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Saturday, January 30, 1999

For World Prayer Center, real work has yet to begin

By Eric Gorski

The Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Four months ago, the doors swung open at a $5.5 million gray-and-white stucco building ringed by the flags of 54 countries and wired to pray for the world.

The World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs was envisioned as headquarters for a growing evangelical movement that uses prayer to introduce Christianity to "unreached" or "lost" people in nations where other religions dominate.

Thousands of prayer requests channeled to the center by fax, e-mail and phone would be farmed out for global prayer. The building would be open around the clock.

It isn't happening. The doors are locked each night at 11 p.m.; security issues have yet to be worked out.

But more importantly, the prayer-based center is waiting on a worldly item: a high-tech computer network to field, prioritize and send requests to like-minded groups, churches, smaller prayer networks and others worldwide.

Chuck Pierce, the prayer center's executive director, said the system should be up and running by May.

The center still needs money to establish the network and does not have a fund-raising strategy beyond praying, said Brian Kooiman, Pierce's assistant.

Until that happens, the prayer center is a little less than bustling. Sure, people are being prayed for, requests are being heard and other activities are being held. But the real work has yet to begin.

"We're just waiting for our commander-in-chief to tell us what to do -- and that's God," said Elaine Landerman, one of about five full-time, on-site "intercessors" -- people who believe they have been called by God to pray for a living.

As it stands today, the 55,000-square-foot World Prayer Center is part church, part conference center, part office building, part hotel. There's nothing else like it anywhere.

It houses three evangelical ministries: Christian Information Network, a ministry of its neighbor New Life Church; Global Harvest Ministries; and the Wagner Institute.

The three are dedicated to the world-prayer movement, estimated to involve 50 million people in 120 countries. The movement is based on the belief that focused prayer can make a difference in the lives of the people being prayed for.

So what do the 50 people working at the World Prayer Center do every day?

Bobbye Byerly, director of prayer and intercession, says her computer is clogged every morning with some 100 e-mailed prayer requests from around the world.

While the main computer network lies dormant, the center is fielding a limited number of prayer inquiries arriving by fax and e-mail. Word of the prayer center has spread via news stories and other prayer networks; the center's fax number and e-mail address have been posted on Internet news groups and discussion boards.

After the requests arrive, they are tossed in a basket and prayed for by intercessors and others in homey suites that look like living rooms.

"We don't have our millions (of people praying) yet, because we're not set up for that," Byerly said.

Intercessors pray roughly four to eight hours a day, usually for nations or large groups of people. Some hold full-time jobs and volunteer their time to pray in the morning, after work or on the weekend. Others are retired and secure financially.

There are no special words or set structure for intercessors to follow when they pray, Kooiman said. An intercessor may spend an hour praying for two requests. Or they may spend that time praying over a long list of requests.

But don't expect a "so-many billions served" sign outside the World Prayer Center.

Joseph Thompson, the building manager, said as far as he knows, no one has counted how many prayer requests the center has fielded.

"It isn't something that's significant," said Thompson, who also is a New Life associate pastor. "What is important is that they keep coming in and we concentrate on praying for them."

Thompson said the most common type of request is a "warfare prayer." These, he said, target "spiritual forces that rule a country and create a blindness" -- forces such as paganism, poverty or famine.

The world-prayer movement is steeped in military terminology because its adherents think spreading Christianity is like going to war; when guiding tourists through the building, Thompson gestures out the window to the Air Force Academy and NORAD and speaks of prayer en masse as an "air raid" on evil.

The center was designed to answer these nation-based prayers rather than individual ones asking for, say, Grandma to get over a cold.

The center has organized other group prayers in addition to intercessors' and other employees' work.

Since December, the prayer center's 500-seat chapel has been host to a "prayer for the city" at noon on Wednesdays. Over a pre-recorded soundtrack, a worship leader shouts praise into a microphone and tickles an electronic keyboard as people in the crowd sway and bob, arms outstretched and palms skyward.

At first, the crowds numbered about 25. They've grown to 100 and include college students, mothers pushing strollers and working people on lunch hour.

"I just appreciate the focus and the opportunity to pray," said Dave Davies, director of planned giving at the International Bible Society, a short drive away.

The center will have its first big test of its conference capabilities Jan. 28-30, when about 2,500 people are expected to attend a conference on prophesy.

Other people also can go to the center for more private retreats -- prayer or fasting. The center rents seven rooms for $65 a night -- more for suites -- with all the amenities of a hotel. Four small rooms with cots, called "prayer closets," go for $5 a day.

Thompson said one woman, the head of a national intercessory ministry, fasted and prayed for 40 days at the prayer center.

The center's architects purposely left food services out of the design -- in part out of deference to fasters. There's a kitchen for those who want to prepare their own food.

The only people regularly there all night are two youth-program interns who sleep on bunk beds in a north-wing room. Jason Winslow, 23, of Iowa, and Brian Worster, 19, of Ellicott, Colo., help run a New Life youth program that uses retreats, rallies, prayer and fasting to encourage full-time service to God.

"At night, I can just go down there and pray," Worster said. "You've got all the flags lit up around you. You start praying for yourself and you end up praying for the people in other countries who've never heard of Jesus."

The center was designed to inspire visitors to think like Worster: to pray big.

Landerman, the intercessor, believes she received a calling from God that was similar to the one that drove New Life Senior Pastor Ted Haggard to realize his vision for the prayer center.

Seven years ago, Landerman says she experienced a vision of mountains. She scribbled the memory in her journal, not knowing exactly what it meant. She continued praying.

Three years later, she said, it became clear to her that she was to move to Colorado Springs. Today, she volunteers for Global Harvest Ministries, praying for the city, the mayor, the City Council, churches, the region and the state.

She figures that God has a plan for when she -- and the prayer center -- will be truly networked to the world.

"When you're an intercessor, you know God is going to have his way," said Landerman, 61. "It's like being in a battle and soldiers waiting on the field. You just wait to be told to march. That's what we're waiting for here."


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