By Tony Twist
Meta and Emily resided at Westminster Retirement Village in Indianapolis. Their husbands, before going to be with the Lord, had been elders at our church. But these godly widows still intended to serve. So, they invested their days in prayer and reading God’s Word. Their daily schedule included at least six hours of “work time” organized around meals, appointments, and other activities.
Four decades ago, as a new youth minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, I had the privilege to learn from these humble prayer warriors how God brings power to ministry through prayer. Over a period of seven years, I watched God put together a rapidly growing disciple-making ministry for teens and young adults as these widows added to their “work schedule” prayers over ministry needs, personnel, resources, problems, and deadlines. God blessed us as we all joined Meta and Emily in praying through our weekly lists. Together we prayed into existence a ministry that grew from a dozen people to more than 500 in seven years.
Three decades ago, as the new president of TCM International, I again saw God’s power at work. The Berlin Wall collapsed and the Soviet Union imploded. Not long after that, I met humble prayer warriors from the former Soviet Union who, like Meta and Emily, had invested themselves in the ministry of prayer and God’s Word. These folks had for years prayed and fasted and studied God’s Word in a diligent, organized fashion. And in time, God powerfully worked.
Memories of these events were awakened in me when the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world and we could no longer travel and meet together. Not only did the pandemic provide us with more time to pray and fast, but we came to rely on these things—to rely on God—to a greater degree.
This pandemic-inspired reliance on more private and corporate prayer time has helped give rise to a movement TCM is calling PrayerFast.
PrayerFast is an invitation for the global church to unite and deepen our commitment to prayer and fasting. It is an encouragement to seek greater strength from his Holy Spirit to increase and expand disciple-making worldwide.
TCM sponsored the first PrayerFast gathering in November 2020. More than 500 people from around the world joined together online to receive encouragement and training in prayer and fasting practice. Throughout the event, participants broke into small groups to pray together online for God’s kingdom and his Great Commission.
The purpose of the gathering—the purpose of PrayerFast—is to foster a global network of people committed to regular prayer and fasting, asking the Lord to raise up disciples in every nation who will impact their churches, cultures, and countries for Christ.
A key focus of the praying and fasting is for God to undergird America. Global leaders of Spirit-led movements have told us they are praying for America like never before. They know if America crashes, at any time, it will have very negative consequences for their countries and missions globally.
We encourage folks who regularly attend and support the International Conference On Missions to familiarize themselves with PrayerFast and join in the movement, which will be a focus of ICOM over the next few years.
Pray for God to bring power to this ministry and movement to spread his Word and raise up disciples around the world.
RELYING MORE ON GOD IN PRAYER
Let’s backtrack for a moment.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the prayer warriors from that area continued to pray for TCM. (They probably were worried that this ministry’s young new president—me—did not have a clue.)So, they came alongside us to provide wise counsel and discipleship.
During this time, TCM transitioned from primarily a benevolence and church-planting ministry to include leadership training. The TCM International Institute was formed with an advisory board comprised of several key national leaders. We started with a handful of students, much appreciation for one another’s ministries, a shared vision, and with prayer and fasting support from lots of international “Metas” and “Emilys” (and their networks).
I met with prayer warriors from our U.S. churches who had also quietly been praying for the persecuted church. Their first question always seemed to be, “How can we pray now?”
As the ministry grew and the world changed, prayer warriors on both sides of the Atlantic taught us to rely on prayer as they did. When we did not know the next steps, they taught us to rely even more on prayer.
As TCM has grown during the past 30 years, it has been amazing how many times this basic truth kept revealing itself. Truthfully, we should not be surprised. After all, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
In the Gospels, Jesus modeled a life of prayer as he went about his ministry. Jesus rose early to pray (Mark 1:35-37), he prayed after ministry successes (Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 6:46), he prayed when facing big decisions (Luke 6:12-15), and he prayed for strength to follow the Father’s will (Luke 22:39-45). He rebuked his disciples for failing to pray and fast (Mark 9:28-29), and he encouraged his disciples to abide with him and ask for anything in his name (John 15:1-8, 16).
His life was so marked by prayer that his disciples asked him how to pray (Luke 11:1-13). And he gave us all one prayer we could grow into! He clearly taught that prayer was something a disciple learns to do, and that we learn best by praying.
In short, we should do more than just read about prayer. Real prayer power comes when we remain in the True Vine and pray.
Additionally, Paul reminded us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and he urged us to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18, English Standard Version).
The prayers by and on behalf of TCM over the years led directly, I believe, to 2,083 students from 48 countries participating in TCM’s curricular and co-curricular training programs this year.
Over the past decade, TCM has undergone another paradigm shift, as we began accepting students for leadership training from outside our historic area of service, the former Soviet Union. We removed all references to geography from our mission statement, and we began prayerfully seeking to be more a part of what God is doing in places where we had no prior history or relationships. In consultation and prayer with partner churches and organizations, we asked God to lead us to new places where we could add value, while continuing to serve our current partners.
As we touch base with new ministry partner churches and organizations, we often find we have traveled very similar journeys. Stories are being told of prayer warriors, and being blessed by global partners, and about rediscovering the basic truth of the Bible’s teachings about the power of prayer and fasting. We are rediscovering how prayer and fasting can bring the missing power of Pentecost that is often lacking in our churches and organizations.
In 2019, we were much encouraged by new partners like New Harvest (Shodankeh Johnson) in Sierra Leone—an entire ministry based on prayer and fasting that is bearing much fruit. We also observed this dynamic at work as we opened our first cohort in Kenya with Missions of Hope International (Wallace and Mary Kamau).
And then the pandemic arrived.
At first there was shock and disbelief; we felt led to quickly begin shifting all training, meetings, events, and programs online. We discovered we still had capacity but needed relational connectedness. Travel was impossible. So, we started praying together online. We were grateful that this was possible.
In May of this year, I finally returned to Haus Edelweiss, our instructional hub in Europe, after 15 months away. To the eyes, little had changed at the Haus in Austria . . . but I perceived a difference.
It was us. We had been pruned in various ways. Some of us had lost family members. Others struggled with visa issues. Personal and/or family COVID-19 issues had attacked half of us. Other ailments, trials, and problems surfaced among us as well.
Looking back, we now see that the ministry has been recalibrated into a “new normal.” Better “high tech” was accompanied by less “high touch.” The same computers that allowed us to “travel the world” did not allow for the type of community to which we were accustomed. We missed handheld prayers, joyful hellos, back-slapping stories, and goodbye hugs. We missed experiencing his love for us together at Haus Edelweiss.
But the pruning and new learning did advance TCM’s mission and vision. The new normal made possible more private and corporate prayer time. This deeper reliance upon God brought fruit in ways we had not anticipated. It led to greater efficiencies, reduced costs, the opening of new online cohorts in Kenya, Sierra Leone, the United States, and the launch of PrayerFast to undergird and celebrate what God is doing around the world.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster wrote, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” We desire to be a “deep people” rooted and grounded in prayer. PrayerFast was birthed out of a desire to deepen and to see the church globally deepen through prayer and fasting.
Coming out of the pandemic, many of you have discovered new ways of connecting, praying, and serving. The same is true with TCM and PrayerFast. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to align our prayers with even more of those praying from all over the world, uniting more of us together to fulfill his calling and mission?
We can all do that as part of the International Conference On Missions.
This type of prayer will become a key focus of ICOM over the next four years. Our prayer and fasting request for ICOM 2021-24 and beyond will be that God’s Holy Spirit will unite, empower, and mobilize prayer and Disciple-Making Movements to impact our churches, cultures, and countries for Christ.
So, please pray, come, and recruit all the “Metas” and “Emilys” you can.