October 1, 2016

U.S. Church Offers a Prayer Drive-Thru

North American Division

The police officer narrowly escaped the wheels of a car when a robbery suspect tried to run over him.

A broken leg, scars, and bruises from his close call 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 the Mountainside church, and the team members prayed with him.Gregory Saunders, left, pastor of the Mountainside church in Decatur, Georgia, praying with a young man who rode into the parking lot asking for prayer. (Thelma Peterson / NAD)

Nestled in an Atlanta suburb, the Mountainside church sponsors a ministry that offers prayers and encouragement to the community. The ministry, Prayer Drive-Thru Ministry, is the brainchild of church member Norwida Marshall, retired elementary and early childhood education director at the Adventist Church’s Southern Union, and began last February.

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 plan. Thelma Peterson, a church elder, was appointed to oversee the ministry. She invited five volunteers — Richie and Carol Cenac, Frank and Shirley Kelly, and Rose Vaughan — to 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 a prayer box in the parking lot available 24 hours a day. Members pray onsite two days per month for those who stop by the church. By late September, more than 200 cars had entered the parking lot for prayer.

Prayer Drive-Thru participants said the ultimate goal is for souls to be saved by introducing them to Christ for commitment through baptism.

Prayer Drive-Thru participants wave signs to passing motorists along the route in front of the Mountainside church, inviting them to stop for prayer. The team meet the drivers outside their vehicles, pray for them as they sit in their vehicles, or meet under the church’s canopy if they choose. Church member Ben Fitzroy assists with literature distribution, and keeps the pocket folders in readiness for the walk-ins.

“We ask participants about their concerns, requests, and challenges,” Marshall said. “Their concerns are first addressed.”

He continued: “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.”

Prayer Drive-Thru partners with the Mountainside church’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,” Marshall said.

Saunders, the pastor, follows up with people who seek prayer through the Prayer Drive-Thru.

Even though the ministry is only open two days a month, word has spread about its influence. An association of retirees has asked Marshall to present about the ministry at its convention. A faculty member in the theology department at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is talking with Marshall about organizing a Prayer Drive-Thru Ministry in a local church.

Mountainside members are appreciative of the ministry, which also provides prayer boxes inside the church for members to leave requests.

“The blessings of the ministry is the heartfelt response of the community,” said Wayne Brewster-McCarthy, the church’s personal ministries director. “They affirm our efforts, what we are doing for the community. They let us know through various comments in community meetings.”

McCarthy said a local government official, Larry Johnson, a DeKalb County commissioner, expressed appreciation at a recent community meeting for the impact that the Mountainside church was having in the community. He said Johnson could not remember individuals’ names but kept saying, “Mountainside! Mountainside!”

Nicholas Harper, 27, and Shavaun Jackson, 23, are among those who have driven into the church parking lot to ask for prayer.

It “felt like a force pulling us in for prayer once we saw the sign offering prayer,” Harper said.

Jackson added: “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?”