Back to school means more than books, pencils, iPads, backpacks, calculators, and new clothes for Lamar County high school juniors and seniors. It also means that someone in the community is praying for them.
The praying initiative, called “Prayers for Students,” began last year after six Paris residents met to discuss ways to help local teenagers navigate the challenges of growing up in today’s high-pressure world. They were spurred on by Mike Long, a 47-year veteran teacher whose resume includes stints as a coach and athletic director and who had returned to Paris public schools after spending 13 years working in Christian schools. Long noted an increase in anger and apathy among his students, many of whom lacked the positive influence of strong family support. The Prayers for Students committee was formed as a response.
At first the committee pondered social action. What could they do for the students of Paris? As committee members discussed options, they found guidance from two verses of Scripture—2 Chronicles 20:12 and 2 Chronicles 7:14.
Long said of these verses, “He [God] is the healer. He heals in response to the prayers of his people. He does not say, ‘I’ll send a government agency!’ He says, ‘I will heal their land.’”
By the group’s second meeting, a member volunteered to start praying for one of Long’s troubled students. That night all six committee members took names of students for whom to pray and the group’s mission was set.
Committee member Patsy Parker, lifelong Paris resident and member of East Paris Baptist Church who regularly prays for five students, said, ”We have no idea what our young people are facing. It has been such a blessing to pray for them.”
What started as a handful of believers praying for a handful of students spread rapidly. Christians of various denominations were praying for 100 students by the time school started last year. “We started with the seniors at Paris High School,” Long recalled. The number grew throughout the year until all the seniors were prayed for, so the committee began to distribute the names of juniors for prayer.
The effort spread to all five public high schools in Lamar County. Last year’s class of 2012 included 500 seniors across Lamar County, all of whom were prayed for by Prayers for Students volunteers. Each of the county’s 500 juniors received similar prayer support.
“We plan to include the sophomores as soon as we can,” Long said.
He also noted that by the start of this school year, some 1,550 teens will have been prayed for by more than 1,300 Prayers for Students participants.
The system works this way: Committee members distribute cards to people who express an interest in praying for students. For example, Patsy Parker’s husband, Marion, serves as the liaison between Prayers for Students and East Paris Baptist Church. Parker visits Sunday school classes to describe the program and hand out interest cards. Completed interest cards are returned to Mike Long, who randomly assigns each volunteer the name of a student, sending a laminated card with the student’s name and school to the person who will pray for him or her.
Long acquires the student names from school yearbooks, matters of public record. Some school administrators allow Long to affix a photo of the student to the prayer card, while others do not. Students do not know who is praying for them, although many know that the prayer occurs.
“People are enthusiastic. We will never know the impact this prayer has had this side of heaven,” said Marion Parker. He keeps the card of his student in his billfold.
Prayers for Students committee members meet monthly. Milestones are celebrated: 500, 1,000, 1,500 students prayed for. To date, participants represent 11 denominations and 37 churches. Pastor Billy Norris of Southside Baptist Church of Paris confirmed that many of his church’s members are involved. Norris himself prays daily for his assigned student.
“It’s really neat to see the community come together for this effort,” said Norris, who also commended the involvement of “all the churches in praying for our students.”
“This is about all Lamar County students, not just selected ones who have been in trouble,” Long said of the inclusiveness of Prayers for Students. All committee members are adamant that what has been accomplished has been through the Lord’s favor. “All glory and praise goes to him alone,” Long affirmed.
Other communities have expressed interest in starting similar programs, Long added. Long and other committee members are available to share how Prayers for Students works in Lamar County. For more information, contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.