Thursday, March 06, 2008

Pray, Then do God’s Holy Work

Congratulations to my friend Ben Campbell on the completion of the second year of his Metro Richmond at Prayer initiative. According to Robin Farmer’s report in Saturday’s Times-Dispatch, 350 Richmond area churches participate in Metro Richmond at Prayer, which Reverend Campbell started in 2006. ( The article mentioned Reverend Campbell’s goal of adding 500 churches in the prayer initiative’s third year.

Ben Campbell was also involved in forming another faith-based project in Richmond—the Micah Initiative—which started in 2003. Micah is Richmond’s most extensive tutoring-mentoring program with nearly 60 congregations participating in twenty-six Richmond elementary schools. Hundreds of Micah mentors demonstrate their faith by pursuing justice for the children of our city. Micah volunteers dedicate their time and energy to fixing the world one child at a time.

Through no fault of their own, many of Richmond’s children are caught in a multigenerational cycle of poverty. Some of them have parents who are incarcerated; others have parents who are addicts; many of them have witnessed deadly violence right near their homes. For these children, a quality public education is their only hope for avoiding extending poverty to another generation. Yet, these children start school with a great handicap. Unless the people of Richmond come forward to help them it is unlikely that they will succeed.

In the TD article, Ben Campbell is quoted as saying that the prayer initiative

affirms our common commitment to the healing and transformation of the metro city. We want to make sure we're real clear that God's interest is in the health of the metro area and its people and not simply in churches. We want God's agenda out there for all of us.

Although Ben and I come from different religious backgrounds, I agree with him that prayer is a powerful force that can change lives. However, I do not believe that prayer alone will solve the problems of Richmond. If “healing and transformation” of our city is “God’s agenda,” then we as God’s agents must get personally involved in doing the healing.

The name of the Micah Initiative is based on verse 8 of chapter 6 of the Book of Micah where the prophet says,

It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.

The plight of the poor children of Richmond is clearly a case of injustice. Doing “justly,” in the words of Micah, requires us to work to free them from the poverty trap. Many of Richmond’s children are shackled by their poverty; they come to school weighed down by the condition of their lives. Praying that they do well in school and in life is only the first step in doing justly. In the words of Isaiah we must “unlock the shackles of injustice” and “let the oppressed go free.” Isaiah 58:6.

Justice does not simply sprout up from prayer and hoping. We must work to achieve it. In the Hebrew words of Scripture, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof”—“Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Deuteronomy 16:20. We can not “pursue” justice by merely praying for it. We must bring it to Richmond through our actions.

After reading the TD article, I started thinking—wouldn’t it be great if the 350 churches participating in Metro Richmond at Prayer, and the 500 more that Reverend Campbell is seeking, also joined the Micah Initiative? If each of these congregations could put only ten adults into Richmond Public Schools, we would have an additional 850 people working to save our children. So, Ben, I urge you to add to your “covenant” a call for action. Urge all the churches that participate in Metro Richmond at Prayer to also join the Micah Initiative. Let us all fulfill “God’s agenda” through prayer and holy work.

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