Current and Archived News Stories
By John Gardner
He narrowly escaped the wheels of a car driven by a robbery suspect trying to run over him. A broken leg, scars, and bruises from his narrow escape still ache from the experience.
Several days after the accident his wife asked for a divorce. So the police officer drove into the parking lot at Mountainside Seventh-day Adventist Church in Decatur, Georgia, where he pulled his car close to waiting members and asked, “Can someone pray with me?”
Gregory Saunders, pastor of Mountainside, and the team members prayed with him.
Starting With Prayer
Nestled in an Atlanta suburb, Mountainside sponsors a ministry that reaches out to the community, offering prayer and encouragement. The ministry, Prayer Drive-Thru Ministry (PD-TM), is the brain child of church member Norwida Marshall, Ph.D., retired elementary and early childhood education director at the Southern Union, and was launched February 2016.
Gregory Saunders (left), pastor of Mountainside Church in Decatur, Georgia, prays with a young man who rode into the parking lot asking for prayer.
Marshall credits the Holy Spirit for the idea, which weighed on her mind heavily for several days before she approached the church board for official approval to implement the plans. Elder Thelma Peterson was appointed to oversee the ministry. She invited volunteers Richie and Carol Cenac, Frank and Shirley Kelly, and Rose Vaughan to discuss and work out the logistics of the program.
A prayer box, cards for names and addresses, and signs were designed and placed around the church property, directing the community to the prayer box in the parking lot available 24 hours a day. Members pray onsite a couple days per month for those who stop by the church. By the end of September, more than 200 cars have been logged entering the parking lot for prayer.
Committee members say that ultimately, the goal is for souls to be saved by introducing them to Christ for commitment through baptism. There are also prayer boxes inside the church for members to leave requests.
Committee members, referred to as The One Accord Team, in addition to other volunteers such as Sylvia and Horace Stephens, Lynn Joseph, and Franklin Oliver, wave signs to passing motorists along the route in front of Mountainside Church as they drive by, inviting them to stop for prayer. The team, plus a few other volunteers such as Pennie Lister-Smith, Ed.D., retired vice president for education at the South Atlantic Conference, meet the drivers outside of their vehicles and pray for them as they sit in their vehicles, or meet under the church’s canopy if they choose. Ben Fitzroy faithfully assists with literature distribution, and keeps the pocket folders in readiness for the walk-ins.
“We ask participants about their concerns, requests, and challenges. Their concerns are first addressed,” said Marshall. “There are times when we will have a line of cars waiting for prayer in the parking lot. A school bus and garbage truck once parked in the lot. The drivers walked to the prayer area where walk-ins stop for prayer,” added Peterson.
The One Accord Team partners with Mountainside’s Community Services and Food Bank to provide food and clothing. “At the conclusion of each parking lot prayer, we suggest that if they are in need of food or clothing, they are invited to go to the next door for further assistance,” said Marshall.
These ministries, a blessing for the community and Mountainside, are under the leadership of Pastor Gregory Saunders, who often attends the planning meetings and personally intercedes with prayer for the ministry, and follows up with PD-TM participants.
Mountainside members are grateful and appreciative for the ministries. They provide good counsel and encouragement such as that from Lister-Smith, who “find fulfillment in knowing [I am] a part of providing a needed service to the community.”
Wayne Brewster-McCarthy, personal ministries leader at Mountainside, said, “The blessings of the ministry is the heartfelt response of the community. They affirm our efforts, what we are doing for the community. They let us know through various comments in community meetings.”
McCarthy shared that at a recent community meeting, Larry Johnson, a DeKalb County commissioner, expressed appreciation for the impact Mountainside is having in the community. Johnson could not remember individuals’ names, but he kept saying, “Mountainside! Mountainside!”
Nicholas Harper, 27, and Shavaun Jackson, 23, are two millennials who drove in asking for prayer. “[It] felt like a force pulling us in for prayer once we saw the sign offering prayer,” said Harper. Jackson continued, “We all need prayer. You can never get too much prayer. This is so rare, that someone invites you in for
prayer. Who does that?”
Despite the fact that PD-TM ministry only operated for just a few days during the course of a few months, and word has spread. South Atlantic Carolina Seniors have tentatively requested a presentation from Marshall on the ministry at its convention in September. And a faculty member in the theology department at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is in conversation about engaging Marshall to organize a Prayer Drive-Thru Ministry in a local church as a model.
As those involved in the drive-thru ministry often repeat: “To God be the glory, honor, and praise!”
—This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2016 Southern Union Tidings. http://www.southernunion.com/site/1/docs/Tidings/2016/Oct16.pdf