WICHITA, Kan. (BP)–Despite an ice storm that made traveling treacherous, about 150 people gathered Jan. 11 at a downtown church for a unique purpose — to pray that a serial killer would be captured.
Hosted by the Heart of Kansas Southern Baptist Association, the noon-hour meeting attracted pastors and members of numerous denominations.
Representatives of local, state and federal police, and government agencies also attended, including staff members from the office of U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R.-Kan.
“When we announced we were doing this people asked me, ‘Why is the church getting involved in trying to capture a serial killer?’” said Terry Fox, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, where the session convened.
“My answer back was: ‘Why wouldn’t we get involved? It’s something that’s affected our community.’”
The association decided to hold the event after news of an early December arrest of a possible suspect turned out to be a false alarm.
Known as BTK — a grisly acronym for bind, torture, kill –– the man is believed to be responsible for eight killings between 1974 and 1986, according to The Wichita Eagle. The case has been featured twice recently on the popular TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.”
Fox said the killer resurfaced last March by sending the first of several letters to police with evidence from crime scenes. Since then the topic has been discussed constantly throughout the region, the pastor said.
“You can’t go anywhere without hearing people talking about it in restaurants and other places,” Fox said. “It’s affected our economy. There’s a spirit of fear that’s come over our community.”
During a press conference that kicked off the event, the Southern Baptist pastor asked BTK to surrender.
He also quoted Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (NKJV), saying that prayer can “absolutely” make a difference.
“Part of his profile is he says he grew up in Sunday School and went to church,” Fox said. “We made that appeal to him — ‘You know what is right, you have chosen to do what’s wrong, but it’s never too late to turn your life around.’”
Pat Bullock, director of missions for the Heart of Kansas association, said the pastors and church members he talked to called it “very exciting.” The event attracted considerable TV, radio and newspaper coverage.
“It’s challenged me to pray more,” the DOM said of the meeting’s impact. “What we’re saying to the world is we believe in prayer. Now the world is watching to see if God answers prayer. My desire is God being honored.
“One of the main things it accomplished was encouraging people to pray and strengthening them,” Bullock added. “It made them realize prayer is vital, not only in our churches but in our communities.”
The pastor of an SBC church in a neighboring suburb said residents there are just as concerned as people in Wichita.
Phillip (Bo) Graves of First Baptist Church of Haysville led the public prayer for victims’ families, saying he hopes they will soon find closure for their pain and grief.
“What I got out of the meeting was a sense of oneness, of God’s people coming together to pray for families and that he will be captured,” Graves said. “The community sees that the faith community is there to pray and intercede for tragedies like this. [They see] we’re there to reach out to victims hurt by these situations.”
Joe Wright, pastor of Wichita’s largest church, was excited about the opportunity for various denominations to assemble and show a skeptical world there is power in prayer.
The pastor of Central Christian Church also sensed the Holy Spirit’s guidance in issuing an invitation to the killer.
“I had a feeling this morning as I was thinking about this news conference that we need to pray for his salvation,” Wright said. “So I looked at the camera and said, ‘If you’re listening and happen to see this, I want you to know God loves you as much as He loves me.
“‘You haven’t gone too far to turn back and come to Him in repentance, call on the name of the Lord and be saved. Then turn yourself in, because you’re repentant and want to do the right thing.’”
Wright thought multiple Catholics and Protestant denominations coming together was as significant as the prayer.
All pastors present were asked to have a time of special intercession during their Jan. 16 services; Wright hopes the unity will continue.
“It seems we get into controversial things and yet this was something that could bring the body of Christ together,” Wright said. “I would hope for long-lasting results, that we see [Christians] coming together to pray and work together on other issues.”
Fox said the community took notice of the unusual event. The Immanuel Baptist pastor received numerous calls and e-mails from non-Christians, thanking him for hosting the meeting.
“I think it showed the church is relevant and cares about hurting people,” Fox said. “We received tons of responses from victims’ families, saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. We really are hurting and this helps comfort us.’”
Although the city’s second-largest church averages 2,500 in weekend attendance, Fox expects an increase because of higher visibility from this effort.
However, he noted there is a downside. Several deacons and church leaders have expressed concern for the safety of their pastor and his family.
The apprehension is real, since BTK has told police about a demon who tells him when to kill and who to kill, with his victims’ names reportedly coming from the newspaper, Fox said.
But Fox added, “We really prayed about this and felt we needed to obey the Lord.”