April 4, 2020

Prayer Without Borders: Defying Social Isolation

After suffering from a mild temperature (and psychosomatic chest pains) a few days ago, I realized the only responsible thing for me to do was to isolate myself and bring my social contacts to zero. 

It’s a strange situation for a minister, since being around and with people seems to be one of the most basic principles of our work. So, my first instinct was to throw up my hands and sigh in resignation. “Oh, I have been rendered completely useless!”

And then I remembered my prayer experiment from last year, when I publicly offered a prayer for my Facebook friends. And suddenly, I realized this is not only an emergency option in a situation where better options are out of my reach but also that this could be a golden opportunity for me to make a mental shift about ministry in general.

So I wrote a post to all my Estonian friends saying that by simply liking my post, they would be on my prayer list the next day. I also added that I was willing to offer a prayer through a phone call if someone felt they needed it. I usually keep my Facebook posts within the circle of my close friends, but for the first time, I made my post public to anyone on Facebook.

I clearly have no idea how Facebook works since, to my great surprise, my post has started to get “likes” from complete strangers. I didn’t know it was even possible!

I try and approach this prayer ministry systematically. This means that I meticulously write down all the names in my ministry notebook, making sure I don’t miss anyone. Then I start praying. But as I finish praying for someone, I open my Messenger and send them a short message. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’ve been praying for you this morning. How are you? How are you hanging in there?”

It is the simplest starter for a conversation because the initiative doesn’t come from me; it already came through their reaction to my post. And they reply! They share their anxieties and worries, whether the current ones concerning the virus outbreak or the general ones about their life.

And they keep surprising me — there is so much hurt and pain in their lives I never knew about! Broken relationships. Clinical depression. Total confusion. But then there are some exceptions, too.

A teenage girl wrote to me this morning to tell me that her only prayer request was that God would bless me (not her!) and would make my ministry more fruitful and His miracles more powerful in my life! To read such a message from the confinement of my tiny apartment while battling the feeling of uselessness is wonderful! It builds up my faith more than I could say!

My favorite comment came from a former colleague from my teaching days at Tartu University. I have a vague memory of having a conversation with her about some spiritual matter once, and that she was strongly opposed to my beliefs. We have not been in touch for more than 10 years, and today she commented on my prayer appeal publicly for anyone to see: “You are so cool, Mervi, that I may consider becoming a Christian myself.”

I may, just possibly, have teared up a little bit.

So, I pray and text and pray and text. There are currently 111 likes on my prayer post, plus some private requests that have come through Messenger. And I have managed to go through only about 15 of them today.

Suddenly my two-week isolation does not seem so isolating at all. I have so much to do! So many people to reach out to!

With so many frightening restrictions and bans and border controls, we need to remember — prayer defies them all! Prayer is the breath of life that doesn't care about borders or bans. It reaches people wherever they are, bringing them healing, hope, and the awareness of the presence of the Almighty. There is freedom in prayer. And our friends now have the opportunity to experience this freedom, maybe now more than ever before.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.