NEW ORLEANS (BP)–At 5:30 a.m., all is quiet on the seminary campus. The sky is a deep purple, and the campus in New Orleans is illuminated only by the soft glow of the old-fashioned, wrought-iron lamp posts. Except for a few lone joggers, it seems nearly everyone within New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s gates is still asleep. At the Sellers Music Building’s recital hall, however, there is the sound of music and the quiet murmurs of people praying.
The Korean Student Association hosts an early morning prayer meeting each weekday from 5:30 to 6:30 when devoted Korean students slip into the darkened recital room and begin their day in prayer.
“We just follow what Jesus did,” KSA president Jin Kwon said. “In the Gospel of Mark, chapter one, He did many things in one day. He healed, and He preached, and He taught. And then, the next day, He woke up early and He prayed alone.”
The students began meeting for prayer last year in “a kind of ceremony for the beginning of the semester,” Kwon said. “But this year, we will have [the meeting] all semester because many students have requested it.”
Kwon contacted the dean of students for permission to continue the sessions in the music building’s recital hall. But they differ from traditional prayer services that are part of the Korean culture “because we don’t have a hymn or sermon,” Kwon said. “Normally, at a Korean prayer service there would be some worship and the pastor would bring a short message.”
During the informal student prayer meetings, each person prays individually and simultaneously with the others in a come-and-go atmosphere.
“We turn out the lights and play the music so that everyone can pray personally and leave freely,” Kwon said.
Kwon estimates that 30 or more Korean students attend NOBTS, two-thirds of whom live on campus. They are primarily Baptist and Presbyterian, he said, but all are accustomed to daily prayer services in their home churches. “It doesn’t matter the denomination,” he said. “The Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians — they all stress the prayer meeting.”
Shin Deok Ra, a seminary student who leads worship at Korean Agape Baptist Church in New Orleans, said many of the Korean churches in New Orleans also hold early morning services. “At my church we do every weekend, Saturday and Sunday morning at 5:30,” Ra said. “We have a service with the pastor and myself as worship leader. There is about a 10-minute message, and then everyone prays freely, and then they go home.”
Ra describes early morning prayer as a spiritual discipline rooted in South Korea’s history and culture. “Fifty years ago, one of the major industries was agriculture,” he said. “Everyone had to wake up before sunrise. But the church emphasized prayer, so the people would come to the church before work. They opened the day with prayer.”
For many Korean students, early morning prayer is not just a matter of self-discipline, but of spiritual need as well, Ra added. “This isn’t a mandatory meeting,” he said. “Year by year, I have realized that I needed prayer, so it’s self-discipline. We want to be faithful pastors. It’s not just discipline for us, it’s a very important time.”
Ra tells of one student’s wife who has felt moved to attend a prayer meeting for 100 consecutive days. “During the week, she can come here, and on the weekends she can go to church. So she never stops,” Ra said. “She’s a pastor’s wife, and she said, ‘I need to pray.'”
Korean students aren’t the only ones who have felt the need to commit to early morning prayer. Ra recounted that when he moved on campus three years ago, he served a church that had a daily prayer service. Each morning he would leave the dormitory in the predawn hours for his church’s service before going to class. His faithfulness had an impact on his roommate.
“At the time, my roommate was very surprised in the beginning when I started to attend the early morning service,” Ra said. “But he was very challenged and eventually he made a small group for early morning service, not at 5 o’clock, but at 6 o’clock. He talked to some of the guys in Hamilton Hall, and about five people would gather at a friend’s room and they would have a prayer meeting.”
Suzanne Davis is a master of arts student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an editorial assistant in the seminary’s office of public relations.