YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — COVID-19 has forced a change in plans for the national March for Jesus slated for Saturday, May 30.
But the pandemic has not derailed the day of praise and prayer. Now it will be called “PraiseWalk” in about 20 cities across the country.
“Plans have been altered, but God’s purposes have not been altered,” said Gary Frost, March for Jesus national director and associational missionary for the Steel Valley Baptist Association in Youngstown, Ohio. “In making this pivot, we’ve not lost our purpose to bring glory to Christ and to honor His supremacy.”
Frost, who is also a former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, vice president and national prayer coordinator for the North American Mission Board and president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, has been an integral part of plans to rejuvenate the March for Jesus, which was held during the 1990s in numerous U.S. cities.
Plans had been underway for more than a year as part of a five-year initiative. Festive marches culminating in worship gatherings were being planned by local organizers in 20-plus cities, from Oklahoma City and Pittsburgh to North Pole, Alaska, with a broadened reach envisioned each subsequent year.
“The thing I love about this,” said Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and a former SBC president, “is that folks are not giving in. We’re saying somewhere, somehow we’re going to lift up the name of Jesus in praise and prayer. I think the same thing can be accomplished that we have been praying for, just not in the numbers that we had originally anticipated.”
Luter is among 19 members of the March for Jesus advisory board. Even so, he said, “It’s something that everybody can be a part of” throughout the country.
Organizers have scheduled a 2021 March for Jesus for May 22.
In the PraiseWalk format, according to an online overview, “we are encouraging smaller groups, many as small as two or three, to scatter in their communities praising and praying as they walk, drive or even stand in their homes or their front yards.”
At noon, drawing from the words of Philippians 2 that “every knee shall bow” at the name of Jesus, the online overview encourages participants in their time zone “to kneel in place, raising their hands and audibly proclaiming, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ And then to remain in that posture for a few moments to praise the Savior and to pray His blessing upon the community.”
“We want to make sure we don’t present ourselves as defying any local, state or federal distancing guidelines, but at the same time, we want to celebrate Jesus on Pentecost weekend,” said Frost, referring to the Sunday when Christians mark the Holy Spirit’s descent upon His followers.
Frost added: “Those unable to join in kneeling or raising their hands are invited to find another creative way to demonstrate their praise to Jesus Christ.”
A downloadable PraiseWalk guide sets forth three focal points of praise of Jesus from Philippians 2:5-15 and five areas of prayer drawn from Philippians 4:4-20. The guide can be accessed at https://themarchforjesus.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/PraiseWalk-Guide.pdf.
Additionally, participants can access an 11 a.m.-noon broadcast in each time zone utilizing the PraiseWalk guide along with three accompanying songs. At the website of WVMBR Christian Radio (www.wvbmr.com), click the March for Jesus logo to download the app, which includes lyrics for the music.
A key distinctive of PraiseWalk — and March for Jesus — is the intention to “declare,” Frost said, noting it adds another dimension to the call for Christians to engage in prayer, care for others and share their faith.
“There’s something about praise and celebrating Christ that has supernatural power and authority,” he said, “and so we want to tap into that, to declare the lordship of Jesus Christ in the midst of an unsettling time.
“While coronavirus is a physical virus that’s going to destroy physical lives, we have a common enemy in sin and lostness that started in the Garden of Eden and spread very quickly and has a 100 percent death rate.”
He added: “We must not get so caught up in fighting the virus that we’re not helping people be ‘vaccinated’ through the blood of Jesus Christ” for their eternal destiny.
Frost acknowledged that COVID-19 has left a wake of questions among people grieving the loss of a loved one. Drawing from the book of Job in the Old Testament, Frost said Job never understood why he lost his children and his wealth, nor was he aware of the permission God had given to Satan to inflict such calamity.
“There was a spiritual dynamic all around his situation that Job was never aware of,” Frost said. “When Christians try to come up with pat answers to unexplainable events, we do a disservice to God. And we turn people off. I think people can handle more than we realize, that there are mysteries here. … If nothing else, trust God. Even though you don’t understand God’s hand, trust His heart.”
Luter said he is praying that God will “heal the land,” the promise he recounted in a recent sermon titled “The Cure for COVID-19” from the familiar words of 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“That’s where the body of Christ really needs to step up to the plate, to call on God in prayer, humble ourselves, confess our sins and be light and salt like Jesus told us,” Luter said. “When we really do that and mean it, then I really believe we could see healing of the land.
“Obviously there’s no remedy at this point as far as medicine, or a shot, or a pill you can take. It’s like a plague back in Egypt in the Old Testament. The only thing that can really bring healing is for us as the body of Christ to do what God’s Word tells us to do.
“It really is a major part to play. But I’ve always said that I would never, never, never think that God would require us to do something and not equip us to pull it off.”
For information about the 2021 March for Jesus, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The May 30 PraiseWalk will occur the same day as the culmination of GO 2020 (https://www.go2020.world), an expanded emphasis of the annual Global Outreach Day, this year entailing a month-long call for 100 million Christians to share their faith with 1 billion people.