Prayer is cooperation with God ... (it) opens the way for grace to work.”
These words from Philip Yancey’s bestselling book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? came to Steve Timmerman’s mind several times as he took part in the Global Prayer Safari 2019 in Ethiopia.
“God was at work, and we -- brothers and sisters in Christ -- called on him in many spots -- government offices, churches, schools and seminaries, prisons, wherever,” said Timmermans, executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
“We asked God to let his grace flow wherever we went, especially in those places we visited that are facing significant challenges.”
Sponsored by Resonate Global Mission, the Global Prayer Safari (GPS) started on Friday, Feb. 1, in Addis Ababa. Riding in three buses to destinations in the Great Rift Valley, 60 participants represented denominations from across Africa and North America.
“GPS was a great experience for us all,” wrote Kavinya, a participant, in a note to Resonate. “I thank God for the success he gave us in Ethiopia” in this “international event that blessed all who took part in one way or another.”
Participants say the safari was well-prepared and coordinated and brought God’s blessings in worship settings with the Mekane Yesus (Lutheran) and the Kale Heywet (Word of Life) denominations and in other places.
“The success in Ethiopia could be attributed in part to the meticulous preparations, but it is very important to note that the success was also necessitated by the prayers of Ethiopian church leaders. . . . Some of them had started fasting and praying three months before GPS started,” said Mutunga Katola, another participant.
“We could sense a seriousness in prayer with church leaders and believers in Ethiopia. . . . There was a heavy hunger for prayer and for God in Ethiopia.”
The event began with several stops in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, located in the highlands bordering the Great Rift Valley. The safari participants prayed for the city mayor and spent time praying at a school for persons who have autism. The group also gathered for prayer at a seminary, a college, and a graduate school of theology in the city.
From there the safari moved south to Soddo, a city of about 100,000 people. There they prayed at a hospital and school for the blind, a seminary, and a few churches. They also stopped and prayed at Wolaita University in Soddo.
Timmermans said the president of the university had been a little worried that GPS, given its Christian focus and connections, might cause some concern among non-Christian students on the campus, given that the country is not free of ethnic and tribal tensions. But the president opened himself to prayer.
“He was quite anxious, but when we had prayed, he was so thankful to have a group surround him in a modest way and lift him up in prayer,” said Timmermans. “To see his reaction was moving.”
In 2016, the first Global Prayer Safari took place in Kenya, followed by a second, in Uganda, in 2017, and then a third, in South Africa, last year. Marco Avila, eastern U.S. regional director for Resonate, joined this year’s safari, saying he was unsure what to expect, this being his first GPS.
“I traveled to Ethiopia for this event,” he said, “to learn more about the dynamics and logistics so that next year I can help organize the GPS 2020, which will take place in North America. . . . I got all that and much, much more,” he said.
“Honestly, it blew out my mind. We were praying for 10 days, with people from different continents, nationalities, denominations, and languages,” added Avila.
“We went from city to city, and to small towns and villages; we prayed in churches, hospitals, police stations, universities, jails, and so forth. That's ‘praying on-site with insight’! It was a real kind of wild prayer safari, indeed.”
After visiting Soddo, the safari continued south to Arba Minch, a community of about 75,000 people on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley. It is home to many natural springs and, among other things, a crocodile market.
In that city, said Timmermans, they visited the Arba Minch Prison, which was more like a village than a prison.
“We passed through security and gathered in the chapel. The chapel was filled with 65 or so people, and there were maybe another 60 people outside,” said Timmermans.
“It was an amazing experience to be there in a time of worship and hearing everyone praying, inside and outside.”
Also during his visit to Ethiopia, Timmermans met separately with representatives of the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church and the Presbyterian Church of Ethiopia, both of which have formal ties with the CRCNA.
Before reaching the southernmost part of the safari and turning back to go north, the group took time to lament the lack of rain, which has left the land parched throughout much of eastern Africa.
Of the prayer safari, Timmermans said, “It was ecumenical in its presence and in its participants. In many respects, it was missional and ecumenical at the same time. We had the chance to see what God is up to in a place we wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
“We also had the chance to pray and ask for God’s grace to flow more richly there and to touch the many ministries, ministry spots, and other places we could visit.”