February 20, 2023

On Earth as in Heaven

How prayer is fueling missions in Central Asia

by Hannah Packard

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
—Matthew 6:9b–10

When the Holy Spirit fell on the Church on the day of Pentecost and the work of Jesus’ Great Commission began in full force, all the believers were gathered together in prayer. For 10 days after Jesus ascended to heaven, “They all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14a). Their waiting was not idle. It was not helpless. As they huddled together, some bold, some doubtful, I think it likely that they prayed to the Father, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This was how Jesus taught them to pray.

Our primary way of partnering with God in seeing His Kingdom come and will be done on earth is through prayer, and prayer is a fascinating thing, full of tension and apparent paradoxes. God is all-powerful and not in need of our help or our prayers, yet He chooses not to work without our participation. The Lord never changes, yet sometimes He appears to change His mind at the prayers of His people. Prayer is perhaps the most important work a believer can engage in, yet it can often feel like the most insignificant. But it is in our seemingly weak contribution of prayer that God’s power is made perfect. 

A House of Prayer in Central Asia

John* and Nancy are aXcess workers who have served with The Alliance in Central Asia for the last nine years, working in language literacy and preservation, discipleship, and church planting. The spiritual atmosphere of the country they work in is oppressive and dark. As they engage with their neighbors and surrounding communities, they have experienced demonic oppression and attacks like never before. “It has challenged us in prayer,” Nancy says. 

Seven years ago, John and Nancy, along with seven other organizations in their city, decided they needed to spend more time gathering to pray together. God moves powerfully when His people pray, but His presence comes in a unique way when we gather together corporately in His name. 

Nancy notes, “We meet, secretly, in a hidden house of prayer with padded walls so people can’t hear the worship outside. We’ve found that if we don’t start with prayer and worship, we’re going to be defeated everywhere we go.” 

“Prayer is one of the most important things we do with our presence here,” John adds. “We begin with worship just to glorify God and to have the Holy Spirit there, active and present in our work. Then we pray for everyone in the country—for the local church, the secret believers, and the seekers.” 

“We’re good friends with the director of another mission society in the country who’s been there for 25 years,” Nancy says. “He started coming because he noticed a difference, a change in the environment, since the house of prayer began. He told us that more people have come to Christ in the last seven years while the house of prayer has been present than in the previous 20 years he’s been in-country.” 

Light in a Valley of Shadow

In addition to their work among the lost in their city, the Lord has also given John and Nancy a burden for the remote villages of another unreached people group in a nearby mountain valley. The trek to get there is arduous, and once there, the demonic oppression is nearly overwhelming. The locals practice a folk version of the majority religion with many shamanistic practices. 

“Women are treated worse than animals,” John says. 

“Children also suffer a lot,” Nancy adds. “I don’t know a single family that has not lost a child just because they got sick.” 

For seven years, John and Nancy have been visiting the valley, building relationships with the locals and interceding for the light of Christ to break through the darkness. For seven years, they have struggled to be there longer than a few days due to spiritual attack and nightmares. 

“It’s very difficult to have any spiritual conversations there,” John says. “We share stories from the Bible, but something blocks everything we say. There’s a work that the enemy is doing that is keeping these people in bondage and spiritual blindness. But when we go, we’re bringing God’s presence with us. And when we bring God’s presence, when we bring the Holy Spirit there, the darkness has to go away. That’s what we hope to see.” 

“I have wondered why we keep visiting the valley when we haven’t seen anything happening,” Nancy adds. “This past April, we went again. We walked over 25 kilometers to get there, through avalanches and landslide zones, and this was the first time we were able to have a spiritual breakthrough.” 

“It was the first time we were able to share the gospel without interruptions, without objections,” John says. 

“It was the first time I wasn’t spiritually attacked in the middle of the night,” Nancy says, smiling. “I feel something shifting—something is changing.” 

Breakthrough in the Kingdom is always preceded by the prayers of God’s people—without exception. As A. B. Simpson insisted, “Prayer is the mighty engine that is to move the missionary work.” Prayer is important to God; so important that He defines His eternal dwelling place as a place of prayer: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7b). In The Alliance, we often talk about the ways you are invited to participate in missions—praying, giving, and going. These are all important, but prayer is the most vital. How will we get financial breakthrough? Through prayer. How will we see more laborers sent into the harvest field? Through prayer. To paraphrase Leonard Ravenhill, If we fail in prayer, we fail everywhere. 

Prayer and mission have a cyclical relationship with one another. The work of mission necessitates prayer—nothing can be accomplished without it. Similarly, the work of prayer necessitates missions—no one who prays and gets close to the heart of God can ignore how His heart burns for the unreached, oppressed, and wayward. Those who are on God’s mission must pray, and those who pray must be on God’s mission. 

The prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” often reminds me of Jesus’ prophetic charge in Matthew’s Gospel: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). The ultimate end of God’s Kingdom coming to earth is when Jesus comes again, when God will once again be physically present among His people. Our hope lies in His return and eternal reign. But until that happens, we have work to do. The Great Commission is still incomplete. The Kingdom is here but not in fullness. 

Prayer Pushes Back Darkness

Looking ahead, John and Nancy are planning a cabin building project in the valley. The Mountain Cabins project, a now more-than fully funded strategic project with The Alliance, is in collaboration with three other local ministries and seeks to address various needs in one of the villages. John says: 

One of our aims is to provide some employment and a model for ways the community can create supplemental income through tourism. But probably the most important thing is it also aids us in our presence and how we impact the community. It gives us something to contribute. We also really want to see these huts used for more than tourism; we hope that like-minded people go up there and pray.

The cabins now have foundations and walls, and John and Nancy hope they will be fully completed next year. If all goes well with their project, their goal is to build more cabins in the future, potentially in other villages in the valley. 

Like John and Nancy, I am convinced of the crucial importance and the efficacy of prayer. Even still, when I find myself distressed at the turmoil around me or feel the weight of darkness and spiritual oppression, prayer can feel so weak and ineffectual. I find myself wondering if that’s precisely why prayer is so important. It’s in this faith-filled show of weakness—declaring that we can do nothing, we have nothing apart from Him—that God’s strength and glory are on display. 

“It is the prayerful presence of God’s people that pushes back the darkness.”

We live in a time both similar and different to the disciples’ as they sat praying in the Upper Room before the day of Pentecost. We are waiting—always—for the Spirit of God to move in power. We are praying, as we wait, for God’s Kingdom to be manifest on earth as it is now in heaven. But we already have the Holy Spirit with us, filling, guiding, empowering, and breaking the power of darkness as we ask. Let’s not fail to ask, and let’s persist in asking until God brings the breakthrough. 

When reflecting on the change they’ve begun to feel in the spiritual atmosphere in the valley, John and Nancy know it’s not only their prayers and those of their ministry partners that have made a difference but also your faithful prayers. “It’s because of the prayers and support of our Acts 1:8 family,” John says. “It is the prayerful presence of God’s people that pushes back the darkness.” 

*Names changed

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