A Different Kind of Van Ministry: West Virginia Church Intercedes on Wheels
By Carl Stagner
Small towns, large cities, remote rural areas—regardless of location, the opioid crisis has spiraled out of control over the past decade. While a host of other issues tend to rise to the top of the evening headlines, rampant drug abuse is no respecter of persons; women and men of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes are falling prey to the addictive painkillers. Often the church feels ill-equipped and inadequate to make a difference, though many have discovered the power of partnership to promote prevention and recovery. But one West Virginia church, in the meantime, embraced something they could do, something that blossomed into a wider-scale operation of eternal consequence.
Bus ministry and van ministry are often equated with arranging pickup and dropoff of church guests lacking weekly transportation. Certainly, the van at First Church of God in New Martinsville, West Virginia, is available for such purposes, not to mention fellowship activities when such needs arise. But most of the miles put on this van lately have been for a singular, special, and indispensable practice: prayer.
Neither the congregation nor the community are under any illusions about the opioid crisis wreaking havoc from the hollers to the banks of the Ohio. Often the question would spark conversation at First Church of God. What can be done? Will there ever be progress in the fight against such a prevalent problem? But when members of the congregation watched a film together about what several Kentucky churches were doing together in response to the crisis, First Church of God imagined the possibilities. Could they, too, devote regular intervals to a concerted prayer effort defined by widespread, physical coverage across their community? Could they storm heaven’s throne room with petitions for deliverance, breakthrough, and restoration? Certainly, with the Lord’s help, they could. And they did.
Amy Witschey coordinates the prayer van ministry and was there at the start some eight years ago. No doubt the film offered her practical steps the church could take, but Amy also cites an observation made by Christian singer Mandisa, which encouraged her to proceed. “She says that when there’s a school shooting or something horrible like that, people often say, ‘Well, all we can do is pray.’ But prayer is the best thing we can do!”
What began as a circle of First Church of God intercessors, gathered outside their building, humbly pleading with the Lord against drug abuse, turned into a regular appointment to pray. If they could take prayer outside the walls of the church to the places and spaces where drug abuse was actually happening, the effect on the community could be powerful. The church van was the ideal mode of transportation and, though the name of their church was on the side of the vehicle, at one point people from five or six other churches were represented on these trips around town. Sometimes for two hours, they’d pray for the people and places they’d see.
“If I can pray about what I see, that gives me focus,” Amy says. “It keeps us more connected to our community in terms of knowing what’s going on. When you’re driving through town, looking for needs and issues, you get ideas of what could be improved. You see things to pray for. We sometimes make connections. If you’re used to your own little area of town, you may never know the needs that are right around the corner.”
Schools, the county courthouse, law enforcement offices, businesses, hospitals, homes, the homeless population—all these and more are included in the stops made by the prayer van from First Church of God. The prayer warriors inside sometimes step outside the vehicle to pray, but other times they’ll pull off the road or slow down just enough to spend a moment with the Lord on behalf of what they noticed. Many have come to recognize the van, yielding conversations that spark interest in the vital ministry. No longer is the focus all about opioids and methamphetamines. These prayer warriors will pray about any need they see and for anyone who could use a boost. After all, the health and welfare of the church and community are ultimately dependent upon the One who answers prayer.
Indeed, God does answer prayer. An anecdote Amy shares tells of the story of one caught up in drugs for which her prayer team would pray on a regular basis. Recently, Amy was invited to a milestone in the life of this former addict, after which other encouraging revelations of personal transformation were made known. For Amy, the encounters felt like God brought their story “full circle.” Prayer matters!
Going forward, the prayer van ministry of First Church of God longs to see additional participation post-COVID, but encouraging signs are on the horizon. One idea for expansion includes a drive-through prayer ministry that could take place at the church. The church is an ideal location for such an operation, as they are situated at one of the busiest intersections in town—right across from the local Walmart.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.