By Jessica Connor
JOHNS ISLAND—They make their circle in the brightly lit room, folding chairs crunched close together and well-worn Bibles resting on their laps.
For hours every Tuesday, starting around 11 a.m. and lasting well into the afternoon, the Rural Mission Prayer Warriors join hands to pray, sing and read Scripture, all for the glory of God. Sometimes there are six, sometimes 12, sometimes 40 or 50 “ it never matters. Those who gather together are linked in Christ; brothers and sisters armed with a singular purpose to cover Rural Mission and the people it serves in prayer, and to seek the face of God as one.
Rural Mission is an Advance Special Ministry of The United Methodist Church, existing for 44 years to provide quality, decent housing and crisis assistance for the Sea Islands rural poor. The Rural Mission Prayer Warriors started back in 1986, then called Sunshine of Prayers, to pray for the ministry.
I often say, ˜Lord, if I didn t have them as a pillow, where would I be? said Linda Gadson, longtime director of Rural Mission. Even when I feel I can t go on, I know they re there, praying to give me strength. I m not alone in this.
In the more than four decades it has been in existence to help the Lowcountry s least of these, Rural Mission has seen its share of prayer needs. The ministry started in 1969 to improve the lives of migrant families and their children at a time when the Sea Islands were chiefly agricultural. It has evolved as the island evolved, and today, the organization primarily helps repair the homes of very low-income people. It had a migrant childcare center until 2011, when it turned over the reins of that center to East Coast Migrant Head Start. Now it focuses solely on housing and crisis assistance.
Ben Crawford, one of Rural Mission s construction workers, said those committed to the vision give in any way they can. He uses his hands to repair; others lend financial support. The Prayer Warriors give what they have: the power of uplifted hands and hearts.
They can t work on houses, but they can cover us, Crawford said, noting how good it feels to have the Warriors prayers wrapping him close. It s a spiritual movement you receive, and it comes from the ambassadors of the Lowcountry.
Led by the Rev. David Williams, a Pentecostal Holiness pastor who himself used to labor for Rural Mission, the interdenominational, intergenerational Prayer Warriors usually ride over to Rural Mission in a bus and stay all day, singing at the mission s Seafood Jamboree that night. All week long, Gadson fills small yellow notepads in her looping cursive: prayers specifically requested by friends of Rural Mission or laid on her heart by the Lord above. On Tuesdays, she turns those notepads over to the Prayer Warriors, who come together in a powerful spiritual bond to bring them before Jesus.
Sometimes, people needing prayer will gather with the Warriors, sitting in the center of the circle as they lay on hands or anoint with oil.
The Prayer Warriors say they get as much out of the experience as they give.
Maxine Cruz, who used to work years ago with children at Rural Mission, would come pray with the Warriors on her lunch break. But she wanted to give more than she could just during a break from her job. Now upholding Rural Mission in prayer is a full commitment.
The word is so rich, and the Spirit is here, Cruz said, pointing out that the Bible instructs people to always be in prayer, and the Warriors try always to heed God s word. Prayer does one of two things: 1) It changes you, or 2) it changes the situation. Prayer is a weapon God has given us.
Fellow Warrior Ella Deas said she feels their prayers make a difference, and the kinship of believers is intoxicating.
It s like family, Deas said. I always feel better after I come.
Benjamin Grant said he keeps coming week after week because he is infused with the spirit of God.
He sends you here for a purpose, Grant said.
Williams, current leader of the Warriors, said Gadson encouraged him to be a part of the group back when he used to work in the field with Anderson Mack, who oversees construction for Rural Mission. Today, he has become a pastor and also has his own church.
The more I teach, the more God s word is clear, Williams said, noting how the power of prayer is always present, not only during their Tuesdays at Rural Mission, but every minute of every hour, and stronger as a deeper relationship is formed with God. You ve got to start speaking and believing, and you can have it.
Gadson said that as seasons change and new challenges present themselves, in the end, all Rural Mission really has is prayer “ and faith that they are doing God s will for the rural poor.
Tuesday after Tuesday after Tuesday, if it s two or 22, whatever number He gives, this room is filled with Him, Gadson said.
Prayer is more important to me than eating. I need that power on high, that relationship. I can go to Him, tell Him all my problems, and it s up to Him to change it. It s the weapon. Instead of going out and trying to beat something, try prayer.
All are welcome at the Prayer Warriors weekly gatherings. For more information, call Rural Mission at 843-768-1720 or visit www.ruralmission.org .