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Lessons on Prayer from the Soviet Union

End of July, beginning of August 1991—Mary and I were in the Soviet Union on a Missions Trip with Josh McDowell and his staff distributing literature in the cities of Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad—but God was teaching me firsthand about His greatness and the power of prayer.  In each city He taught us about Himself:


Distributing books on the street in America—even free of charge—doesn’t mean they will be received by wary Americans.  Even if received, a large number are discarded before being read.  Not so in the Soviet Union in 1991.  Americans, Americans on the street, Americans on the street giving away something—we drew big crowds.  If there were people there, they almost always mobbed us until our supplies were gone.  We’d check the trashcans and gutters as we left—in all the time we were there, I only saw one book in the trash.  [Re-cycled it to another eager Russian, I did] 

We were distributing books in an open market called the Arbat one morning, and typically, people were eager for the books. After a short while, however, another bus from our group pulled in, and as they began to distribute, people were walking by us already having received their copy of More Than A Carpenter by Josh.  The small group that Mary and I were in decided to go around a corner to another avenue where we would offer the books.  As we held them out, people inexplicably responded NYET!  Maybe one in ten would take a book.  We believed that there must be a spiritual reason for this sudden reversal, and we huddled right there on the street for prayer.  I don’t remember exactly what we prayed, but I know we were asking God to break whatever stronghold was over that area in Jesus’ name.  As we finished praying, some curious folk had gathered, and as we turned out to them, we offered books and they took them.  More and more gathered around us taking the books eagerly.  In a short time, we had given out hundreds of books to eager recipients.

God showed us that He could powerfully intervene to break strongholds which inhibited His work.


Our next stop was Kiev in Ukraine.  Upon arriving, we found the Intourist Hotel totally unprepared for our arrival, and of the 400 in the group, less than a third had rooms.  Hours passed in the stuffy, humid lobby.  Josh called for a praise service to share what God had been doing.  I sat during it, focused on my needs and desires rather than on what God was doing.  We ate dinner.  I was poor company.  Back to the lobby; several more hours passed.  I was really getting in a foul mood.  I opened my Bible to Philippians, the book in which I had been having my devotions for the duration of the trip.  The section I was in started with Philippians 1:27—“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  I read no farther—God had so deeply convicted me of my attitude.  Even though it was late in the night before we got a room, I was OK after that—God had broken through.

Our next lesson on prayer came several evenings later.  About 7 o’clock, as we sat in the public amphitheater on the Dnieper River waiting for the evangelistic meeting to start, Mary said:  “Something is wrong at home.”  “What is it?” I asked.  “I don’t know but we must pray.”  We did pray, felt some peace, and were blessed by the ministry that night.  When we returned to our hotel room, we spent several hours trying to call the USA, but to no avail.  Worried, but exhausted, were fell into a fitful sleep. 

We left for Leningrad the next day, successfully called home, and found nothing amiss.  When we arrived home, we had such a joyous reunion with our family.  Jim and Becky Edwards, friends of ours who watched the kids, shared stories.  Mary queried, “Did anything unusual happen last Tuesday?”  They looked at one another.  They shared that they had taken the kids to the beach.  Katie, our youngest at 10 years, had gotten a popsicle but dropped it in the sand.  She ran back to rinse it off, started back to the beach, and found that all those umbrellas and blankets looked pretty much the same.  She started out, got hopelessly lost, walked for what seemed like miles, began to cry.  A woman found her and took her to a lifeguard stand.  The lifeguard, surmising the need, said, “Little girl, where are your parents?”  “Russia!” she sobbed.  They did manage to unite her with Jim and Becky quickly, and all was well again.  We inquired the time of day that this happened.  They said about 1:00 in the afternoon New York time.  It was the very same time that we were burdened by God to pray.  My spiritually sensitive wife was listening to God’s promptings, and we prayed His protection over our lost [or just temporarily misplaced] child.


The most beautiful city we visited was Leningrad.  Though they boasted of only 60 truly sunny days/year, and only about 5 hours of daylight in the deep winter, it was enchanting that summer.  The Hermitage Museum, the Summer Palace of the Czars, truly elegant and inspiring.  The trip had taken its toll on us physically, and we were becoming exhausted.  One evening I was eager to return to our hotel room, while Mary was engaged in a lively conversation with some folks in our group.  I said some things that brought that to an abrupt halt, and we returned to our hotel room.  I said some additional angry words.  Mary, upset, went into the bathroom and closed the door.  I felt that I had made some good points, and hoped that she was thinking them over.  She later told me that she was so upset that I would treat her that way, and thought:  “He would not want someone to treat any of his daughters that way.” 

As I lay on the bed, I heard the voice of God.  Not audibly, but clearly it was Him.  He said to me, “Would you want someone to treat one of your daughters that way?”  [He had heard Mary’s prayer].  I was deeply convicted and was about to rise from the bed to ask forgiveness, but God was not finished.  He said, “She is my daughter, and I don’t want you to treat her that way.”

Something changed in our relationship that day.  I cannot say that we have never had another argument, but we are fundamentally changed for the good and it is reflected in our relationship in a hundred different ways.

We went to the Soviet Union to tell them about our Jesus—and we did.  But God’s plan was to use the unique circumstances of that trip to reveal Himself to us in ways that encouraged faith, inspired prayer, and changed me to be more like Jesus.  Praise the Lord!

-Pastor MIke O’Connor

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