By Mark H. Hunter, Regional reporter
[img_assist|nid=8103|title=Prayer on Capitol Steps|desc=Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins addresses several hundred Baptists participating in the final “Awaken” prayer service, which took place at the State Capitol April 29.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=431]BATON ROUGE – The Awaken Wave of Prayer washing across Louisiana since early March crested on the Capitol steps the evening before the state officially celebrated its bicentennial.
Several hundred Baptists from dozens of churches joined David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and other state and convention officials on April 29 to worship in song and to pray for a state and national revival. The Capitol steps event culminated meetings in all 64 parishes to celebrate the Convention’s bicentennial, nearly all of which Hankins personally attended.
“We’ve had good prayer meetings every place we’ve been,” Hankins said in a brief interview prior to the final service. “We’ve had anywhere from a dozen or two to more than a hundred in several places. I’m glad I did it. I’ve had a great time, I’ve met a lot of great people and I’ve been encouraged everywhere I’ve gone.”
Winter Case, 74, and his wife Betty, from Gloster Baptist, parked their chairs on the sizzling, sun-drenched steps an hour before the meeting even began, while Convention staffers were still setting up the sound system.
“We’ve been involved in prayer at our church for a number of years; we meet each Tuesday to pray for revival for our state and nation,” Case said. “This is another opportunity to come together and petition God into our national affairs.”
[img_assist|nid=8104|title=Prayer groups|desc=As at each of the other 63 parishes, small groups formed to pray for individual needs as well as those of elected officials and the state and nation.|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=420]A rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic performed by a combined choir of about 60 musicians from a half-dozen area Baptist churches, directed by John Parker of Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, kicked off the service.
Randy Johnson, senior pastor of Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, welcomed the audience and asked God to “point us in the direction of those who are lost, who are hurting, God, that you would set our souls on fire for personal renewal, personal revival and personal holiness, and a burning desire to reach souls for Jesus Christ.”
In a previous interview, Johnson said his church participated in the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting in January, “to get everybody on the same page spiritually, praying for the same things and reading the same scriptures; to focus their attention on God.”
Several state legislators were in attendance and House Speaker, Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R., District 36, Lake Charles, thanked the group, “for your continued prayers for all of us, and please continue to pray for us.”
The choir sang a rousing version of Jesus Saves, after which Dr. Hankins compared this day to the day when Joshua planted a witness stone to commit the Israelites’ declaration they would serve only Jehovah.
“Louisiana Baptists are celebrating that God has blessed us across two centuries and for that we are grateful,” Hankins said, “This is the last meeting of 64 but the wave of prayer is just getting started. We hope it will continue and thousands of others will join our voices in lifting up our prayers to God for spiritual renewal.”
Hankins described how, 200 years ago, Joseph Willis, “our first Baptist preacher, born a slave of mixed blood – Cherokee descent – and yet he felt a call of God and made his way into the Territory of Louisiana against all odds, against opposition, even against some Baptist people who refused to ordain him.” Willis founded the first church west of the Mississippi River that still exists: Calvary Baptist in Bayou Chico, La.
Hankins called on the audience to pledge, “We will serve the Lord,” and continue to stand in opposition to an increasingly secular society that rejects God.
America was in a similar situation in the 1750s, Hankins said. There was widespread indifference, people cared more about profits than they did for things of the Lord and were skeptical of Christian truths.
“Then God’s spirit began to move and a Great Awakening came,” Hankins said. That resulted in widespread revival, including the Sandy Creek Revival that started Southern Baptists, as well as the salvation of Joseph Willis.
“What we’re here to do today is to ask God, ‘Can you do it again?’,” Hankins said. “Can you take this heritage of the Great Awakening and do it again? We are saying ‘Yes; We will serve the Lord.’”
Bill Robertson, director of LBC’s Pastoral Leadership Team, asked the audience to break into small groups and pray for a spiritual awakening in Baton Rouge and across the state and nation.
“I believe it was Dixie Smith who said, ‘Revival begins when you draw a circle, get in that circle and ask God to send a revival to that circle and it will come,’” Robertson said. “It begins in each of us individually, one at a time.”
After about five minutes of small group prayer, Tommy Middleton, executive director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, closed the meeting with a fervent message.
“There is an urgency for us to pray now like no other age that we’ve been in,” Middleton said. “I believe that we live in the best age in human history, the most exciting age in human history and, I believe, in the last age of human history.”
In spite of everything that is going on in the world, Middleton said, people can’t do much to change it except, “We can pray. We have the confidence to know that He hears us.
“Paul says we should pray for all men, all cultures, not just about America,” Middleton said. “It is about praying for the world.”
Jessie Martin, 13, was with a group of young people from Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
“It is important to keep religion in our government,” Martin said. “God answers prayer.”
Bill Pruitt, senior pastor of the 400-member Graceworks Church in Prairieville, said they participated in the 21 Days of Prayer, that it made a difference to him personally and to the church body as well.
“Any time you intentionally spend some time alone with God, God shows up and it overflows into the congregation,” Pruitt said. “I’ve been challenging our people to pray bold prayers: ‘God, use me for your kingdom.’”
Pruitt said events like the Capitol steps prayer service provides an encouragement to those who attend.
“It gives us a sense that we are not in this alone,” Pruitt said. “It shows us that there are others trying to make a difference in our community.”
When it comes to a prayed-for Third Great Awakening, Pruitt said, “I’ve been looking and praying for that throughout my lifetime. I want to see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we have not yet experienced.”
More than 600 churches participated in the 21 Days of Prayer, Hankins said after a prayer service that took place at Gonzales City Hall a few days before the final meeting.
“One pastor at a rural church said they met every day as a group for 21 days each evening and their attendance has doubled. We’re asking people to tell us their stories so we can put them on our web site and Facebook pages,” Hankins said.
Some churches are utilizing the 21 Days of Prayer program in the Fall, prior to the November elections, Hankins said, adding that the LBC plans a new prayer emphasis for next January, to include follow-ups of Awaken seminars.
“We think Awaken has awakened a new interest in what the Lord has been doing,” Hankins said. “The wave we’re experiencing. We don’t want to program it or prognosticate it; we’re just letting God control it.”