Outside the box: Gainesville’s praying pastor has a whole town talking

by Roger Alford

Pastor Brian Stephens has set up a canopy tent in front of New Holland Baptist Church for outdoor prayer.

GAINESVILLE, GA – Nearly 50,000 vehicles pass by New Holland Baptist Church every day – one about every 1.7 seconds.

Prayer concerns are stapled to a cross outside New Holland Baptist Church.

For the past month, Pastor Brian Stephens has been sitting beneath a canopy tent overlooking the bustling thoroughfare, praying for the passersby. Just quietly praying. Stephens has sought no attention. He made no public announcement. He didn’t advertise. Yet, people here have taken notice of his simple act of obedience after he perceived God directing him to pray outside his church for a month, from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., every day, through the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer, through thunderstorms with gusty winds that threatened to turn his tent into a huge kite. He kept on praying. “People say I’m outside the box,” the pastor said. “I suppose people say that about anyone who does something that’s even slightly different.” But Stephens, as a lifelong pastor, knows the power of prayer. He said he has witnessed it firsthand in his life and in the lives of fellow believers. “God can do more in a moment that we can do in an entire lifetime,” he said. Townsfolk have started coming to join Stephens in prayer and to be prayed for. So far, about 200 people have tapped their brakes and pulled to a stop in the church parking lot. Some pray for wayward children. Some pray for physical healing. Some pray to cope with the grief of losing loved ones. Some pray for the heartbreak of broken relationships. Some pray for American military personnel serving abroad. Some pray for friends and family caught up in drug and alcohol addiction. Some just wanted to be supportive of Stephens, bringing him breakfast, lunch and dinner and keeping him supplied with water. “I certainly haven’t gone hungry out here,” he said. “I’ve gained about seven pounds.” As he sits in the shade beneath the canopy, passing cars honk their horns.

Pastor Brian Stephens displays a one-word message to the residents of Gainesville.

Someone asked if he knows all those people. “No,” he said. “Those are just people offering their encouragement. Honking is the new ‘amen’ for what we’re doing.” A huge cross, hammered together with heavy four-by-sixes, is covered with written prayer burdens. A staple gun is handy on a nearby table, ready to nail the next burden to the cross when the next person stops by. “There seems to be something happening in our community,” Stephens said on Day 30 of his month-long prayer initiative. “I’m sensing a move toward Jesus, a move toward prayer.”





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roger Alford is the editor of the Christian Index which was founded in Washington, DC in 1822 by legendary Baptist leader Luther Rice. The Christian Index is the nation's oldest continuously published religious newspaper.



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