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BELIEFS

Movement Harnesses the Power of Mass Prayer

The Presidential Prayer Team uses the Internet to alert 3 million people a week to appeal to God on behalf of soldiers, officials and others.

October 04, 2003|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

With two sons overseas in the Marines during wartime, Diane and David Harris of Sierra Madre asked friends and church members to pray for the safety of the young men. But the Harris family had no idea how far that request would reach.

Someone had registered the names of Todd and Trevor Harris with the Adopt Our Troops campaign of the Presidential Prayer Team, a nondenominational Christian prayer group on the Internet. Soon, hundreds of thousands of strangers across the country were praying for the brothers.

They are among the 140,000 troops "adopted" for daily prayers by the Presidential Prayer Team. With a reported 1.6 million daily hits, the Web site is one of the biggest efforts merging technology with traditional prayer, religion experts say.

David Harris, a retired Pasadena police captain, and his wife, Diane, an office manager at a Pasadena law firm, say the family needed the prayers even before one of their sons was wounded in Iraq.

"It's awesome," Diane Harris said of the Internet effort. "I am grateful."

Todd Harris, 23, a corporal, was sent to Kuwait in January, then to Iraq three months later for the start of the war. Meanwhile, Trevor, 26, was stationed in Okinawa.

In early April, Todd's left hand was shattered in an accidental explosion while his unit was collecting munitions left behind in Baghdad by Saddam Hussein's forces. After four surgeries in Kuwait and Spain, Todd returned home in a few weeks, on Good Friday, and now is back at work at Camp Pendleton. He lost two fingers

"By the grace of God, he was not more seriously injured," said Diane Harris. "When your son goes to war, you have to say, 'Lord, he is in your hands' and continue to let go, and say 'Whatever is your will, help me to accept it.' "

In response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, retired Baptist minister Cornell Haan and businessman Bill Hunter, both from the Scottsdale, Ariz., area, founded the Presidential Prayer Team as an Internet venue to pray for the president, his Cabinet and the nation. Since then, it has broadened its focus to the military and their families as well as members of Congress and other issues.

The group says it is not affiliated with the Bush administration or any political party.

The nonprofit Web site -- presidentialprayerteam.org -- is one of the busiest religious Web sites, according to John Lind, its president. Membership is free, but it contains commercial links.

Experts say such efforts on the Internet have given religious people a powerful tool to reach others around the world.

"Many of us have experienced the Internet as a wonderful means of connecting with distant family members and friends on a daily basis," said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, who writes a religion column on the Internet. "The same holds for people of faith. To be able to share prayer concerns with people around the world, encouraging each other in our efforts to serve the Lord -- this allows many of us to experience the community of believers in unprecedented ways."

The Rev. Ross Parsley, an associate pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, one of the nation's fastest-growing nondenominational churches, said Christians have a long history of using various ways to spread the Gospel and harness the power of prayer. "This is just the newest in a long line of different methods that believers have used," he said.

On the Web site, members can find prayer updates, inspirational quotes and verses. Every Thursday night, a prayer update e-mail is sent to more than 3 million members, giving them current information and a one-page summary of people and issues to be prayed for.

Relatives, friends and military chaplains submit the names of military personnel for prayers. Web site members can choose any number of names from posted lists, which sometimes include photos of the soldiers and their families. However, for security reasons, the members are not told the soldiers' hometowns and military assignments.

In the latest mailing, the prayer requests also included the victims of Hurricane Isabel, the homeless, people on drugs and children of prisoners.

Gail McFarland, an executive assistant at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, joined the Presidential Prayer Team shortly after 9/11. She says the group has been a "huge help" in her prayers for the nation, its leaders and its military. In addition to the Harrises -- the Marines from Sierra Madre whom she knows from her church -- she also prays for an "adopted soldier," his wife and their children.

The Web site makes it "so easy for me," she said. "I have a heart to pray, but I don't have the time to do the research to get what needs to be prayed for. They're telling me what needs prayer. And, I take it to God with a whole bunch of other people."

McFarland keeps her weekly prayer list on her office computer. Whenever she has a moment to spare during her busy day, she refers to it and prays.

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