Last month, we described our “league-ness.” This month let us remind ourselves: the World Mission Prayer League is a community at prayer.
I write to you from the backbone of the Andes, the high altiplano of Bolivia. I have been invited to participate in the seventieth anniversary of the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELB), celebrated on September 7, and the fiftieth anniversary of Redeemer Lutheran Church in downtown La Paz, celebrated the following Sunday. The IELB dates its inception to the arrival of Ernest Weinhardt and John Carlsen in 1938 – our first Prayer League missionaries.
The theme of the celebration was “Seventy Years of Sowing.” Setenta años sembrando. The celebration represents seventy years of praying, too.
In the early days of our mission, Ernest Weinhardt described a fundamental commitment of our emerging community: “Prayer is our working method.” He goes on to explain exactly what he means: “Is there a need for laborers? We pray. Do we have a need for money, for government permits, for transportation, for equipment, for anything? We pray. We know no other way to meet the situation.”
The last sentence is especially telling. There are other ways to “meet the situation,” of course – even in 1938 when Weinhardt wrote these words. We might launch a marketing campaign, for example. We might urge special offerings. We might bribe our way to government permits, if they are needed. And if laborers are lacking, we might guilt or manipulate a “calling” or two, I suppose.
Weinhardt meant that we have chosen to “know no other way to meet the situation.” And he gives us his reasoning: “Prayer takes our eyes off circumstances, off appearances and focuses them fully upon the Lord of the harvest. He alone has the answers. He alone has the resources.”
I am reminded of a citation from Albert Edward Day: “The function of prayer is to set God at the center of attention.”
Prayer factors the living God into our lives and ministries. So there is a need for laborers? Prayer discerns the gracious rule of God, even in our need – and mobilizes the wayward or the timid for surrender to his calling. So there is a need for money, for equipment, for anything? Prayer factors God into the equation. Prayer can make little enough, on the one hand. And prayer can move greater obedience, too – deeper surrender, wider adventure, greater resources, than any other mechanism. It opens the door to gift, miracle, grace. And it opens the heart to surrender.
It has been humbling to participate in these anniversary celebrations with our ministry partners in Bolivia. Let me tell you, we have lacked much through these seventy years: funding, laborers, wisdom, strategy, health, perseverance, direction – and sometimes government permits, too. It has been deeply encouraging, too. If we look a little, we may see the fruit of “seventy years of praying.” We see a church numbering tens of thousands. We see vision and leadership as the church charts its way into the future. We see partners in ministry, who have taken their place in the mission of God in the world.
From the very beginning of our fellowship, we have chosen to pray. Not as a pious afterthought, but as a practical “working method.” We have attempted to “set God at the center of attention.” We have learned much in the process – and have very much still to learn. But we have seen God at work, too. Here in Bolivia, we have seen setenta años sembrando. Seven decades of prayer.