The City No Longer Forsaken

"They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." ~Isaiah 62:12

Saturday, May 10, 2008

24/7 Prayer at Hongo

We were spread out around the office space at Hongo, stuffing things away in backpacks, the last of the pizza boxes having been thrown away and the dishes dried and shelved. Kat reminded us that we had planned on closing the week of prayer with prayer, and we all turned to Takaaki. We all bowed our heads, and Takaaki, not used to Christian customs, after a slight pause asked, "Do I start now?" Smiles and nods all around.

"Our Father in heaven..." He paused often as he recited the Lord's prayer, but said it with confidence. Only one small chuckle from him when he got to the last line. "The kingdom...For the kingdom, and the glory...and the power are Yours. Now and forever. Amen."

The past three weeks have been a crazy blur of excitement. Three weeks ago, I got up the guts to tell Yasui sensei that what I wanted more than anything was to run a 24/7 prayer room at Hongo during the 10 days of prep for Global Day of Prayer. Two weeks of emails flying off my fingertips, of conversations with every Christian I knew, of leaving my shyness in the gutter and running into Assemblies of God churches, Kristo Kyodan churches, random Christian offices. Of trying to commandeer every Christian and leaning towards Christian person I know into spending at least one hour with God this past week.

There were so many surprises during these three weeks.

-A friend calling me right when I was struggling about the thought of whether God was really calling me to do this and whether I could really do it or not to say, "Did you ever notice in the story of David and Goliath that God never speaks to David? That David just trusts God and goes out to fight?"
-Sitting down in the Assemblies of God church after having failed to connect with the pastor only to have the leader of a campus Christian group say, "Hey, would you come to our party on Monday night?" Me: "Umm...I'm not a college that really okay?" Her: "Absolutely!" And proceeding to get connected with a great campus group where the leader really supported my idea and agreed to forward all my emails to the group.
-Walking into the Christian Center in Ochanomizu, getting shuffled to the Navigator's office, and then to the JEA office so that I walked into their meeting about the Global Day of Prayer that I didn't know they were having. They actually reported my information on a flier that went out to not a few churches in Tokyo. Yasui sensei was very surprised to see us listed on it! ;-)
-Going to the YMCA without really knowing what I would do there only to meet two of the four YMCA people I know right in the doorway because they arrived at the same time I did. One of them ran door to door and told his entire dorm.

It was the strangest thing once we actually started praying because my workload went way down. I would pause at different times of the day as I realized that someone was *always* praying in the little room my friends and I had put together. And it was amazing to think that it would flow without me doing a thing. Though there were still so many prayer hours open at the beginning that I was pretty nervous.

When I woke up Monday morning, so far as I knew, there were eight hours open on Monday and no one signed up to pray at night any night of the week (people had only signed up for Sunday night and Monday morning). There was also a huge gap Tuesday afternoon and other huge gaps later in the week.

Another huge surprise was arriving at Hongo Monday morning to look at the prayer schedule, only to find that a mysterious "Atago" had signed up to pray from 12am-4am every, single night.

We also got to meet Takaaki Monday morning. Takaaki is one of my non-Christian students who has been coming to church, English Bible study, Beginner Bible Class, and Christianity Today class for about six months now. I hadn't asked him to pray, but when he saw my schedule and all the empty blanks, he signed up to pray from 2-6 the very first night. I managed to negotiate him down to 2-5. And even after that, he saw there was an open slot from 8-9 the next morning and he signed up there as well. And later for two hours Tuesday afternoon. Then another hour on Friday and another two on Saturday.

My friend Jenae was praying from 7-8 that morning, and apparently he came right into the prayer room when it was his turn and informed her it was time for her to leave. I had been teasing Takaaki about his 2-5 prayer slot, telling him that sleeping did not count as praising God or praying. He told me very proudly when we came to take over for him at 9:00 that he had not fallen asleep.

There were still open prayer hours all day Monday, though. And I could not fill four of them. I sent out a desperate email, and by 10:00 on Monday morning I had the four hours I couldn't fill filled. Then I had some cancellations in the afternoon and had six open hours there. I was able to fill those and thought, "Well...Monday is usually my sabbath anyway..." but then I went to hang out at Carol's and Carol and Charity both signed up for two hours each. So, I thought I was at two hours of time in the prayer room. Then I got an email while I was in there praying that said, "I hope you saw on the schedule that I signed up to pray!" I only got one hour with God!!!

It became almost funny, because the same thing happened on Tuesday. There were three hours open, and I was hoping to get them, and then people signed up and left me with just one again.

Wednesday we had our first person who forgot to come. The woman before her had already been praying for two hours and was ready to go home. I was in the middle of English class. The Hongo receptionist grabbed me during our class break to explain the problem. But maybe three minutes later, she came and grabbed me again. "Harui just came! You have to go up to the prayer room and see him!"

Harui is one of my non-Christian Beginner Bible Class students. He had originally signed up to pray with a church member at six in the morning, but he had overslept and not come. He had just randomly stopped by to ask if he could pray right then. He was the only person the entire week to do that and it just so happened that it was right at the only time when a student forgot to show up. God is too good!!!

So, I went upstairs to check on Harui. He was already sitting on a cushion, the "Seek His Face" prayer guide clutched in his hands. He started to stand up when I came in and apologized for not showing up earlier. I assured him it was fine and pulled up a cushion beside him. He said, "I don't know how to pray." I gave him the best 1-2 minute set of prayer pointers I could, let him know he could talk to God however he wanted, and then demonstrated by praying for his prayer time. I asked him if he would be okay and he said, "I want to seek His face alone." I ran back down to my class.

Wednesday was the day filled almost completely by Hongo church members. It was good to see all of them. They all made a point of coming to tell me, "I prayed." Or to wave to me from the window on their way up the stairs. One woman who I have never talked to before this (in fact, I once heard Yasui sensei tell her to ask me how many people were at Bible study and she went and had Etsuko ask me instead) came down to talk to me and said, "It's hard to pray for an hour at home, but it was so easy here!" It was a short, but real conversation.

Wednesday night I had only a short period of time to actually get food before I was supposed to get food, but I never made it because a man named Toshiyuki had returned to the prayer room (after 10:00 at night, I might add) just to check the schedule and see if he could get in to pray again. He had come the very first night and come an hour early just to plan out what he would pray for that night. Then he had signed up to pray again. Now he was back for the third time, even without a slot that was his. He started telling me how much he had really liked praying the other day because the day's topic was about children, and he had so many things to pray because of his recent trip to Indonesia. He was now considering signing up for an open 5:00am slot just to get back in the prayer room. He did. :-) And then he sent me an email telling me how sorry he was not to get to pray Saturday afternoon too.

On Friday as we were leaving Coffee Hour, yet another of my non-Christian students came up to me and asked if she could spend an hour in the room. I reminded her, "This isn't an English school event. It's a Christian event. Do you want to pray?" She turned back sideways, almost as though protecting herself. "Can't I just sit quietly in the room?" she asked. I told her only if it was praying and offered to come and pray with her if she wanted some guidance. She told me that idea was scary, but somehow agreed anyway.

So, at 10:00 this morning I found myself going off to pray with a non-Christian. I wasn't sure how I would lead her, but we ended up following a prayer guide in the room. I tried to give her as much freedom to pray as possible. We spent some time reading a Psalm and discussed it a little bit. We spent some time listening for God. We spent some time singing. We spent some time praying about her needs. I asked her what she would ask God for if she could ask him for anything, and she went right from sounding as though she were explaining it to me to asking God for it. It was for her mother to be able to get hearing aids so her parents could have normal conversations again. She entered the room pretty scared and left it thanking me for the time and how much she had enjoyed it.

Rather ironically, I finally got my long period of time in the prayer room. I think it was God's special gift to me...I needed those three hours in the prayer room just to be there and realize, "Here it is...the end." I spent a lot of time pleading with God...the scariest thing about running 24/7 prayer for the week is that a lot of people will think it's extreme, when really it should be the norm in Tokyo right now. I have left the week with a longing to do it again. But it's not time yet. Now I have a better idea how to build relationships so that it will run smoother next time. It's time to do some more of that, and to rest, even if I don't want to.

We sat around boxes of pizza tonight. There was lots of laughter. The mysterious "Atago" who had been my guardian angel for filling prayer slots turned out to be a man who had been praying at Hongo at night every once in awhile for two and a half years now. He said, "I felt a difference as soon as I walked into Hongo Monday night. It was easier to connect to God and much easier to stay awake." One of the VYM girls also said, "Yeah...I got into the room and countries kept popping into my head to pray for."

Takaaki prayed us off, friends scattered, Atago said, "Mata upstairs!" Which is kind of like, "Until upstairs!" "We'll see each other upstairs praying again soon!" I cleared off the table outside the prayer room but I couldn't bring myself to take apart even one part of the room itself.

This week has been a magical week of doing what fulfills me the most. I love leading people into prayer. I love watching them fall in love with God in a way that isn't academic but is about finding Him in that secret place where our heart goes out dancing with His. This week has been a small taste of what I want to spend my life doing. And as the taste has still been pretty small, it's grown both my longing and my faith that it can happen.

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