TUSTIN, Calif. (BP)–Two newcomers attended a free Wednesday evening barbecue in late June at The Main Place Christian Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation amid the sprawling suburbs south of Los Angeles.
One woman was embroiled in a legal dispute with her mother and other family members. The other had just escaped from an abusive relationship. Although the woman had found a temporary home, she didn’t have any money for food.
Seniors pastor Martin Mosier met both women earlier that day at the church’s drive-through prayer booth, a 7-by-10 foot building that used to hold a photo developing shop.
Located in a strip mall across the street from the church, the unique outreach has prompted a stir in the community since it opened in mid-March. It has also been featured in the Los Angeles Times and on National Public Radio.
While the booth hasn’t prompted major numeric growth or an influx of donations, missions pastor David Cottrill said it has spread awareness of the church across the region. More importantly, he believes divine guidance is behind the project.
“Someone’s coming onto our turf, which gives us an excellent opportunity to point them to Jesus Christ,” Cottrill said. “We get the sense that a lot of people have nowhere else to go. They don’t have a priest, pastor or … anyone else they can talk to, and we have a lot of people who don’t know what their need is.”
After praying with the two women in distress, Mosier said both had tears in their eyes. They also expressed their gratitude that someone was available to talk with them — and provide them a meal.
“I know from being there it’s a blessing,” said Mosier, one of 10 staff members who cover the booth during the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We have people come through who break down and weep because they’re going through a divorce or a child custody battle.
“We feel it’s a timely ministry,” Mosier added. “It gets us out among the hurting. It’s exceeded our expectations in meeting needs and showing how desperate people are for prayer. This is the kind of ministry that every church can do.”
The Main Place acquired the booth last year as part of a lease agreement for an office-supply store it operates in the mall.
Opened in early 2001 at another location, “Office Stuff” offers goods at 25 percent off retail price. The merchandise comes from partially-damaged returns and donations from large companies, Cottrill said.
The office-supply store and a Goodwill-type thrift store around the corner are used for ministry, with staffers trained to pray for customers when the need arises, Cottrill explained.
Originally, the photo booth became a flower shop, with the church often delivering flowers to hospital patients and community residents who had received various awards. But, Cottrill said it wasn’t financially viable and after a year the staff began discussing other uses for the space.
Cottrill credited senior pastor Rich Mathisrud with the idea to open a prayer booth. A successful businessman who became a Christian at 30, Mathisrud is always “thinking outside [the lines],” the missions pastor said.
“It wasn’t odd for us to go into a prayer booth because we’ve had the thrift store for 10 years,” Cottrill said. “It’s normal for staff people to pray with others. This is just one more place where people can go for prayer.”
In addition to a sign advertising “Free Prayer,” the church of 500 offers free 16-ounce bottles of water and Bibles. During a typical week, it gives away a case of water bottles and thus far has distributed about 40 free Bibles.
The first set of Bibles were in English and Spanish. Thanks to a donation from the North American Mission Board, the church recently acquired versions in Arabic, Chinese and two Indian dialects. It hopes to obtain some in Farsi to serve a large Iranian community in neighboring Irvine, Cottrill said.
The booth had been manned initially by staff members. But the weekend of June 21, six volunteers from Sunday morning fellowship groups began prayer duties from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Six different groups will cover the weekends on a rotating basis, according to Cottrill.
No census of conversions or answered prayers is being taken. But Cottrill knows that people have found jobs, clothing, places to live, and seen other breakthroughs in their lives.
Each request is forwarded to the church’s prayer group, which meets at 5:30 a.m. during the week and one Friday a month at 7 p.m., he added.
Don Rayl, the church’s pastor of prayer and a high school baseball coach, recently prayed with a teenage girl who accepted Christ as her Savior. On each of his visits to the booth Rayl has prayed with at least two people.
The prayer pastor also looks for additional involvement as awareness of the booth’s effectiveness spreads.
The church advises volunteers to avoid confrontation or trying to meet every need and simply share what Christ has done in their lives.
“We tell them not to push on people, just love ’em,” Rayl said. “We don’t want to grab people and be forceful. We want to approach people the way Jesus did and tell them how they can know Him in a personal way.”
Interestingly, half the people who come for prayer are members of another church. They either have a need that day or know they can share requests that will remain confidential, Cottrill said.
Others offer encouragement, like the member of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Calif., who stopped by recently.
“He was thrilled that we had the booth,” Mosier said. “He said, ‘I’m blown away by it. I love the concept. I’ll be praying for you because this is a wonderful ministry.'”
A veteran of international mission trips, Cottrill said the prayer booth is similar to any outreach outside the church where people make themselves available to God.
The Main Place’s most valuable aspect is that it shows members they can minister to people any time and in any place, Cottrill said.
Although there is a popular conception that the unchurched aren’t that interested in hearing about God, the prayer booth has shown that vast numbers of people are searching for truth, he said.
Among the seekers in recent weeks was a man from Australia who had come to California hoping to market dot-com companies but hadn’t had much success.
“I encouraged him that he needed to be at home with his children and to do what was right,” Cottrill said. “Those kind of things make me know we need to be there on the street, because the Lord keeps sending us people.”