- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. A nondescript field bordered by a shopping mall and gas station has become a center of strength and hope for residents who come here to pray for American troops and the Iraqi people, and to ask God to change the heart of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"We lift them up before you, so many men and women who have answered the call to duty," the Rev. Gary Staddan of First Christian Church prayed yesterday. "We pray that they would be honorable in all they do and would return to their families in the not-too-distant future."
This was the second day of prayer at the corner of Carl D. Silver Parkway and Fall Hill Avenue, which Mr. Staddan and the group have named Prayer Point.
Though the spot is little more than a barren lot with a well-constructed bulletin board for posting pictures of troops and a large white sign with red letters, area church leaders and residents say they hope the prayers said there have a spiritual effect.
"I know it's the Lord's will that they not perish," said Vietnam veteran David Hertle, 55, whose wife, Deborah, is a chaplain at a nearby nursing home. "The Scriptures say we have not, because we ask not, and we're asking."
Mr. Hertle flew more than 1,500 sorties on a medivac helicopter in Vietnam in 1968.
"I know I was able to survive those missions because I had a mom back home praying," he said. "We're out here to pray for the troops and get them back home."
A group of about 15 churches has arranged for one of their leaders to be at the point from noon until 7 p.m. each weekday to lead prayers. Yesterday, the group prayed for each of the seven troops whose name or picture was posted on the board. Group members plan to pray for each soldier, sailor, airman or Marine whose picture is posted on the board, no matter how many are there.
Among those in the group is Kristin Payne, 20. Her husband, Christopher, 22, is in the central Kuwait camp where a U.S. soldier is suspected of throwing two grenades into an officer's planning tent, killing one soldier and injuring 15.
Kristin spotted Prayer Point while she was driving with her mother-in-law, Debra, 41, to the store to buy supplies for her husband. The two were overcome with emotion after posting Christopher's picture on the board and praying with Mr. and Mrs. Hertle.
"It gives me hope," Debra Payne said. "It gives me support that I need desperately. I need to know somebody's backing these guys."
Kristin Payne said, "I know he's got the biggest smile out there, and he's trying to keep up the morale of all the soldiers."
Nicole Lloyd, 21, was there to pray for her brother, Lance Cpl. Isaiah M. Schaffer, 18, who enlisted in the Marines straight out of high school during the summer. Mrs. Lloyd spoke with Mr. Schaffer last week when he was in Bahrain and headed to Iraq with a ground-infantry unit.
The picture of Mr. Schaffer, who grew up in Fredericksburg, was the first one placed on the board.
"It's nice that people know he's out there," Mrs. Lloyd said. "With all the anti-war stuff, it's been hard because he felt like he was going over there in vain. We pray that God's angels protect the camp he's in."
There were also prayers yesterday for the president of Iraq.
"I lift up Saddam Hussein to you," prayed Kathi Wolf, 51, of Fredericksburg. "You are a mighty God. Change the heart of the deceiver."
Mr. Staddan prayed for the safety of the Iraqi people.
"Our country doesn't have a problem with the average person over there," he said.
The Rev. Ernest Custalow of Grace Church, who has organized the efforts to build the bulletin board and staff the prayer times, said people of all faiths are welcome, but that prayers would be offered from a Christian vantage point.
"I hope some soldier will hear about this, then look at his watch and say, 'They're getting ready to pray for me right now.' It'll give them strength and courage," Mr. Custalow said.

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