Inspired by Nigerian widows, a California church commits to prayer

by Kristy J. O'hara, World Vision on July 15, 2016

Joyce West and Doug Lee, center, with the group of widows who inspired their church’s commitment to prayer.
(Photo: Courtesy Grace Fellowship Community Church)


Nearly a decade ago, Doug Lee and Joyce West represented the congregation of Grace Fellowship Community Church and traveled from their San Francisco homes to see the work of a ministry partner in his native Nigeria. The trip came soon after the passing of the California church’s pastor.

“We were met by hundreds of widows. They heard about our pain and suffering in the illness and death of our pastor, and they had been gathering to pray—for us—every day,” says Joyce, who leads the church’s global ministries.  The women had few possessions and little money but traveled long distances to meet for prayer. 

“I just had this overwhelming sense of how hollow I was in seeing how they were living out their faith,” says Doug, an associate pastor. “I had this longing for us as a congregation to have thick faith and not just assume that all of our comforts and privileges meant that we were doing well.”

The experience challenged the team to intentionally and regularly lift others up in prayer.

“Persevering in prayer on behalf of folks is a gift that we have received and that we can offer,” Joyce says. The congregation of about 200 people began to consider what God may have them care about. 

“We’re participating in something we don’t have a solution for. It’s really an act of trust that God is big enough to care for these things.”
— Doug Lee

“We needed to grow in humility, and that really meant coming before him and asking him to tell us what we need instead of deciding that we knew what to do,” Joyce says.

Several partnerships grew out of that period of prayer, and about three years ago they began to feel a burden for Syrian refugees.

“There’s so much in Scripture that is so specific about Syria,” Doug says. “Every time Scripture names Syria, it’s just a reminder that God has cared about this part of the world for a long time and continues to care about it.”

In the last three years, the church has raised $20,000 for World Vision’s work with Syrian refugees, but they also pray together weekly for an hour. One of those prayer times is specifically for partnerships like the refugee work. Prayer hasn’t always come easily with life’s distractions and discouraging news headlines, but it challenges their hearts to stay committed.

“It’s an act of trust that this is in God’s hands,” Doug says. “We’re participating in something we don’t have a solution for. It’s really an act of trust that God is big enough to care for these things, and we can stay in this not because we see improvement but because we’re trusting that God has this.” 

Your church can help refugees and displaced people in South Sudan and around the world today by hosting a Refugee Sunday.

This story was originally published in World Vision Magazine.
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