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— On the eve of her infant son’s second heart surgery, Dawn Cross sat in bed weeping. Filled with worry she turned to God with one request - “Let him live.”

Five-month-old Gabriel was already a miracle, having survived his first heart surgery soon after birth. Born with hydroplastic left heart syndrome, one side of his heart was severely underdeveloped, slowing its ability to pump blood. Without treatment, the rare birth defect is usually fatal.

“They told us most children don’t make it to the second surgery,” Cross said.

That evening Cross was praying for another miracle and she wasn’t alone. Volunteers at Bella Vista Baptist Church, known as prayer warriors, had been praying for the family for months.

The team’s mission is to pray for all those in need and it’s one they’ve carried out every day for 21 years.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, at least one volunteer has been at the Lighthouse of Prayer, a small room at the church, praying for the ill, the homebound and others in crisis. The dedicated team prays for church members and strangers alike.

Requests for prayers are sent from all over the world and each day volunteers pray for all of them. Most days they have around 500 requests to pray - some newand some long-standing.

It’s Kara Gosnell’s job to coordinate the ministry along with co-director Barbara Erskine. The two women must find volunteers to fill 84 slots to ensure some-one is in the prayer room during the 12 hours it’s open each day. Most hours are easy to fill - except for a few stretches on Saturdays.

“Everyone thinks it’s a job, but it’s not. It’s a pleasure,” Gosnell said. “I’m really blessed to be working in here.”

Andrew Carrington, associate pastor, is one of the prayer warriors. He said with all the requests the team receives it’s easy to stay focused on prayer.

“An hour for some people seems like a long time, but when you are in here, time flies,” he said. “It keeps you busy.”

A crew of seven day captains are responsible for making sure their day is fully staffed and four secretariesgather prayer requests, including messages left at the Lighthouse of Prayer number and those submitted at the church and through e-mail. They also check with those making requests to see if they have additional needs or their prayers have beenanswered.

Gosnell said the prayers work. The Cross family is just one example. The church receives notes of thanks on a regular basis from individuals and families across the country, and sometimes from overseas.

REQUEST BOX

Pastor Michael McCauley said the warriors pray for many people, including those serving in the military, church members, missionaries and the “country of the day.” Detailed requests, jotted down on blue cards, are kept in a box for easy access. For those who welcome them, periodic “prayer-grams” or notes of encouragement filled with Scriptures, such as Philippians 4:13 - “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” will be sent by the team.

Cross received numerous prayer-grams from the team during her pregnancy and the worrisome months that followed. Stunned by her son’s diagnosis before birth, Cross said she was too overwhelmed to ask for prayers from the church or even pray at times.

“I told Michael [the church’s pastor] that it was really hard to pray right now and he said, ‘It’s OK, everyone is praying for you,’” Cross said. “We were very, very grateful.”

When the couple was told about Gabriel’s condition, they were referred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for extensive testing, Cross said. The doctor said they had three options: a heart transplant after birth, a series of surgeries to improve the flow of blood or doing nothing.

“Do nothing and obviously he would die,” Cross said.

The Crosses opted for a series of surgeries.

“That whole year was really rough,” Cross said. “His chances were very, very slim.”

During their long hospital stays in Little Rock, Cross said she kept a box of prayer-grams with her and read them one by one.

“It was very comforting to me,” she said.

Gabriel had a third surgery in November and was home in less than two weeks, another testament to answered prayers, Cross said.

“We had everyone praying for us,” she said, adding that doctors are optimistic that Gabriel will make it to adulthood before a heart transplant is needed.

Before his last surgery, Cross said Gabriel would lie on the floor, too tired to play. Today, he’s an energetic 3-year-old who has no trouble keeping up with his four siblings and exhausting his mother.

“We always had hope,” Cross said, “and God has answered many prayers with him.”

Gosnell said receiving thanks from those who’ve been prayed for makes the team’s work very fulfilling, but she believes the blessings go both ways.

“The person being blessed is the person doing the praying,” she said.

As for why prayer is so important to the church, McCauley said intercessory prayer is a vital ministry.

“It shows us our constant dependence on God,” he said. “It’s not an activity we do. It’s a relationship with God.”

The prayer line can be reached by calling (479) 855-6644.

Religion, Pages 14 on 03/13/2010

Print Headline: Spirited vigilance

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