By LEE PARIS
How prayer has torn down walls in Mississippi
The power and emphasis of prayer in the life of Mission Mississippi began over a lunch meeting at the former Primos Northgate in Jackson. The year was 1992. Those attending this historic gathering, black and white civic and spiritual leaders, would all be confronted by the generationally entrenched barrier that divided the body of Christ, both in this city and across the state.
As guest speakers Tom Skinner (black) and Pat Morley (white) shared about their deep friendship, most if not nearly all in the room lacked such relationships that transcended the color wall. Many there were convicted to seek change, sincerely address our state’s Achilles’ heel, and ask of the Lord what it might mean in Mississippi to love our neighbor as Christ admonished in His parable of the Good Samaritan. Intentions were noble, yet most were unsure where to begin.
In God’s goodness and in His perfect time, someone suggested an age-old method, used when facing Goliath, the Red Sea, and a sealed tomb — PRAYER! Thus, several began to meet in a police precinct, complete with concrete floors, uncomfortable metal folding chairs, and cold donuts — simply to pray for one another.
Early each Tuesday morning, black and white met in this “neutral site” to seek God’s guidance and leading in bringing His body together under His cross, something that had not been done in our state’s history. We all knew that Mississippi, while statistically being the center of Christianity in our country’s Bible Belt, was known as a place of segregation and separation. At that police precinct, sins were confessed, fears addressed, and relationships formed as we prayed for one another.
We soon saw we faced similar life challenges: aging parents and grandparents, wayward teenagers, sickness in our families, financial burdens. As we opened up to one another, we saw these were not black or white issues, but ones we mutually shared. As we prayed for each other, seemingly insurmountable racial barriers crumbled, replaced by Christ-centered concern for one another.
After a year of praying together in that precinct on Capitol Street, we felt comfortable organizing prayer times in our respective churches. Intentionally, we alternated each week between predominantly black and white churches. We began to invite fellow church members to join us for the prayer times, and introduced those church members to our newly found brothers and sisters from “across the railroad tracks.”
We branched out to more churches, then to communities across Mississippi. The goal for these gatherings was simple — praying with and for one another. Now, 28 years later, Mission Mississippi prayer gatherings have grown in dozens of Mississippi communities and hundreds of churches, with thousands of prayer warriors joining to seek the Lord’s reconciling hand in our state.
As we’ve seen racial strife boiling in other states this past year, Mississippi has navigated these troubling waters smoother than many. I believe God is hearing our prayers, sparing us from some of the pains in our past and the present divisions seen in sister states of late.
In addition to bringing our people together through times of prayer, these gatherings have fostered incredible stories of eternal friendships. I count among my closest friends black and white brothers and sisters I first encountered at Mission Mississippi prayer times. We met there, prayed for one another, began to understand and trust one another, and built friendships we will take beyond this world. Through intentional prayer, we crossed over where once stood separating railroad tracks, while looking forward to crossing through gates of pearl into the presence of the Lord, who first brought us together at Mission Mississippi times of prayer.
Lee Paris is the founding board chairman of Mission Mississippi. He is a graduate of The University of Mississippi and The University of Mississippi School of Law. Lee serves as business development officer for Wellspring & Associates of Atlanta, and chairman of the board of FCA – Ole Miss in Oxford. He and his wife, Lisa, have three children and four precious grandchildren.