- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

The battle for the presidential vote is not only being fought by lawyers and politicians in several Florida counties, but by an unseen army of "prayer warriors."

Many are keeping quiet vigil in churches, in crowds of demonstrators, on sidewalks next to government buildings in West Palm Beach, Fla., and on the steps of the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

"We set up teams all over the state," said Diane Buker, the Southeast regional coordinator of the Global Strategic Prayer Network, a Colorado Springs-based organization involving thousands of volunteers. She also oversees its state affiliate, the Florida Prayer Network.

"I believe they are crying out to the Lord for justice, crying out for justice and truth in this election," she said. "We're praying for both candidates that God will strengthen them for their tasks, that they will be humble with contrite hearts."

Esther Ilnisky, founder of Esther International, a prayer network in West Palm Beach, said the delay in selecting a president was "for spiritual purposes."

"When God thinks we're desperate enough, He'll come through," she said.

"We've gotten e-mails from all over the world from people telling us they'll pray for us," she said. "We've been known as a playground here, and God is going to change that."

Sensing a popular distaste for politics mixed with religion, all those interviewed insisted they were nonpartisan in their prayers.

"A Republican or a Democrat is not our enemy," said Jonathan Benz, an assistant pastor for prayer and outreach at Covenant Centre International, a church in West Palm Beach. "Any spiritual forces of darkness that want to wreak havoc in our nation that's our enemy."

Possibly sensing trouble, several nationally known Christian ministries issued mailings in October asking readers to pray fervently for the election. Leaders ranging from Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ to James Dobson of Focus on the Family stated Election 2000's strategic importance, adding the winner would influence American policy for years to come. Shirley Dobson proclaimed Nov. 5 a National Day of Prayer with the intent to "pray, fast and exhort others to vote."

In a rally sponsored by Campus Crusade earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., religious broadcaster Pat Robertson called it "the most important election we've had in 100 years."

"We're praying for a great nation," he said. "We're praying for revival, regardless of what political party you're in."

In the District of Columbia, CityNet Ministries, a New York interdenominational Christian group, sponsored a two-day vigil late last month at Ethiopian Church on Eastern Avenue to pray for the election. "Let's push back the darkness at the epicenter, Washington, D.C.," their Web site proclaimed. "Let's push God's agenda: securing this nation for Him."

The Rev. Nina Lemnah, director of CityNet Ministry, estimated nightly crowds ranged from 500 to 1,000 attendees.

"The church has said: 'Enough is enough,' " she said. "The church has said we need to press in and pray. No matter who gets elected, we need a man in there who can turn things around."

She took some inspiration from several "national prayer alerts" that arrived over the Internet last month from Dutch Sheets Ministries, based in Colorado Springs. Mr. Sheets is the author of two books and a video series on intercessory prayer and the pastor of the Springs Harvest Fellowship.

"I firmly believe this is the most critical election in decades," he wrote Oct. 31. "The results of this election will not only drastically influence America, but other countries as well. I believe Israel will especially be impacted … . Please increase your intercession and fasting."

After that, "When Dutch gave the word for urgency for prayer, we canceled the agenda, sent back the money and registrations and said we'd turn the conference into three days of prayer for the nation of America," Miss Lemnah said.

As the unusual events of Election 2000 unfolded, Covenant Centre asked Mr. Sheets to fly in Nov. 12 for a prayer meeting called to "spiritually address the presidential election and upheaval" in Palm Beach County. Three hundred people came on very short notice for a four-hour service on what one reporter called a "spiritual war."

War?

"We feel there's a spiritual battle going on for the heart of our nation," Mr. Benz said. "It's a spiritual division trying to divide us as a people and prevent the man God wants in office [from being] in office.

"There is spiritual conflict going on in this county, drawn along partisan lines that one party is evil, one is good. We pray we will not export something negative into the nation.

"Often what happens in the natural realm is a reflection of what's happening in the spiritual realm. We feel there's a spiritual battle happening here, and unseen forces have arrived in this area because there's so much influence here as to how the election will go."

His church received a premonition a year ago that something might happen when a visiting preacher, the Rev. Chuck Pierce, told the assembly "the eyes of the world would be on West Palm Beach" in the undefined future.

Church leaders took him seriously, as Mr. Pierce directs the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs.

"Chuck sensed prophetically that whatever happened in West Palm Beach would steer the course of a nation," Mr. Benz said. "We knew something big would break here, but we didn't know what."

The Sunday after the election, Mr. Pierce preached at Glory Tabernacle, a church in the District.

"I do think we're in a leadership crisis," he said, "and the real danger I see right here in America is we're having a hard time getting a leader in place."

Meanwhile, Mr. Sheets had sent out another alert, dated Nov. 8.

"Never before has an election hung in the balance like this," he wrote. "In my heart, I believe God has given us the breakthrough for which we have asked. However, I now feel that Satan is trying to steal this during the recounting of votes and the processing of absentee ballots. We cannot allow him to do this."

Thus inspired, Mr. Benz's congregation, along with hundreds of volunteers from the Florida Prayer Network, swung into action. Both slated prayer vigils at the Palm Beach County government center, the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee and the Covenant Centre. The group praying at the government center was specifically petitioning the Almighty for a "just and right" judge to hear cases challenging the county's vote.

"We prayed for one recusal after another," he told the Palm Beach Post. After six recusals, one judge, Jorge Labarga, delivered what the pastor called "an answer to prayer."

Local Methodists also got into the act. Fifty-four churches in adjoining Palm Beach and Broward counties urged their 30,000 members to fast and pray Nov. 14 that "God's will be done."

Mrs. Buker of the Florida Prayer Network says the purpose behind "hundreds" of prayer meetings in churches all over the state is to "pray the Gospel of Jesus Christ be made known." They will not stop, she said, "until there is a closure for a man stepping in."

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