By Victor Knowles
One of the “curses” of being part of an independent fellowship like the Christian churches/churches of Christ is that congregations or agencies too often operate independent of one another, even within the same city. Sometimes there is little coordination of efforts and even less cooperation. Each church or parachurch ministry is busy doing its own thing, with little thought of fellow churches or ministries. Praying God’s blessing on other bodies of believers is almost nonexistent. As a result, many efforts are duplicated, monies are wasted, and a sense of togetherness is lost.
Not so in Joplin, Missouri, a city of 45,500 people, whose motto is “The Midwest at its very best.” I cannot speak for the nearly 20 Christian churches in the city, but I can speak with some certainty for a number of parachurch ministries headquartered in or around Joplin. These ministries, some large and some small, meet on the last Monday of every month, except for June and July, to encourage one another and pray for one another. This interdependent meeting is known as VIP (Victory in Prayer) Fellowship.
Facing a Crisis
VIP Fellowship got its start in 1987 when Joe R. Garman’s ARM Prison Outreach, International, was facing a financial crisis. Reggie Thomas, director of White Fields Overseas Evangelism, went to Ziden Nutt, director of Good News Productions, International, and asked if he would join him in calling a meeting of the Joplin preachers and parachurch ministry leaders to pray for ARM. Many responded to the call and their “sweet hour of prayer” was soon answered.
Thomas recalls, “Those who met and prayed that day were so happy about it that it was suggested we meet monthly.” For the first few years Thomas coordinated the meetings and then Garman took over the responsibility of mailing monthly letters and setting up prayer meetings, usually in local restaurants. Garman also gave the group its name, Victory in Prayer Fellowship.
Finding a Place
After 14 years of going from one location to another, a desire by many to draw apart in a special place led 15 Joplin-based Christian ministries to endorse the establishment of the Don DeWelt Strategic Planning and Prayer Center on the campus of GNPI in 2001. The center was built in a wooded area on a granite bluff above a beautiful creek that flows between GNPI and Ozark Christian College. Ziden Nutt said, “VIP Fellowship fits in very well with the design and purpose of the center . . . a place to ‘draw apart’ in the sweet communion of prayer.” Since our offices, Peace on Earth Ministries (POEM), are located in the west wing of the center, it became my happy duty to coordinate (via e-mail) the monthly prayer and fellowship meeting.
The DeWelt Prayer Center, named for Don DeWelt because of his love for and practice of prayer, has a 90-seat chapel, conference room with full kitchen facilities, and private prayer rooms. VIP begins with a luncheon provided each month by a different ministry. After brief reports and prayer requests, we retire to the chapel where we spend a “sweet hour of prayer” together. Each host leads the prayer time in a different way but we always pray, not for ourselves but for each other’s ministries. We all believe that God bestows the blessing where brethren dwell together in unity (Psalm 133).
No ministry seeks to compete with another ministry. All seek to complete one another’s ministry. There is a tremendous spirit of cooperation between the ministries who regularly meet to strategize and supplicate. Those ministries regularly represented include ARM Prison Outreach, International; Asia Outreach for Christ; Christ In Youth; College Consortium; Four State Christian Men’s Fellowship; Good News Productions, International; Haiti Christian Mission; Institute for Christian Resources—Jordan1; International Bible School; Literature and Teaching Ministries; Ninos de Mexico2; Ozark Christian College; Peace on Earth Ministries; Schrage Christian Ministries; ToyBox USA; White Fields Overseas Evangelism; Word of Truth Ministries; and World Evangelism Global Outreach. Occasionally we are joined by representatives of Spring River Christian Village, College Press, Covenant Publishing, or some other guest. Attendance usually ranges from 15 to 20.
Visitors are often amazed at the “world of good” that is being done around the globe by these Joplin-based ministries that meet together, pray together, and work together. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, King James Version). This spiritual synergy has resulted in an abundance of good things being done in the name of Jesus in about half the countries of the world. I am tempted to “boast” in each ministry, but since we are all “one body” in Christ I can only say that I am glad to witness each month the evident hand of God on the 16-year ministry of Victory in Prayer Fellowship.
Together in Unity
If you have a multiplicity of sister churches or Christian ministries in your city, why not consider meeting regularly to pray for one another? A plaque I’ve seen in more than one home says, “The family that prays together stays together.” How much more true of the family of God!
You will not only stay together, you will grow together. Remember, God bestows his blessing where his children dwell together in unity!
1Headquartered in San Jose, California, but whose Middle East representative lives in Joplin.
2Headquartered in Union, Missouri, but whose director of development lives in the Joplin area.
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri.