mission of God. In the summer of 1994, he said, God told him to prayerwalk while carrying a cross up and down every street in Oak Grove, which has a population of about 7,000 people.

In 1995 men from First Baptist carried the cross to Kansas City, about 25 miles west. The occasion: the annual associational meeting.

Clarence Lance was among those who carried the cross. He was a carpenter who had seen Messer lugging the cross through Oak Grove — and who had come to a personal relationship with Jesus as a result.

“We had stopped on an I-70 overpass and prayed for the nation, since I-70 pretty much crosses it,” Messer said. “Clarence said later that’s when he got a word from the Lord to carry a cross from coast to coast.”

The deacons and church body voted their approval, as they had for the first two cross-carrying ventures.

Lance built the cross out of pine from a parsonage that was torn down. A six-inch rubber wheel that protected the bottom of the cross and made it easier to carry brought the total height to more than 11 feet.

The conclusion of the 66-day cross-country prayerwalk coincided with the Promise Keepers March in Washington, D.C., in 1997. That cross was the one used in this past weekend’s prayerwalk for Missouri Baptists’ annual meeting.

Messer said he was impressed to go on this cross-carrying
prayerwalk after reading an article this summer in the Missouri state Baptist paper, the Word & Way, about the seriousness of conflicts among pastors and churches in the state convention.

“I’ve not been involved in convention politics,” Messer said. “Our church has been a part of five church starts since 1995, and we’ve baptized at least 100 people a year for the last three years. Our hands are full. We don’t have time for politics.

“But I was awakened night after night with a heavy burden of prayer, after reading that article,” Messer said. “I didn’t believe God would give us New Directions one year and the next have churches choosing where to go,” if a second convention were formed in Missouri.

“I took it to my wife. I took it to the deacons. And the church voted at our August business meeting to ask all the messengers of all the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention to come to the annual meeting with broken hearts, empty agendas and humble spirits.”

Messer said he doesn’t believe God wants there to be a split in the state convention.

“I believe he wants us to really be people of faith and trust him that he has an agenda that will hold all Missouri Baptists together if we’ll yield our hearts to him,” the pastor said. “I believe all camps have issues we need to iron out, but we are not to let those issues so capture us that the focus of our attention is taken away from Jesus, who the Bible says is the author and perfector of our faith.”