By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
"Go beyond what's been done in the past," International Mission Board representative Wes Gestring challenged 155 registered participants at a Lift Up Lesotho Prayer Rally on Nov. 13.
Six months after arriving in the small South African nation in 2000, Gestring invited Missouri Woman's Missionary Union member Barbara Popp to visit. "We wanted others to come," he said. And in November 2002, Missouri WMUers Zeldean Munton, Janet Buchanan and Janet Dyer prayer-walked, drove and flew around the country.
"Then it stopped," Gestring said with a choked voice.
He shared with listeners his disappointment when it seemed to him that the long-term partnership with Missouri WMU was ending. "No one else was coming," he said.
When Missourians Randy and Nancy Sprinkle began the IMB work in Lesotho, they challenged Missouri WMU to pray. In 1987, "Lift Up Lesotho," a planned approach for prayer, was put into place. WMUers continued to pray for that nation for 17 years.
To mark the anniversary and to revive interest, WMU leaders planned the rally held at Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City. Women who could not travel to Jefferson City met for prayer in other locations, as well.
Sprinkle, who currently serves as executive director for Wyoming Baptists, sent remarks via video. In it, he recounted the history of the 17-year partnership. He said that today "no one thinks twice" about prayer partnerships, but in the 1980s "this was radical."
He recalled three significant dates in the partnership's formation. In February 1987, IMB leaders asked him to share about what God was doing through prayer.
Sprinkle laughed as he recalled a five-day trip across Missouri in a Ford Tempo with Alberta Gilpin, Norma Altus and Marilyn Coble. He joked about being the "token male" and about "being forced" to stop at the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield.
Then at the WMU annual meeting at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, in April, the Sprinkles and WMU officially began the partnership. Sprinkle preached and challenged the women to pray.
In the video, Sprinkle held up a hardbound journal that became the prayer commitment book that April day. It included Scripture, a prayer covenant and hundreds of signatures of WMU pray-ers. The ladies agreed to pray until spiritual awakening occurred in Lesotho.
Sprinkle said he had anticipated "glorious kingdom advance" in Lesotho as a result of the prayer commitment. "Instead, there was unspeakable spiritual warfare," he said.
The women continued to pray even after health reasons forced the Sprinkles to leave the field. Missouri WMU prayed for each IMB workers assigned to the country since then.
Sprinkle again preached on Lesotho's behalf at the WMU annual meeting in 1989 in Poplar Bluff. After he challenged them to continue to pray, even more women signed the commitment pages than had at the meeting two years earlier.
Participants at the Nov. 13 rally saw video of the country and learned about other missionaries with the Gestrings, including journeyman Josh-Pruitt Mayfield, who will soon finish his two-year term, newcomers Alan and Babs Dial, and David and Carla Bickers.
Displays about the country and copies of Sprinkle's book about prayer and Lesotho were available. Several small group prayer times also were included in the program.
In his challenge, Gestring emphasized praying and going. With Exodus 14:10 as a text, he said there is a time for prayer and a time to go. The Israelites cried out to God, and God told them to break camp and move on.
"Continue to cry out to the Lord for that is the foundation," Gestring said. "But for many, God is saying go out - come out to Lesotho."
Attendees packed the church's altar as many responded to the call to commit or recommit to prayer.
Sprinkle sent the original prayer book to Missouri WMU, along with his video. After the commitment time, WMU president Lorraine Powers and Popp presented a prayer binder to the Gestrings. The binder included copies of the covenant and names from the original prayer journal and the pages the women had just signed.