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What Do Prayer Walks Achieve? A Church’s Birth Story

The Sunny people are hard to reach. Not just spiritually, but physically. Living in remote mountains and valleys in East Asia, straight, well-paved roads can be hard come by if you want to visit a Sunny village. And so you have to improvise. Maybe ride a dirt bike or a bicycle or a pickup truck. Sometimes kayaks are necessary.

All of these modes of transportation have been used by John* and the prayer walking teams he led as part of taking the gospel to the Sunny.

Numbering more than 100,000, the Sunny are poor, subsistence farmers. Traditionally, they hold a mixture of Buddhist and animist beliefs. As of 2012, there were no churches amongst the Sunny and less than 10 Sunny Christians. That’s when the prayer walks began.

The Harvest is Plentiful?

John had been in the area for a few years by that point, learning about the Sunny culture while working with a business. The idea of using prayer walking teams stemmed from reading Luke 10:2, where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” John knew that other Christians, from all around the world, needed to be involved with the Sunny if they were to experience spiritual breakthrough. Workers of all kinds and durations, including short-term prayer warriors, were needed for the Sunny.

Between 2012-2016, more than 45 prayer walking teams visited John in Southeast Asia and prayed amongst more than 200 Sunny villages. Most of the teams came from the U.S., but groups from Singapore, Australia, Thailand, and other parts of the world came as well. The trips lasted from three to 10 days.

Michael Williams, Prayer Mobilization Manager for OMF U.S., notes the special role that prayer walking can play in working amongst an unreached people group. “There is something that awakens when I am in the geographical context in which I am praying,” he says. “When you pray onsite, you get to smell, taste, and see what you are praying for. It inspires greater prayer with more depth and insight.”

Preparation for prayer walking trips usually often takes longer than the trips themselves. John was constantly in contact with trip leaders coming to pray for the Sunny, suggesting ways the group could begin praying before the trip as well as providing logistical details. The teams were required to begin prayer walking in their home country before coming to Asia to do so. Once arriving, the team was given at least a full day of orientation, during which John would explain God’s heart for the nations and the role that prayer walking could play in God’s work amongst the Sunny.

Praying in Person

Having been prepared and oriented, the group would then set off to pray. The format for prayer was pretty simple, John explained. The group used each hand as a way to remember how to pray. On the five fingers of the first hand the team would pray for “open hearts, open heavens, open homes, open highways, and open hands.” The other hand reminded the team member to focus prayer on five different types of locations: government, education (e.g. schools), marketplaces (businesses), community places (parks, restaurants etc.), and place of worship (temples).

Persevering in Prayer

As the groups went along, they would not only pray, but also build relationships with the villagers. Sometimes, they would pray for various medical or spiritual needs that some of the Sunny people they met had. One year, a team met a guy who had problems breathing; they prayed for him and it got better. The next year, another prayer walking team went back to his village and the man wanted to be baptized. Others in the village did the same. Later, John went back to train a small group of believers. It was the beginnings of a Sunny church.

Groups encountered a variety of challenges while prayer walking. Occasionally, mechanical issues with a dirt bike could arise. John related the story of how a screw fell off one of the team member’s tires in a remote area. Soon after, a mini-van pulled up and had the exact screw that was needed to fix the bike; the group was able to continue on the prayer journey. Sometimes, however, the challenges were more serious. There were times when the village leaders didn’t trust the foreigners visiting their village or when police asked them to leave.

Spiritually, one of the challenges was to persevere in prayer. John notes how there was one area that prayer walking teams visited multiple times over a two year period before seeing anyone place their faith in Christ. Over time, though, more and more Sunny became followers of Jesus in that area, as well as throughout Southeast Asia. Today, there are nearly 250 Sunny believers and six Sunny churches. John credits God’s work through the prayer walks as a major reason for the growth.

“Every significant place where we’ve seen spiritual breakthrough had been prayer walked before,” he says.

John’s work has now shifted from leading prayer walking teams of mostly foreign Christians to discipling Sunny believers, who are now doing prayer walking themselves amongst unreached people groups in the area. God has answered John’s prayer from Luke 10:2 in multiple ways – by raising up prayer walking teams, of course, but also by mobilizing longer-term workers from amongst the prayer walking teams, as well as people supporting the work financially, and now raising up Sunny believers to take on the work themselves.

Will you pray for Workers in New Communities?

  • Give thanks for how God has answered the prayers of those on the many prayer walks, which have prepared the ground for a Sunny church.

  • Pray for other unreached people groups that need prayer like the Sunny people.

  • Pray for more Christian to go on prayer walks in unreached areas and make a real impact through their prayers.

  • Pray for those who went on prayer journeys among the Sunny; that they might continue faithfully praying, perhaps go on other prayer trips or become involved in other ways.

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