Prayerwalking opens doors in Brazil
by Emily Pearson on March 20, 2012
FORTALEZA, Brazil – During their daily walks, Rob and Phyllis Hefner – now in their 50s – have been mugged, physically assaulted and narrowly escaped an attempted kidnapping. Once, during a robbery a woman held a knitting needle to Phyllis’ throat.
Still, experts say walking is one of the best ways to stay healthy.
The Hefners – who serve as International Mission Board missionaries in Fortaleza, Brazil – walk 20 miles a day. Monday through Thursday they begin walking after breakfast and end about 2 p.m. On Friday, they walk until 7 p.m. When they don’t have other commitments, they walk all day Saturday, too. As they walk, they pray for their city of 3 million people.
For the missionaries, it is literally the first step towards reaching people for Christ.
This routine began shortly after the Charlotte, N.C., natives moved to Fortaleza in 1991. During their walks they began seeking God’s direction for their ministry. But even before that – back when they were appointed as IMB missionaries in 1985 – they prayed regularly as they walked for exercise.
“We didn’t call it [prayerwalking] back then,” Phyllis remembers, “but as we were called to missions, we began walking and praying for God’s leadership. After that, we just kept walking farther and farther – and just kept praying.”
In Fortaleza, the 20-mile journey sometimes begins with a strategy, sometimes simply depends on God’s direction and always includes four specific prayer points. First, they pray that God will show them the area He wants them to focus on. Secondly, they ask Him to tear down the walls of lostness in the hearts of the people. They then pray to establish relationships to prepare the way for the Gospel. And finally they ask God to connect them with those who need to hear about Him.
The journey is not without its perils, and often the Hefners’ walks lead them into areas of the city where even the police hesitate to visit. Phyllis says she used to pray for protection but now asks for boldness when they enter places where it is likely they will be targeted.
“If we become afraid to prayerwalk and get out in these areas,” says Phyllis, “then there would be so many miraculous things that would not happen.
“You get to meet the people. You get to see the needs. You physically get to see what you’re praying for.
“If I’m in my house,” she continues, “God hears my prayers, and I think I know what I’m praying for … but if I’m in the house, I would never get to meet the people that I meet.”
The Hefners use prayerwalking as an opportunity to stop and talk to people on the street –from beggars to shopkeepers to restaurant workers. They don’t give out money. Phyllis carries a bag of protein bars to hand out to the hungry during their walks. It allows her to befriend people who approach her. She then asks how she might pray for them and follows up with them on her next visit.
Prayerwalking takes up a good chunk of their day, but it isn’t all the Hefners do.
Rob works as a church planter and serves as a professor of church planting at a local seminary. He also teaches prayerwalking as a mission strategy. So far 85 student teams have begun ministries in the areas where the Hefners have walked. The ministries range from church planting, to working with the homeless and providing crutches to people with missing legs.
In the future, the couple plans on extending their ministry by driving to different starting points and taking new routes.
“Please pray for direction, health, protection and boldness as we continue to discover new prayer routes,” Phyllis says. “Please pray that we might be light and salt to those with whom we come into contact, so that they might come to know Jesus as their personal Savior.”
Read more stories from the Americas here!