Prayer that Opens Prison Doors

With a lawyer for a father, Claudia’s interest in the criminal justice system began at a young age. And a marker moment at 14 when prayed for by another teenager gave her a sense of something beyond interest – a sense of purpose, a call to be a voice for the voiceless.
Proverbs 3:27 – “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” – became a foundational verse for her life as she grew in age and the awareness of the affluence from which she came, giving her a sense of responsibility and shaping her life choices.

Spending a transformative year with Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong, Claudia became introduced to those on the other side of the criminal justice system, whose lives had become caught up in it for varying reasons. She was overwhelmed by the amount of potential, talent and wisdom she saw within those who were viewed as “villains” yet who, in many ways, were actually victims of life circumstances stacked against them. She realised these were the “oppressed ” of whom Scripture speaks and she left Hong Kong with a yearning to serve the prison community.

At twenty years old while in uni, she heard her name called in the night, much like when God called to the young Samuel. She experienced a dream-like vision where she saw a huge prison in Scotland that had been cleared and replaced with a field where a farmer was plowing. The farmer spoke to her saying, “Pray, so that My seed might have fertile ground to grow in.

This confirmed the call on her life to serve the prison community and being an activist, she responded with action rather than prayer and began to do volunteer work in prisons.
Her first time walking up to HMP in Edinburgh, she experienced the odd sensation of familiarity, as if she had been there before, as it was the same prison from her vision. And this is where she began to really learn about intercessory prayer. She would pray as she walked the corridors, and feeling the spiritual atmosphere of deep despair and resistance, she often felt unable to pray except in the Spirit.
She remembers one day in particular, sitting in the cafe when the women prisoners came in and the atmosphere of trauma and despair was so thick she felt intimidated, doubting that even prayer in the Spirit could make a difference. But she pressed on. Then came the sound of a lovely, genuine laugh and a slow trickle of laughter began to spread across the room, conversations became more animated and life was reflected in the women’s faces. The atmosphere completely transformed. No one had publicly called on God, but it was like God had decided to turn up and bless these women with his presence, not taking any credit for it, simply out of his kindness towards them.

In spite of moments like this, because prayer didn’t fit her image of what “success” looked like, Claudia would lay prayer aside and put her energy into trying to build projects and teams. Nothing would happen so she would pick prayer up again. This was a pattern for a while. Because the experience of God’s call on her life to this work had been so profound, she struggled to understand why she wasn’t seeing amazing fruit or didn’t have incredible success stories. What Claudia couldn’t see at the time was the deeper work God was doing in her. A work of surrender and humility.

After three years of trying to start an Alpha Course in the prison but being met with resistance, she had all but given up. Challenged by a friend to pray again, she picked prayer back up, but it would be two years before those prayers were fully answered. After 5 years of frustration, discouragement, perseverance and on and off prayer, Claudia finally took part in the first Alpha course in HMP! But it was someone else who had started it and was leading it. Claudia simply assisted and prayed, yet with deep joy. And that was when she began to accept that the “Farmer” in her vision had not called her to be the one who plows, but to be the one who prays.

What amazes Claudia, 10 years on, is that the transformative work happening now in HMP and in the prison community around where she and her husband lead a church, is not because of her faithfulness in prayer. But rather God has been full of grace and faithful to her. She sees now that God was protecting her from becoming the centre of her own story and though that time of training was incredibly hard and painful, it was also amazing and is what has laid a healthy foundation for her leadership today.
And it has taught her something else. The prison community lives under a heavy covering of shame and rejection that has been placed on them by others. Human efforts can do little to lift it from them. Only the Spirit of God can break through that shame and rejection and bring freedom and a new identity. And that is the power Claudia is partnering with when she prays.

Claudia is married to Thomas and together they lead Stenhouse Baptist Church in Edinburgh, where they both now serve and befriend the prison community in different ways. They are excited to welcoming a new member to their family this summer!

Prayer for Everyone

When I read through the gospels something that strikes me is the amount of time Jesus spent in the outdoors. He taught in the synagogues and had dinner in people’s homes, yes, but he spent far more time teaching, healing, eating and praying on hillsides and beaches, in town centres and beside wells.

Obviously there is a slight difference in climate in Israel to us here in Scotland. But I wonder if there is still something here to inspire us? I really believe that one of the main reasons Jesus spent so much time outside rather than in buildings, was that he wanted to remove every barrier he possibly could so that people felt welcomed to come and meet with him. He wanted to be accessible by anyone and everyone.

One of the primary ways we meet with God is in prayer. But do we make it accessible to anyone and everyone?
Are the current restrictions, the things we see as obstacles, actually an invitation for us to try new things and take prayer outside into town centres, parks, gardens, street corners, removing every barrier we possibly can so that our communities around us feel welcomed to come and meet with Jesus?

What could it look like this spring, summer and autumn for us as the Church across Scotland to take prayer outdoors?

Many have tried this already and seen their local communities hugely blessed by it.

Last summer we spoke with Vicky Allen from Dunbar whose church Discovery has facilitated a labyrinth in their local park two Advents in a row, providing a place of reflection for the local community using simple materials like rocks and twigs and wood gathered from the beach. They also facilitated a labyrinth in the garden of one of the local churches during the summer as part of a wider sort of holiday club for families. You can watch our fun interview with Vicky here.

Last spring Blantyre Old Parish Church opened up their church garden to the local community and provided varied, changing reflective “prayer stops” to help people pray and process without the need to touch anything, making it completely safe and stress free to engage with.

Also last summer, Re:Hope Westend hung chalkboards on the pavement side of the iron fence by their building, inviting those passing by to write up their prayers.

This Easter, St Mary’s Dalkeith put out various Easter related prayer stations across several weeks for those passing by on a walk through the park, taking them through the Easter story and giving opportunity for those who wished to ask forgiveness and to reflect on how what Jesus did can transform us and the way we live, affecting the world around us for good.

There are many ideas out there – it just takes a little creative thinking, responding to the inspiration of Holy Spirit and then some physical work! And it can be a beautiful way of combining prayer and mission, like Jesus so often did!

Feel free to contact us for ideas and inspiration at scotland@24-prayer.com. We are also hosting two online information times – 27 April 10.30am and 29 April 8pm – for those wanting to hear more ideas around how to engage with this year’s Thy Kingdom Come and one of the things we will be talking about is outdoor prayer spaces. Feel free to come along to that even if you are not planning on getting involved with Thy Kingdom Come. You can register for either of these times here.

Also check out the 24-7 Prayer website for more outdoor prayer ideas!

Students Meet the Prayer Course

Tamsyn Radmall shares with us what happens when students decide to do the Prayer Course together!

This year has been a year of hardship, grief and frustration. But it has also been a year rich in opportunity, where more people are asking the big questions of life and where we’re ready to step into the new and unknown. This is a time where the church can step into new possibilities for ourselves and the people around us.

We as a group of students in the centre of Edinburgh have been trying to do this, trying to create space for people to explore the big questions of life, trying new things and inviting others to join in.
A new thing one of our student communities tried this term was The Prayer Course from 24-7 Prayer. They jumped onto zoom one evening a week, watched the video together and then discussed what they had just heard.
The course was a blessing to the leaders who had been struggling to create life-giving content for their community and to know how to lead and what to say during this difficult year. It has been hard for anyone who is attempting to build a genuine, authentic, Jesus-centred community while on zoom. But the Prayer Course was easy to use – all they had to do was press play and the content spoke for itself. It created real and genuine conversations that felt natural and unforced within this group of young people. It was also easy to follow for everyone in the community as the community included people from diverse backgrounds and with varying degrees of maturity in their faith. Some have never been to church before, some don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus and some have grown up around Jesus and the Church since they were born. So this course was incredible for helping to create an inclusive community.

But mainly what we saw happen through the course was real transformation in the lives of the students. One student had gone to church before but struggled to understand the teaching. But while doing this course he started to get it. He went away and prayed then messaged the leaders saying that he felt God with him for the very first time. Now he is praying more and more and wants to get baptised!
One of the other students had not grown up in church but he joined in doing the Prayer Course because he had been invited by a friend. At the start of the course, he shared how it was challenging him but he was also confused. But now he gets it and it’s making sense for him, which may seem like a small shift but it’s a spiritual shift! He’s now trying to pray for 5 minutes every day and he says that it feels great to pray – it feels like he’s resting with God by praying!

The Prayer Course is a useful resource that saves you having to create your own content, it helps to create genuine and authentic conversations, it provides a way to include a wide range of people and levels of faith, but more than anything, it facilitates a space for real transformation in people’s relationships with God. It has blessed our students in Edinburgh and it’s something we are very thankful for.

Tamsyn is the student leader at Central Church and passionately believes in the potential of students to advance God’s kingdom and bring change to the world around around them. Originally from London, she now calls Scotland home and if you ever need to know which coffee shops in Edinburgh should be visited, she’s your woman!

Thy Kingdom Come – Homecoming

There is a passage in the Bible that I love, specifically in The Message version. Jesus and His disciples have been interacting with individuals and crowds, healing, doing miracles, teaching, telling stories, bringing hope and freedom and causing the religious leaders great consternation.
Matthew 9:35 – 10:1 tells us:
Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.

I imagine Jesus and the disciples making their way up a steep hill towards a solitary place to rest and recover from days of intense ministry. They pause to catch their breath and Jesus turns to look out over the city, remembering the pain and suffering as well as the deep spiritual hunger he has encountered these past few days. His response? Prayer. And prayer together. He gets his friends to pray with him.
Watch this next part. ‘The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of His followers and sent them into the ripe fields.’
Those who prayed the prayer were sent as the answer to their prayer!

I think as Jesus looked out over these “ripe fields” he saw the potential for a great Homecoming. And just like the stories he had told, he sent his disciples out into the streets, the alleyways, the nooks and crannies to seek out the lost and the prodigals, the homeless and the wanderers, to bring them in to partake of the grand feast the Father had prepared.

This is what Thy Kingdom Come is all about this year. It’s about praying for the lost and the prodigals, the homeless and wanderers to find their Home. And for us as Jesus’ followers to be filled with His Spirit and courage to go out and bring them home.

Thy Kingdom Come is a Pentecost prayer initiative that began a number of years ago as a call to the British Church to prayer and to a Pentecost-like boldness in sharing the Hope we carry. It has since become global and ecumenical.

This year, we as 24-7 Prayer Scotland would like to invite you and your church/missional community/organisation to get involved!
Would you join us in praying 24/7 throughout the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost, 13 – 23 May, for a great Homecoming in our nation of Scotland?

Here are some ideas as to how it could work:
• Like Jesus did, gather others to pray with you. What it could it look like for the churches across your city/town/village to come together for 10 days of unbroken, 24/7 prayer?
– Simply register your “virtual prayer room” on the 24-7 Prayer website and receive an online sign-up with your own URL to share out with all those involved.
– People can sign up as individuals, as families, groups, or even as a church
– Consider using a platform like Padlet to create an online interactive prayer room of sorts for everyone to take part in together.
– Initiate some prayer walks as part of it, in accordance with social distancing guidelines and current restrictions
– Maybe one or two evenings there could be a community-wide prayer meeting or worship time on zoom or another online platform
– Help children, young people and families engage with it through the fun and creative and simple to use Prayer Spaces at Home
• What could it look like to create an outdoor prayer space that is accessible to the local community for the purpose of reflection, where they feel welcomed to add their prayers and know they are being prayed for? In accordance with government regulations and guidance around social distancing, of course.

There are lots of helpful tips and ideas on the 24-7 Prayer website for running online prayer rooms and prayer events and more information around Thy Kingdom Come as well as free resources on the Thy Kingdom Come website. But we as 24-7 Prayer Scotland are also here for you and are happy to chat with you, discuss ideas, give you any support we possibly can. So do not hesitate to contact us at scotland@24-7prayer.com and we will be in touch.

Be watching for more information across all of our social media platforms for some Facebook and Instagram live prayer times that we will be hosting throughout the 10 days, as various voices from across Scotland lead us in prayer.

Let’s come together as the Church across Scotland and pray with Jesus for a great Homecoming in our nation, ready and willing to become the answers to that prayer by the power of Holy Spirit within us!

Crystal is the National Coordinator for 24-7 Prayer Scotland and loves being part of the wild, contagious and life-transforming movement that is 24-7 Prayer. She loves hospitality, cooking, talking about prayer, the history of Celtic Christianity, all things Nature, exploring new places and cultures, conversations over coffee (or a glass of red wine), reading and all things creative.