This is a two-part story on the power of prayer and how Georgia Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union remains committed to interceding on behalf of missionaries worldwide.
Dead-end streets can be a tad creepy. Especially if you are in a marginal neighborhood with people who are suspicious, discretely looking out of windows to see who is driving through.
Then there are those who are less than discreet, staring at you with obvious mistrust and suspicion.
On one afternoon a Southern Baptist missionary found himself in a situation which, as part of his ministry, he had grown accustomed to. Bill Barker was driving into an Appalachian community – with only one way in or out – where he had been working but had not fully established his identify with all the residents.
After he completed his ministry contact he turned the car around and began the return journey. He proceeded down the narrow road, turned a corner, and soon found the road completely blocked with boulders of varying sizes, a few vehicles, and 20 not-too-friendly looking mountain men. Nearly everyone made a point of showing they were well-armed and ready to get down to business.
“I had been in similar situations before and had an idea of how to talk to the men, but you never know how something like this standoff will end,” Barker remembers thinking.
One thing he was thinking, though, is that he was hoping Southern Baptists – and members of Women’s Missionary Union specifically – had been praying for him.
“One man in particular, acting as the spokesman, asked what I was doing in their community. I explained that I was the man who brings food and backpacks to the families down that road, and I gave him the name of the people I had been working with who could vouch for me,” he adds.
That’s all it took. The spokesman with his gun, who Barker later discovered was a Church of God minister, called off the others and said he was okay and to let him pass.
Then there was the time he was caught in the middle of a drug deal. Or the time, in other communities, when his vehicle was not recognized and he faced a similar questioning group. Or the time a man ran him off the road and into a ditch and pulled a gun on him.
“It wasn’t a big gun, the bore in the barrel was perhaps about a quarter of an inch round, but it looks as big as a basketball when you’re looking down that barrel,” he says with a half-way chuckle wrapped around his serious tone.
Those are just a few of the times he has been grateful that his ministry was being supported in prayer by WMU women, who long ago established themselves as the founding prayer warriors of the denomination.
Those prayers not only cover the potentially life-threatening encounters which describe Barker as he travels backroads of the Appalachians. They also cover his daily drives, whether it is speaking at an association meeting or planning a new area to expand Southern Baptists’ presence and its message of love and hope.
“There is little other than prayer that can describe how I have been able to drive 1.1 million miles over the past 16 years and 8 months as a North American Mission Board missionary without a single accident. I know Southern Baptists have been praying for me and others like me,” he explains.
Most of that driving has occurred between Alabama to New York State where, through the help of churches large and small serving on mission trips and contributing backpacks, more than 250,000 professions of faith have been recorded.
“I see prayers answered every day. I have been given a need for children’s clothing and in relatedly short order – just hours or a day – receive a phone call from someone offering just what the request was for.
Barker thinks for a second and then offers another example.
“Keith Decker at Cedaridge Ministries in Williamsburg, Ky., called me two years ago and said he had been offered a semi-truck load of freshly dug potatoes in New England that were loaded and ready to be sent if he could cover the shipping costs.
“I told him I didn’t have the resources but if the Father wanted him to have them He would supply the funds.
“As soon as we ended the call, and I mean almost immediately, a businessman from First Baptist Church of Statesboro called and said our ministry was on his heart and he wanted to know what my financial need was. He said that God had laid the need on his heart to call me and meet the need that day.
“Within 30 minutes he had wired the money to a trucking company in Massachusetts and the truck was fueling up to drive to Kentucky. That’s how God works when people intercede on behalf of those doing His work.”
Barker’s ministry – which came under the umbrella of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board on January 1 – received an even greater undergirding of prayer in September as the backpacks ministry became the focus of all missions education – now referred to as missions discipleship – materials in all national WMU age-related products.
As a result, Barker received “well over a hundred letters” from across the United States from churches and associations affirming their prayers for his ministry. Some of the letters are written in the penmanship of young children, sometimes illustrated with crayon drawings; others are written by working moms or retired senior adults who have spent a lifetime on their knees.
“There have been national calls for prayers for missionaries and their work and out of nowhere I will get a call from someone saying God is calling them to join us on the field. They say ‘Can you help connect me with the right person so I can volunteer and help them in their ministry?”
“This is why I am such an advocate of prayer walking and prayer driving. You would be surprised the number of people who are called out of those experiences. Prayer driving is very effective when we take people, many times women, into high risk neighborhoods where their safety could be compromised.
“Of course, I tell them to always keep one eye open as they prayer drive along their route,” Barker says with his typical dry sense of humor.
The son of Appalachia himself says he has enjoyed a “fascinating journey with WMU as I now enter my 18th year of ministry, watching God do the unexpected. I owe much of our success to WMU women of all ages who intercede on my behalf and on that of others.”