Texans prayed; unusual things happened
___By Mark Wingfield
___This is a story full of what some people would call coincidences. But to the individuals whose experiences are told here, it is a story full of evidence that God is all-powerful.
___This is a story about the power of prayer, but it's also a story about people who were open to listen to God in prayer as well.
___Most of all, this is a story about Albania, a country that once was considered the most-closed, most-atheistic nation in the world but now has gained access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
___It's a story Minette Drumwright of Fort Worth told during the recent Glorieta Prayer Conference to illustrate how God works when Christians commit themselves to pray for the nations of the world.
___Drumwright, retired prayer strategy coordinator with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, also tells the story in the manuscript of a new book she hopes to see published soon.
___On one level, the story begins in the heart of a pastor's wife in Benton, Ark., but even she quickly admits that God was at work many other places as well.
___In the mid-1980s, Sheila King Everett and her pastor-husband were serving First Baptist Church of Benton. During that time, a young woman who was preparing to go to Hungary as a missionary with Campus Crusade for Christ spoke in Sheila Everett's Sunday School class.
___"She mentioned Albania at the time and said it's the only totally atheistic country in the world," Everett recalled in an interview. "From that time on, God put it on my heart to start praying. I started praying that God would break down the walls of Albania."
___About that same time, Drumwright had begun her work with the prayer strategy office at the mission board in
___Richmond, Va. She and other missionary leaders began asking churches to "adopt" unreached people groups for intensive prayer.
___First Baptist Church of Benton was one of the first to sign up for the new program, and the church was randomly assigned a people group by IMB staffers, who at the time knew nothing of the pastor's wife's newfound concern for Albania.
___Everett recalls exactly where she was sitting in the Fellowship Hall of First Baptist Church one Wednesday night around 1988 when her husband announced to the congregation that he had received an assignment for an unreached people group from the mission board.
___He had not told her about the assignment, and she was overwhelmed when he announced their church had been assigned to pray for the people of Albania.
___"I almost shouted," she said. "Some would say this was a random assignment, but I wouldn't."
___A year later, the Everetts moved to Fort Worth, where Randel Everett became pastor of University Baptist Church. Sheila Everett carried with her the concern for Albania, and the Fort Worth church ultimately adopted a prayer focus on Albania as well.
___During this same period, a family in Brownwood had felt led by God to begin praying for Albania as well.
___David and Mary Carpenter were successful professionals in Brownwood, both active in their Baptist church. During a period in the mid-1980s, they were members of First Baptist Church of Brownwood and helped start a new mission church. Both congregations asked Drumwright's office for an unreached people group, and both were assigned Albania.
___"That was our first introduction to Albania," David Carpenter said in an interview, noting he doesn't think it is coincidental that both churches in the same town were randomly assigned Albania at different times.
___The Carpenters and their 4-year-old son began praying earnestly for the people of Albania to gain access to the gospel. It became such a habit that their young son always prayed for Albania any time he prayed, whether at mealtimes or bedtime.
___Before long, the Carpenters sensed God was calling them to go as missionaries to Albania. They contacted the mission board in Richmond but were told missionaries could not go to Albania.
___"They were nice but not real encouraging," Carpenter recalled. "It was a closed country."
___But the Carpenters persisted and proceeded with the missionary appointment process over about a five-year period. Eventually, they sold their successful law practice in Brownwood, sold off their real estate investments, sold their luxurious home, auctioned off their belongings and moved to an apartment in Fort Worth for seminary training.
___Albania remained a closed country at that point, but they moved on faith, convinced God would open a way for them to reach the people of Albania.
___This was a distinct call to missions, Carpenter said. "Our call to Albania was very specific. It almost wasn't a call to missions as much as a call to Albania."
___The first week the Carpenters were in Fort Worth, they randomly picked a Baptist church to visit on Wednesday night. That church turned out to be University Baptist, where the Everetts were serving and where the entire congregation was praying for Albania.
___"We met the pastor and told him our story," Carpenter recalled. "He just turned white and said: 'Wait here. You've got to talk to my wife.'
___"We didn't know what was going on," he continued. "We met Sheila, and she turned white. She was in tears. When we stood there in front of her, she saw that as an answer to her prayers."
___This meeting was no coincidence, Carpenter said. "God orchestrated to bring us together."
___And there was no need to visit other churches. Through the next months, the Carpenters and Everetts became good friends, and members of University Baptist prayed for the Carpenters as they prayed for Albania.
___As they compared notes, the Carpenters later realized their sense of call to Albania occurred at the same time Sheila Everett first felt called to pray for Albania. "You can track it back," Carpenter said.
___Then, just as the Carpenters completed the required amount of seminary work, they got news that Albania had opened to the point they could enter the country as language students.
___They arrived in September 1992 and were among the first Christian missionaries to serve in Albania.
___"There were a few, very few Christians in the country," Carpenter explained. "Some missionaries had lived in Kosovo for a year or a little less."
___However, the Carpenters arrived at the beginning of a flood of more than 600 missionaries who eventually made their way to Albania. Amazingly, these missionaries from different countries and different Christian backgrounds were able to work together in an array of projects.
___And even more amazing, Carpenter said, was their discovery that each missionary had a similar story to tell about sensing God's call to pray for Albania during the same period of time.
___"We saw how God works in so many different and varied localities and times and peoples," Carpenter said. "Hearing everybody's stories, we got goose bumps."
___The Carpenters lived and worked in Albania for four years. Today, they live in Waco, where they work with an international mission organization called All Peoples. David Carpenter also practices law part time and serves on the staff of First Baptist Church of Woodway.
___The Everetts now live in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, where Randel Everett is pastor of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va., and Sheila Everett is administrator of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies.
___Yet the story continues in many ways.
___"There are now churches in Albania," Drumwright notes. "There are discipleship groups. There are Albanians preaching the gospel.
___"The beginning of this story for Southern Baptists, so far I as know, was when God reached down and touched Sheila Everett in Benton, Ark. Can one young woman's prayer make a difference? Definitely. Can one church's prayers make a difference? Definitely."
___But ultimately, both Everett and Drumwright point to God as the impetus for prayers that change the world because, as Drumwright said, "he places it in our heart to pray." And they're still learning more details to prove this as time goes by.
___"Just last week, a family from Albania moved here to the Northern Virginia area," Everett said. " I have been in contact with them, a husband and wife and her mother. The daughter told me that during all those years (of oppression), her mother prayed in her home.
___"I definitely believe God uses prayer to open up the hearts of people, to open up countries that haven't been opened or ethnic groups that haven't been opened," Everett said. "It's made me believe in his sovereignty even that much more."
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