Mission on four wheels and a prayer

Published May 26, 2007

The sign over the windshield reads "Kneels on Wheels."

It sits on the front of a recreational vehicle that serves as a mobile home with a mission.

No longer destined for long hours of wheeling adventuresome road warriors down endless stretches of blacktop, the 36-foot Winnebago has been transformed by prayer. It's also an answer to a prayer.

Its vanilla-bland exterior is now dressed with images of puffy clouds and blue sky - a look toward the heavens. It is fitting, considering this vehicle stops only at spiritual destinations. It has been born again as a mobile prayer chapel.

The roving sanctuary is the inspiration of the Rev. Larry Dennis, superintendent of the Central Florida district of the Church of the Nazarene. In proposing the prayer mobile last year, Dennis hoped the vehicle would serve to "open up our hearts and lives and our church to a concerted focused prayer effort." He imagined that effort as "a 365-day, 24-hour a day, seven day a week prayer chain."

Dennis was out of state and not available for an interview. In a video announcing his proposal sent to all ministers in the district he said, "I'm not talking about 'now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep' kind of prayers. I'm talking about brokenhearted prayers. I'm talking about people who are pouring their hearts out to God."

The 1997 model Adventurer has been refitted in a way that seems to be a response to the biblical admonition that "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet ... ." The fold-out table, the stove, the bedroom -all the accoutrements of life on the road - are gone. Five "prayer stations, " oak kneeling rails that face the outside and rear of the vehicle, fill the space. It's a cozy, intimate ambience that aspires to that of a church sanctuary. Television screens softly playing religious music substitute for the choir. Stained glass decorates the pop-out wall, over which hangs a small cross.

Since the prayer mobile was put on the road last fall, it has made two- to three-day visits at almost all of the district's nearly 90 churches. Each church recruits volunteers for 30-minute prayers in the chapel, with the goal of having round-the-clock sessions during the stay.

Last week, the mobile chapel was parked at Victory Church of the Nazarene, 4401 58th St. N., in Kenneth City. It was the second visit to the church since January, and Pastor Rocky Hambrick said the effects of that first visit are still being felt.

"We've had more people praying on a regular basis since the prayer mobile has been here. We've had more people that have said that their prayer lives have been enhanced because they took the time to pray and they saw how easy it was to pray. So many Christians, they spend two or three minutes a day praying and they don't realize they can pray 30 minutes. We had so many people that went in there and prayed for that 30 minutes and went, wow, this is easy to do."

For Hambrick, the vehicle is part of a larger plan. "We define our roots in helping the needy, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, " he said. Over the past two years, the congregation has developed a "renewed interest" in outreach and community service. Saturday, Victory hosted a block party for the neighborhood, with inflatable play equipment for children, free food and a health fair. The chapel was part of the festivities.

Victory's outreach has had visible results. Over the past five years, Hambrick said the congregation had doubled to 200. Plans are in the works for a Hispanic ministry.

The Rev. Randy Rupert is pastor of Eastside Church of the Nazarene in Lakeland and the person who coordinates the prayer chapel's travel schedule. He noted that the vehicle has affected even people who aren't church members.

"We've had people walk in off the street needing help and encouragement. We had people come in off the street and ask for prayer."

The chapel is nearing the end of its year as a vehicle for round-the-clock prayer. Beginning in July, it will be used primarily for weekend prayer retreats, said Rev. Rupert. For now, the chapel is on the road again. It will be making stops at Nazarene churches throughout the Tampa Bay area through June.

If you go

Chapel stops

The Mobile Prayer Chapel is scheduled to visit these churches:

JUNE 14-16: Pinellas Vietnamese Church of the Nazarene, 1225 Ninth Ave. N, St. Petersburg

JUNE 16-18: Gulfport Trinity Church of the Nazarene, 1000 55th St. S, Gulfport