World Day of Prayer calls town to global perspective

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 2, 2011

On March 4 beginning at 1:30 pm, the interchurch World Day of Prayer takes place once again in Cochrane, hosted this year by Cochrane Alliance Church located at 902 Glenbow Dr.

The annual event has been a focal point in our community for over 50 years. Originally seen as a women’s prayer gathering, more recently it has brought together both men and women in a time of informed, prayerful reflection around a featured country, this year Chile.

But more about that in a moment. First I’d like to share some of my own views on the importance of prayer in a global context.

In my May 3, 2006, column we considered the African (Xhosa and Zulu) term, ubuntu (pronounced oo-BOON-too), which means something like: “If I hurt you, I hurt myself; if I treat you well, I treat myself well.”

Living together as we do in a global village today, there can be no doubt that what happens to one person or one region has a ripple effect on all others.

The earthquakes a year ago in Haiti and more recently in New Zealand; climate change; human rights abuses in Pakistan and Iran; cries for democratic reform in much of North Africa and the Middle East – these are situations and moments which test our commitment to global citizenship, whether through our indifference, complicity or compassion.

Our whole world is the “city” in which we reside during our earthly sojourn. In this regard, I’m reminded of God’s message delivered through the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah some 2,600 years ago to Jews from Jerusalem who had been exiled to Babylon in one of history’s many Middle East conflicts. God said:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Interestingly, this is one of the Bible verses that have been shaping the hearts and minds of Cochrane’s host congregation in preparation for this week’s interchurch gathering, according to local organizer Lynn Milburn. Their focus began here at home:

“Cochrane Alliance Church held a week-long time of prayer, praying specifically for the peace and prosperity of our town. We based our week of prayer on Jeremiah 29:7. . . . Each night we prayed for a different group of people, such as community leadership, families, singles, youth, schools, seniors, Town of Cochrane municipal government, neighbourhoods and other churches,” she said, adding that this Friday’s event provides a good opportunity for folks from all of Cochrane’s churches “to come together in unity to pray” for other parts of the world, and in particular, Chile.

Chile is the narrow South American country that stretches along the Pacific Ocean from the tropics to the southern tip of that continent. In addition to complex social issues rooted in its colonial past, it has faced several recent natural disasters.

A year ago this past weekend, Chile endured an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that resulted in extensive destruction and death. Then there was last August’s mining accident that left 33 men trapped underground, finally to be rescued 69 days later in what many regard as an amazing answer to prayer.

The readings, music and prayers to be used in this Friday’s service were written by the World Day of Prayer Committee of Chile and embrace matters of food, health, work and other social conditions in that country.

The worldwide prayer day is regularly held the first Friday of March and involves over 170 countries and regions, drawing on many cultures, languages and traditions. As an explicitly Christian movement, it aims at affirming the participants’ faith in Jesus Christ and providing participants an opportunity to share their own concerns while encouraging them to be more knowledgeably and compassionately involved in the wider world.

In Cochrane, prayerful engagement of the wider world is not limited just to Christians, of course. A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in the blessing of Jaipur Indian Cuisine Restaurant, soon to open at 114 Third Ave. West in Cochrane. Among the two dozen of us gathered for the time of prayer were Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Baha’is and others, in addition to my wife and myself, Christians.

In this regard as I see it, prayer is always universal, transcending dogmatic differences and flowing from all hearts that hunger and thirst for righteousness within our global village. It is the intimate conversation between God and His creatures, between the Lover and beloved.

Or, as the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta once put it, “Prayer makes the heart large enough until it can contain God’s gift of Himself.” May our hearts as people of the Bow Valley be enlarged through this Friday’s afternoon of prayer so that we can better embrace our brothers and sisters in Chile.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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