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Prayer meeting in town’s gazebo affects local drug culture

MOUNT VERNON, Ky. (BP)–Soon after Jewel Hansel and Shirley Cox started a community prayer meeting four years ago, they saw a visible demonstration of what God was about to do in their town.

One night as they returned home from a dinner out with their husbands, they saw two preachers –- one Baptist, the other Pentecostal –- warning people of the need to repent.

After stopping their car, they saw two teenage boys who were carrying a large cross through the main park in the town of 2,600 in south-central Kentucky. Talking to their mother, they learned the boys were from Ohio. God had awakened them one night and told them to carry the cross around the nation while preaching the Gospel, their mother said.

“We haven’t heard any more about them, but we felt God was telling us what He was getting ready to do,” Hansel said.

She and Cox learned to watch for God at work in an “Experiencing God” course at First Baptist Church of Mount Vernon.

Right after the course concluded, several members began meeting at a gazebo in the park each Thursday morning to pray about the drug problems wracking their town.

But as they continued, Hansel said God led them to expand their prayers to their state, nation and world. They asked God to reveal Himself so that everyone would recognize His power.

Interest in prayer spread; eventually, the group moved to a community center. Then a second group formed in the evenings to allow more people to participate.

Although each only averages 10 to 20 participants, Hansel said missionaries have visited from Guatemala, Israel, Honduras and other places to learn more about what God is doing there.

In late July, a group of 30 seminary students from Indiana visited Northside Baptist Church in Mount Vernon during a tour of Kentucky churches.

Northside is pastored by Chad Burdette, a reformed drug addict. Since he took over as pastor in 2001, the church has grown from about 30 people to 400.

In addition, about 10 former drug addicts who accepted Christ as Savior under Burdette’s pastorate now attend the community prayer meetings, Hansel said.

While methamphetamine labs, heroin and other drugs are still in the community, Hansel said the situation is much better than it was four years ago.

Hansel is so convinced that God will do even more that she took early retirement to devote more time to Bible study, prayer, counseling and public speaking.

“My personal passion has always been for prayer, for almost 29 years, so prayer is not new to me,” Hansel said.

“But I’ve seen more the past four and a half years of how God is working through united prayer than I’ve ever seen before. I’ve experienced a new realm of what God can do when the body of Christ unites in prayer.”

Cox, a Mission Service Corps volunteer specializing in photojournalism, also has experienced times of powerful leading in prayer.

Two years ago, after meeting an MSC volunteer who started a ministry to needy mothers, Cox felt prompted to call and ask if she needed more diapers.

As Cox drove to deliver them the next day, she sensed God telling her the trip wasn’t about diapers, but about writing Bessie McPeek’s story.

Stopping to buy pens and paper, Cox interviewed her. The resulting story will be featured on the cover of the October issue of Missions Mosaic, published by the Woman’s Missionary Union.

“When I prayed in that group for God to touch the state, nation and world, I had no idea He was going to use me,” Cox said. “Prayer is my life, my breath, and it’s increased my faith tremendously.”

Cox, who attends Northside Baptist Church, said the growth of the church -– which recently moved to a building more than twice the size of its old sanctuary –- is one of the most amazing stories in Mount Vernon.

Another she named is Christ’s Outreach for the Blind, a 900-acre camp three miles south of town scheduled to open next summer.

Located on land formerly used to grow marijuana, Cox said founder Mike Gates (himself blind) has had his life threatened since he reclaimed the property for God’s purposes.

The hearts of volunteers helping develop the camp have been touched, Cox said, with nine people accepting Christ as Savior this year.

Other MSC volunteers in Kentucky also recount stories of answered prayer, such as Frank Plewinski, a member of Crestwood Baptist Church in Crestwood.

Plewinski took early retirement last year to devote more time to the Dodii Foundation. Named for his wife’s mother, it supplies Scripture-based greeting cards, hand-crafted dolls and other items to cancer victims.

A resident of LaGrange, Ky., Plewinski felt God calling him to devote more time to the ministry three years ago. But as the manager of a manufacturing plant, he said he didn’t have the time or energy after working long hours.

He and his wife, Cindy, began praying about his retirement. They also prayed periodically with Larry Martin, leader of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s missions growth team.

Two years ago the plant offered early retirements, but Plewinski wasn’t old enough. Last year the company made him an offer, even though he was two months shy of his 55th birthday.

After accepting the offer as of June 30, the company asked him to work one week a month for the rest of the year. That gave him extra income and made a smoother transition away from his longtime occupation.

In addition, he saw how his experience in learning about plant finances and managing employees helped prepare him for his role as the foundation’s chairman.

“I tell people, ‘If you want something done, go to the [Kentucky] Baptist Convention and have them pray for you,” Plewinski said. “Churches are missing out on opportunities in the Baptist family.”

Linda and Larry Otterback of Woodland Baptist Church in Middletown also have seen God move in many ways since starting monthly mission trips to eastern Kentucky.

After helping distribute goods at a ministry center for two years, in 2002 they formed Eastern Kentucky Sonrise to sponsor spiritual retreats for men and women. Linda said at a session last October, all but two of the 135 women attending answered an altar call to commit their lives to Christ.

Her husband has been so touched by what he has seen that he has closed his business to apply for work as a chaplain.

“We’ve heard story after story about people who went home and no longer live in bondage,” Linda Otterback said. “So many have come to the Lord, I didn’t keep track. I couldn’t.”

Their latest answer to prayer involves a retreat tentatively planned for late October at Fort Campbell. A large Army base, it spans parts of western Kentucky and Tennessee.

For five months they tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with the base chaplains. After numerous prayers, Larry Otterback reached the head chaplain in early July and discovered he was receptive.

“My husband and my lives have changed so much,” Linda Otterback said of the difference prayer has made.

“We were Christians and churchgoers all our lives, but we didn’t follow the Lord. We are so on fire for God that’s all we care about. We pray about everything.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker