|Rear Admiral Senate Chaplain|
(I have to document these highlights before I forget!!)
The fancy engraved invitation came months ago, along with a schedule of events. Andy had contacted the Texas folks that invite Texas people and asked if there was space for his parents to attend. They said YES. We RSVP'd, bought airline tickets, new clothes and cleared our calendars.
Andy works with folks in Congress that organize the prayer meetings, Bible studies and weekly prayer breakfast that are held each week for Congressmen when they are in session. The National Prayer Breakfast is the granddaddy of them all and a huge traditional event since 1953. I had no idea. Until last week.....
We arrived last Tuesday, checking into the Washington Hilton (the place where President Reagan was shot years ago.) It's a literal concrete fortress and a favorite place of the secret service when they are trying to protect someone important. Over 3000 people from 146 different countries descended upon the area. Security was tight, men and women with wires coming out their ears mingled with the guests.
We quickly learned that the theme of the week was "Unity and Reconciliation." Wow, how appropriate! Unity and reconciliation are words that are rarely used now in the public square, but were repeated over and over again this past week.
There were meetings, prayer sessions, tours, dinners, lunches and private gatherings scheduled for all week long.
We met Andy and were immediately introduced to world leaders, congressmen, and staff people. We walked with him through the halls of the Canon Building where the offices of our Representatives are located.
There we attended a ceremony honoring a member of the prayer breakfast team that was instrumental in starting a prayer breakfast in ALBANIA! We were introduced to heads of state from the Middle East, brilliant scholars and spiritual giants. My head was spinning.
Rabbi Sacks spoke at the Middle Eastern Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday. What a brilliant man!
Quotes: "Can you see the image of God in a person that is not made in the image of you?"
" If the person you are with experiences anything other than unconditional love, you have
"Love the person in front of you."
Oh, my. I prayed that these words would be written on the insides of my eyelids so that every time I blink I would be reminded.
A well known, highly respect Muslim leader followed. "We will solve the world's problems when we live the principles of Jesus." WHAT? A Muslim respecting Jesus. Yes...I learned that Islam regards Jesus as a prophet from God, unlike no other and that His teachings are the right way to live.
Wow! We were beginning to understand that this conference would be like none other.
Next I attended a "Women of the States" meeting where Congressional spouses shared their ideas, advice and experiences. Several wives of senators and representatives stepped up to the microphone and shared their struggles and their deep faith in Jesus. They attend Bible Studies and prayer meetings weekly and find their support in deep friendships where R and D make no difference whatsoever. They were wise, articulate, and totally dependent on God. They encouraged us to enjoy the week and "take it in." I was SO encouraged. One of their favorite Bible teachers brought the keynote address. I came away from that session realizing that there are some terrific people in Washington, praying and trying to do the right thing in leading the country.
WHAT? That's not what we see on TV. I spoke with Caroline Adderholt, organizer of that event, wife of Robert Adderholt, Congressman from Alabama and Andy's good friend, and asked her about that. Her reply,
"You will see 10 people on TV, there are over 400 hundred of us that you won't see."
(We later learned that between formal breakfasts, lunches and dinners, delegations from the states were also meeting privately. We heard of one group that took a "prayer walk" through the halls of Congress, praying for all that worked there. Another group took a "Capital Tour" on a bus and prayed for the folks that work at the monuments, museums, diners, gyms, governmental offices and homes.
D.C. was filled with prayer last week!
(We squeezed in some time with Andy when we could catch him and he shared his D.C. duties and life. He introduced us to scholars and foreign leaders we never realized we needed to know. We came away thinking that he knows more people than God.)
Wednesday night was the first Congressional Dinner. The dining room holds several thousand with 8 people to a table. We met the most incredible people at each meal. The conversation always started with introductions and handshakes all around, then polite questions. Where are you from? What do you do for a living? BUT, quickly the talk turned to how important God was in their lives, their devotion to Jesus and how they shared the good news of hope in their ministries. Each person left an indelible mark on our memory. We sat with kings and princes, and sometimes Baptist preachers whose congregation sold cakes and doughnuts to be able to afford their pastors ticket/travel. We sat next to an aviation investor, a devotional writer, businessmen and women, church planters, folks that run international charities, pastors, moms and dads.
After speeches by Republican and Democratic congressmen (friends and prayer partners for years) the speaker announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Vice President and Mrs. Pence." The crowd stood and cheered. Mike Pence gave the most humble, godly welcome, with tears in his eyes as he shared his faith. What a lovely man. Incredible!
Thursday morning was the National Prayer Breakfast! The dining room doors opened at 7:15 a.m. BUT the halls were filled and the lines were formed by 5:30 a.m. Thousands of folks had to be seated AFTER going through security metal detectors a few times ending with a physical pat-down. Evidently the streets outside the hotel were shut down for blocks and the secret service had been combing the area for weeks in preparation. There were many heads of state, congressmen, & famous religious leaders in that room besides our own President and Vice-President and no harm was going to come to any of them!
Again, a lovely table set with 8 strangers that quickly became friends. They all shared their life calling as a believer and follower of Jesus.
The co-chairs, a Republican and a Democrat (lifetime good friends) introduced the keynote speaker. This year, Senate Chaplain Barry Black gave the speech of his lifetime. I highly recommend you view it on youtube. (Just google, Barry Black's National Prayer Breakfast Speech, it'll pop up.)
Toward the end of his speech all Congressmen, religious leaders, world leaders, and this mom and dad were on their feet clapping and cheering him on as he described the MAN he'd met in the scriptures. Tears flowed down many cheeks as Chaplain Black poured out his heart. Brilliant and SO inspiring. (We learned later that he leads a private Bible Study of 12 Congressmen every week complete with pages of questions and notes for each one to ponder when they leave.)
Music was provided by Mercy Me with a solo of "I Can Only Imagine" by the writer of that song.
Mark Burnett, film producer, gave a delightful introduction of President Trump by relating how he came to meet him, how the idea of "The Apprentice" transpired and the depth of their friendship of years. President Trump addressed the crowd with jokes and light hearted banter. (His joke about Arnold and The Apprentice were serious headline "breaking news" the next day, as the major networks twisted his comment, disregarding everything else he said. I must add NO ONE in the room was offended, but laughed at his reference to Mark Burnetts story. That made the journalists look like fools to the people that actually witnessed the event.) Toward the middle of his speech he grew very serious as he shared that this country would always be "under God" and how he needed God's guidance. The crowd approved and respected their President and he left the room with a standing ovation.
At lunchtime we attended the Leadership Luncheon. We had no idea what to expect but after being seated the announcer stated, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome King Abdullah of Jordan."
Roaring applause and a standing O! What a brilliant Muslim man and leader of his country. He said much, but stressed the need of Muslims worldwide to rise up and end the movement of radical Islam.
Jordan receives more refugees than any other country and participates in the battle against ISIS, often with the King flying one of the fighter jets himself.
(We later learned that King Abdullah received his education in the US and as a prince in line for the throne had to learn Arabic before assuming the crown.)
Sister Rosemary of Uganda was next up to the mic. She is the subject of the movie "Sewing Hope" and runs a school for young women who have been abducted, forced to be soldiers, raped and tortured in that country. When the girls escape they find their way to her and she works to restore them to wholeness and dignity. Her young friend Josephine told her story in broken English and the crowd was mesmerized. Always smiling, full of life and hope, this chunky little nun is being used mightily by God.
We also heard from a baseball player....from the CUBS! After a lovely video of his team and their accomplishments this year he shared of his love for God and the necessity of humility. His famous wife sang beautifully for the crowd.
At an afternoon session we heard from a Palestinian Christian that spends his life drawing people from Israel and the West Bank into conversations of unity. His talk was filled with hope but laced with twinges of discouragement at the depth of hatred between people of that area. He prays for peace.
At the closing dinner we were seated next to Joseph and his son Daniel. Joseph is from the Ukraine and doesn't speak English, his son translated for him. This kind and gentle 84 year old man shared his story of being held in a Soviet prison for 9 years because he would not recant his faith in Jesus Christ. After being released he brought his family to America where they settled in California. I asked what he wanted the US to know, he replied, "Socialism doesn't work." He then proceeded to tell about the shock his family felt when he realized that socialism was being accepted and promoted in AMERICA, the very land where they would be free of such a movement. We talked about the signs, 1. Overbearing government into the lives of the people. 2. Remove God from the marketplace 3. Tell the church what it can and cannot do.....etc. He was thrilled that Donald Trump had won the election and felt only Trump could stop the tide of the cultural acceptance of socialism. He is on a speaking circuit and travels the country with his daughter as a translator. He has a passion to "tell the world" about the horrors of socialism.
The keynote speaker at that session was Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life" and pastor of the huge Saddleback Church in California. Oh, my....what a story!
He shared of the "worst day of his life" when his tender- hearted, mentally ill son committed suicide. Pastor Warren did nothing for 16 weeks following that day. He did not go to work, hold any meetings, write any books, work on the charities he sponsors, or see anyone but his wife. He told of his becoming a different person during that time of silence and now he's ready to write of his experience of HOPE. He said,"never does the Scripture tell us to share our faith, but repeatedly tells us to share our HOPE in Christ Jesus." He found HOPE after tragedy. Again, a standing O.
After spending some more time with Andy, a few more private gatherings and tours the week came to an end.
Our heads are spinning on our shoulders, trying to process all we saw and heard.
Unity and Reconciliation, between political parties, countries, and religious leaders?
Everyone sensed that it's POSSIBLE.....when we PRAY together in the name of Jesus.
Jesus was the MAN of the week, far more important and influential than any other big name attending.
(We left "Unity and Reconciliation" and came home to the news of student protests, private property being burned, & vulgar discourse from people interviewed on the street that cannot articulate WHY they are protesting. It seemed to be other worldly. There is certainly no unity or reconciliation on the streets of America these days.)
The National Prayer Breakfast and the people behind it lift up the person of Jesus. He's the person for a culture that has lost it's way. He alone is the source of unity and reconciliation.
( He is the ONE hurting and fearful people in our nation are longing for and they have no idea they need Him.)
We learned and are ENCOURAGED that there's a remnant of believers in our nations capitol and other nations capitols and cultures that look to Him and there they find strength, guidance, comfort and HOPE.
(Thanks Andy! For this once in a lifetime, life-changing adventure.)