i believe in prayer in my brain.

in some ways i believe it in experience – i have seen God answer prayers in terms of provision, especially in the area of money, and have a lot of faith to trust in God for that.

But when it comes to healing, that is an area where i have not personally witnessed God doing all that much. i have a good friend who is fighting against cancer and despite many people praying, and me praying a whole lot, i have not seen anything i would attribute to God in terms of bringing healing.

And then i read a story like this and it gives me hope, that just maybe God does listen to our prayers and that they do have some power.

This takes place 30 years after a dramatic conversion of a young gang leader who used to sleep under a bridge and had undergone rejection of all sorts from may members of his family. Stephen Lungu is pulled in to speak at a small church in Durban because the pastor is sick and this is what happens:

So i drove down to Durban, found the little church in an insignificant neighborhood, and was greeted by the kindly pastor. I was glad to be there, but quite honestly, after days of meetings, it was just one more service.

I had no premonition at all. I was only a stand-in preacher. How could I possibly have guessed that in fact this ‘stand-in’ must have come from God? I was simpl, incredibly, in the right place at the right time, and had I not been there that night, a very precious thirty-year old secret would have been lost to me forever.

The service began. After the hymns and prayers and notices, I stepped up to the pulpit, and got underway. I told of my childhood, my miserable teens sleeping under the bridge, and about joining the gang. My story was hardly a typical one, and I had the complete attention of everyone in that church. Fifteen or twenty minutes in, I finally reached the fateful night of the Dorothea Tent meeting.

By now I was well into my stride, intent on painting a picture of that amazing night for my congregation. So when two very old ladies suddenly whispered urgently to each other, I was surprised, but ignored them. But they kept on whispering, and one looked in her Bible and then showed the other. This was unusual – old ladies did not usually start comparing Bibles when I was talking about how my gang had been about to petrol bomb a Christian tent meeting. But I kept talking.

Then – to my amazement – those two old ladies stood up! They disturbed several people as they shuffled along and out of the aisle. I kept an eye on them, but I kept talking. Perhaps they were not feeling well – they were incredibly old – perhaps in their 90s. Whatever it was, they would be gone in a few moments, and it was up to me to hold the congregation against this distraction, and so I thundered on.

The the two little old ladies began to wave and call to me. “Young man! Young man!” one cried urgently, fluttering her arm like a bird. I paused for a second in astonishment. She fixed me firmly with her eye. “Come here, come here!” she cried.

By now, of course, the entire church was distracted. I felt a stab of frustration. I’d undertaken a four hour round-trip drive to be there that night, I was doing my best to share my heart with this church, and these two old dears had suddenly taken it into their heads to talk with me right at the most crucial part of my testimony.

I hoped fervently that someone, anyone, would lead these two old women out of the church. Then to my horror, the two old ladies began to make their shaky way up the aisle, staring fixedly at me. I took a deep breath and tried to remember where I was in my story…

“My – my gang members were all there in the tent, with me,” I stammered. “But I did not care if they saw me – I wanted Jesus…”

“Young man, young man! Come here!”

“…I forgot about the gang. I forgot about the bank, I forgot about my petrol bombs,” I continued firmly, thinking in my head, “and I’m going to ignore you two old ladies as well…”

“Yoo-Hoo young man! Yoo-hoo young man! I say, we need to talk to you!” The little old ladies advanced on me, frail and shaky, but utterly determined.

After thirty years of preaching throughout Africa, I rather prided myself that there were few situations with which I could not deal. I’d been stoned, I’d had cars try and run me down. But this was the first time two old Methodist ladies in their Sunday best frocks had ambushed me. I looked helplessly around at the pastor and others. No-one moved.

“I, er… I am preaching right now, sisters. I will talk with you later…”

“No, now. We must tell you something.” fluttered the old lady, swaying dangerously.

“Come here, come here,” said her friend, waving her Bible at me.”

My heart sank. I knew I was beaten. With a sigh, I stepped off the platform and went down to them. Whatever was this all about?

The two old ladies just reached out for me and gripped my hands. They stared up at me as if they could not believe I was there, like I was the answer to something big. It was quite unnerving. I had never met these two old ladies in my life before. 

“You, you!” one old lady trilled. “God gave us you! You were the answer to our prayer!”

I smiled weakly. “Yes, dear sister… ah, what are you talking about?”

She tapped her foot impatiently, and looked at me as if i were a stupid little boy. “You have just said,” she said accusingly, “that you went to a tent meeting of the Dorothea Mission tent in Highfield, Harare in May 1962. That you were the leader of the gang.”

“Yes,” I said. “And if you’ll just sit down again, sister, I will tell you what happened next…”

“We know what happened next!” said the other one, giggling with joy.

Her friend thrust her Bible into my hands. “Look at this, it is my Bible. Look what it says there.” She pointed shakily to a page at the back. The soft leather of the Bible was limp with use and age, the paper thin. There was some hand-writing on a page at the back, faded and hard to read. It began with a date: 14 May, 1962. Beside the date was written a simple prayer: ‘Lord Jesus, will you save one gang leader tonight.’

14 May 1962 had been the night of my conversion.

I felt the past reach out a long arm and grab me. The force of the shock was that violent. These two old ladies, whom I’d never met before, had prayed for me and my conversion on that night thirty years ago. 

“But – I never saw you that night,” I stammered. “I don’t remember you.”

“Well, of course not,” one old lady replied. “We weren’t there. We were housewives in Durban. But we knew about the Dorothea Mission’s meetings in Highfield Township outside Harare, and so we were praying. We asked God for a gang leader.”

“But until tonight,” her friend continued, “we never knew how God had answered that prayer. We heard about the riot, and had no idea that anyone had become a Christian. But from what you’ve said tonight, we have just realised tha you were the answer to our prayers all those years ago.”

I could scarcely take it in: these two old ladies had been praying in their white middle-class Durban kitchens back in May 1962 while I was entering the Dorothea Mission meeting in Harare, intent on petrol bombing and mayhem. In answer to their quite specific prayers that night, the Holy Spirit had moved in my life, opening my eyes to the reality of Jesus’ love.

Now the congregation had two crying old ladies and a crying preacher – standing there in the aisle of the church hanging on to each other. Things were not going according to your usual Methodist church service!

When the congregation was finally told what it all meant, they started to cry as well. I have never before or since been hugged by so many Methodists all at once. The service sort of dissolved after that – I never got any further with my story – instead there was a time of rejoicing.

Together we thanked God for His graciousness in letting us finally meet up, all these years later. The two old ladies had finally seen the answer to that prayer all those years ago. I thanked God that I had seen more evidence of His loving care reaching out to me.

That was the one and only time I met those dear old ladies. I didn’t even remember to ask their names, in all the astonished excitement. But in the weeks that followed, I thought a lot about them. They summed up all that I understand about what the Bible calls ‘the fellowship of the Gospel.’ The Holy Spirit had led them to pray for someone they had never heard of, someone they could only imagine as ‘a gang leader’. And hundreds of miles away, in the violence and anger of a black township, the Holy Spirit had answered their prayers, opening my ‘spiritual’ eyes that night. 

[From Out of the Black Shadows: The Amazing Transformation of Stephen Lungu, a book well worth reading]

[For the final part of this series with a summary of Stephen’s life and the difference God made, click here]