May 25, 2013

Never a busy signal for 'Dial-A-Prayer' callers

The cyber-based answering service takes distress calls and leaves a message of inspiration.

McClatchy News Service

Immanuel Baptist Church, 1548 S. Post Road, near Patterson Springs, N.C., is a small congregation of 10 to 20 people. But the little church is reaching more than 1,600 people a year through its "Dial-A-Prayer" ministry.

Started 10 years ago by Pastor Ted Easter shortly after he came to the church, "Dial-A-Prayer" is a cyber-based answering machine where people leave prayer requests. They also hear a two-minute message and Scripture from Easter.

"It's amazing the reach and the things that have gone on with that ministry," Easter said. "One man said he was calling from Nepal. That's about as far away from Shelby as you can get. We are averaging four-and-a-half calls a day from all over the country -- California, Florida, West Virginia -- all over the place."

The number used to be on the church website, which has been down a couple of years, he said. He's not sure how they find it now.

"We've had people stumble across it in different ways," he said. "A prostitute called. The client paid her and she found the phone number written on the edge of a $10 bill."

Church members also give away magnets printed with the phone number. They were donated by a regular caller to the prayer line.

Easter, who has a full-time job, uses a smartphone app to record messages for the prayer ministry. He doesn't have a study at the church, but when he wants to work on the messages, he goes to a storage room behind the pulpit. He doesn't get cell phone reception there and won't be disturbed.

He takes out a Bible, where he has recorded the dates of the Scriptures he's used since 2004. The Bible he used in the beginning was destroyed by a fire in 2003.

"I started in Genesis in August," he said. "I will start reading the Scripture until I feel like God is moving me on a particular topic. The Scripture will trigger something. Sometimes it is a current event. I believe in the sovereignty of God and his word. I believe God's word answers any question that we would have. There is not any subject that God's word does not cover somehow."

A recent message suggested people who have trouble sleeping could read the Bible and thank God until rest comes. He quoted Psalm 119:62: "I rise at midnight to thank you for your righteous judgments." Then, Easter said a prayer and asked the caller to leave a prayer request. The caller may or may not leave a name or contact phone number.

Those who leave a phone number, Easter calls them back. However, it is important to him to protect the identity of all callers. He records the dates and times of requests in a notebook, noting whether the caller was male or female. All of the prayer requests are read on Sundays and Wednesdays to give church members an opportunity to pray for each one.

In 10 years, he has counseled people with marriage problems, depression and drug addictions. Before caller ID it was hard to find a way to help a person with suicidal thoughts. Now he can return the call and try to get help for the person.

Whether the request is from a person suffering mental anguish or physical pain, his prayer includes a blessing for all.

"I pray for people to get peace," he said. "I pray they will see God working, and they will be able to praise him in that situation."

"Dial-A-Prayer" is available 24 hours a day at 704-482-0022.

Easter shares some interesting requests the prayer line at Immanuel Baptist Church has received in 10 years:

One lady with a traumatic brain injury called for years. She said "Dial-A-Prayer" was like a friend to her.

Another lady always identified herself as the "Little Old Lady in Fallston." She always prayed for the ministry before leaving her requests.

One person called to complain: "I don't need a phone to call God."

When the phone line went down and the customer service operator realized it was a prayer line, she promised to have it corrected as soon as possible.

A homeless man calls regularly just to say thank you for the service. 

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