Evangelicals Praying for a Revolution
Betting that the younger generation wants its religion as extreme as its sports, two Pasadena pastors are planning a 12-hour Christian revival meeting Saturday at the Rose Bowl, where the faithful will be asked to spend the next 40 days fasting and praying.
The event is the first Southern California stop for the Call, an international movement less than 3 years old that has drawn more than 750,000 to venues in four U.S. cities, the Philippines, England and South Korea. The 40-day observance will end in April with a daylong event at San Francisco’s 3Com Park.
“The Bible is clear that many spiritual breakthroughs, especially on a national level, happen due to prayer and fasting,” said Rick Warren, senior pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of hundreds of Southern California ministers who have promoted the event. “I’m thrilled that a young generation of believers is taking this challenge seriously.”
Pastors Che Ahn and Lou Engle, evangelical co-founders of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, began the Call to spur a revival among young Christians that they believe will lead to revolutionary changes among the youth, such as curtailment of gang violence and a renewed commitment to sexual abstinence.
The movement has since evolved to include older generations.
“Where there’s no hope, no remedy, God still has an ace up his sleeve, and that’s fasting and prayer,” Engle said. “The kids yearn to be a part of something extreme. They’re either going to be extremely rebellious or extremely passionate about God.”
The fast can take a variety of forms, from skipping one meal a day to abstaining from the media.
The closest cousin to the Call is Promise Keepers, the evangelical men’s movement that at its height played to filled stadiums. Unlike those events, the Call attracts men and women and doesn’t rely on big-name speakers or Christian bands to promote itself.
“We don’t advertise who’s going to be there,” Ahn said. “It’s not a convention, and it’s not entertainment. It’s about worship, prayer and fasting.”
The day of prayer is broken into four three-hour chunks: revival, repentance, reconciliation and revolution. In each segment, songs, personal testimonies and prayers are geared to the specific theme. For instance, for reconciliation, absentee parents ask their children for forgiveness and wash their feet as a sign of humility, the same act that Scriptures say Jesus performed for his Apostles. The prayers range from personal repentance to a spiritual revolution for the nation.
Organizers say the narrow focus allows the Call to attract participants across denominational lines.
“There’s not a theological debate about prayer and fasting,” said Alvin Chun, pastor of a Washington church who serves on the Call’s board.
Saturday’s event begins at 9 a.m.; admission is free. Expenses, which organizers say will be nearly $1 million, will be covered by individuals, churches and businesses. The ministry has a paid staff of five.
Fasting and prayer are biblical favorites that span the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament. King David said he “humbled himself with fasting.” Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the desert as a form of spiritual purification. And 1st century disciples went without food to show humility before God.
Call organizers say they want to repopularize fasting, a spiritual tool that has gone out of fashion among most Protestants.
The Call’s first event in 2000 drew an estimated 400,000 to the Mall in Washington. Chun, a 30-year-old pastor, said the initial rally moved him to quit his staff job at a Maryland congregation and start his own church in the nation’s capital.
“The Call transformed me,” said Chun, whose new church focuses primarily on prayer. “That wasn’t my plan, but I just felt God begin to do things, change things.”
Joy Ahn, the 19-year-old daughter of Pastor Ahn, said her life was transformed during the Call event in New York last year. A freshman at San Diego State, she was spending much of her time partying, she said.
“I was a rebellious PK [pastor’s kid],” she said. “But seeing those people gather en masse, seeing that passion, really moved me. I knew I was going to be radical for something, so I decided to be radical for God.”
She quit college and enrolled in the Call School, a nine-month training program geared to deepening spiritual roots. About 50 students are enrolled this year.
Ahn will finish a 40-day fast Saturday, something she undertook as a personal purification and sacrificial act for her generation and for the revival.
“There needs to be a sacrifice for any revival,” said Ahn, who dropped from 120 to 110 pounds on her 5-foot-4 frame. “If we want it badly enough, we have to give up something. [The Lord] wants to see how desperate we are for change.”
During her liquids-only fast, Ahn drank water, juices and soup.
She also has abstained from watching television, reading newspapers and surfing the Internet.
“My [media] fast taught me how much junk is out there and how my eyes are really the windows to my soul,” she said.
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