by Josh Punnoose
Before starting BUP, the BUP coordinator (Megan Collins) had asked us to begin praying for our time in the city. While I did this each night, I had little faith that my prayers would get answered. Over this past year, I have seen a lot of senseless violence and I heard the desperate prayers of my friends asking God to prevent further unjust deaths. Yet, despite these prayers, the violence and drug use in Baltimore has continued to rise and the population had continued to decline. Failing to see these issues change, I began to lose hope that God cared about the city. If he didn’t care about the city, why would he care about my prayers for the projects we would undertake to help the city.
This lack of belief in the efficacy of prayer led me to think that prayer was similar to cheering from the sidelines. If you cheer hard enough, you might share the emotion of victory or loss with the team, but, at the end of the day, your cheering does not impact the outcome of the game. The only way to actually change the outcome is to put yourself in the game. Similarly, I thought the only practical aspect of prayer was the emotional connection it established between a person and a cause, which could be leveraged to inspire the person to get involved in changing the city themselves. But prayer by itself would not change anything. To make real change, you had to “put yourself in the game” by volunteering in the community and creating the change yourself.
Coming to the Mount Clare neighborhood, though, I’ve seen a different perspective on prayer. We attended a weekly prayer service at the church we partner with, and, during the service, I saw church members feverently praying and being filled with the Holy Spirit. I could tell that their prayers emanated from a place of deep love for the city and a hope that it would prosper. But how could these people have so much belief that their continual prayers for the prosperity of the city will be answered when the crime and drug abuse in the city has continued to rise? To me, their hope seemed blind.
Later on in the night though, I had the opportunity to listen to the pastor talk and he told me a story about how prayer deeply convicted and transformed the life of a community member who had mocked Christ. I also saw the power of prayer to reach people who didn’t come to church when the pastor invited students to go into the city and pray for different families. As we reached the family we were to pray for, we found a huge crowd of people outside and found out that the family had other relatives over. This did not stop the pastor however, who beelined for the person he wanted to pray for and then began asking if any of the other family members had any prayer requests. After praying for every family member, I remember seeing them all smile explain to the pastor how much his prayer meant to them and the love they felt from it. Hearing this, I realized that the pastor’s actions gave the community a taste of Christ’s love and that God would use these seeds to further His kingdom.
This experience made me realize that, contrary to my perceptions about prayer for the city, God was not deaf to these prayers and that He is moving dramatically. I realized that part of the reason why I didn’t see God moving in the city was because my prayers were solely focused on macroscopic changes (e.g. changes in violence and drug abuse) to systems that have been building for decades and would take decades to fix. The prayers of the community church, however, were more focused, targeting families and particular street blocks. By answering these prayers, I realized that God was slowly moving the city towards the macroscopic changes that He desired for it.
So even though on a macroscopic level things may still seem to be going backwards, there is still hope because God is still at work in the daily lives of the people in this city. Thank you to all of the dedicated staff members at the church who, day in and day out, continue to work towards the goal of seeing a redeemed city. Your passion and dedication is so inspirational and I strive to make a similar impact when I go back to Minneapolis.
by Josh Punnoose