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September 22, 1999






Emerging movement sees
Houston as revival hot spot

___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___HOUSTON--Some people look at cities and ask how many people go to church. George Otis Jr. looks at cities and asks how many people don't go to church--and why.
___A self-described "investigative researcher," Otis stands at the forefront of an emerging movement among evangelical Christians that seeks to map the world's cultural terrain as a precursor to spiritual revival.
___Not only can individuals and churches be transformed by God's power, he contends, transformedbut so can entire communities and cities. He has documented evidence of such community transformations in places like Cali, Columbia; Kiambu, Kenya; Almolongo, Guatemala; and Hemet, Calif.
___This research has been documented in a video and two books published by the ministry he heads, the Sentinel Group.
___Very few of the newly discovered "transformed" cities are found in the industrialized West, Otis said during a September conference in Houston. But he is convinced Houston--and perhaps a broader area stretching from Houston to Oklahoma City--could be on the brink of a transforming revival.
___"This is a real hot spot," he said. "This is where I think something's going to happen."
___So does Jim Herrington. In fact, he believes it so much that last November he resigned his position as director of missions for Houston's Union Baptist Association to launch a new interdenominational effort called Mission Houston.
___Mission Houston's goal is to facilitate the kind of community transformation Otis has seen happen other places around the world. It seeks to do this by drawing together pastors and lay leaders from a wide range of evangelical churches in focused prayer and preparation.
___"Houston is pregnant," Herrington told the 200 people gathered at the conference on community transformation. "We're praying this pregnancy will go full-term."
___One sign of Houston's expectant state is a growing focus on united prayer, Herrington said. Through Mission Houston, seven full-time "catalysts" are working in sections of metropolitan Houston to facilitate pastors' prayer meetings. "Pastors are being very responsive to pray," he said. "Pastors' prayer gatherings are being held all across the city."
___Not only are pastors praying, but a growing movement of lay intercessors is emerging in Houston as well.
___On Aug. 26, 500 people from various churches across Houston gathered for united prayer on behalf of community transformation.
___"God is speaking," said Mary Ann Bridgwater, a community leader and lay leader in First Baptist Church of Houston who helped organize the prayer vigil.
___Like several others, she has been praying for community transformation in Houston for years. It all began in 1991, when she determined to pray regularly for every pastor in Union Baptist Association. She quickly realized she couldn't limit her prayers only to Baptist pastors, so began to pray specifically for all pastors.
___"God at that time gave me a heart for the city," she explained.
___Like Otis and Herrington, Bridgwater believes Houston's emerging prayer movement could be the front line of a future spiritual renewal in the city. United prayer meetings will be held every two weeks this fall.
___While many are praying, a few others are beginning the tedious task of what is called "spiritual mapping" in order to feed the intercessors more specific data to bring before God in prayer.
___Spiritual mapping is a new concept that involves interviews, historical research and block-by-block observation to discern what events in the past or present may be casting a spiritual pall over a community.
___In other cities where spiritual mapping has been done, evangelical Christians have determined influences such as the occult, cults and ancient tribal religions have continued to hold sway over their communities and block God's activity.
___When these specific issues--along with more common problems such as drug abuse, gangs, domestic violence and civic corruption--have been targeted in focused prayer, Otis said, transformation has come.
___"No generation and no community has ever popped out of a vacuum," Otis said. "A road has been paved before we came on the scene. Unless that road is changed, we will follow that road."
___Overcoming these barriers requires eyes to "see a community the way it actually is rather than the way it appears to be," added Bob Beckett, pastor of the Dwelling Place Church in Hemet, Calif., and a speaker at the Houston conference.
___"Our worldview does not end at the boundaries of the material world," Otis said. "There are realities that cannot be measured with tools you can pick up in university laboratories."
___However, spiritual mapping is basically the same concept as cultural geography as taught in many universities today, Otis said. It is an attempt to "trace disease back to its source."
___"We look at our community today, and it is polluted," he said. "We've got to work our way back to the fountain."
___Serious efforts at spiritual mapping are just now getting under way in parts of Houston, specifically in the city's Montrose section and in the suburban area of Clear Lake. Texas Baptists are involved in these efforts, along with representatives of Mission Houston and other evangelical churches.
___Mission Houston plans to facilitate spiritual mapping in other sections of the city as well, channeling all information to intercessory prayer teams for intensive, focused prayer.
___Through those well-researched prayers, Herrington and Otis anticipate an extraordinary transformation that everyone around will attribute to God.
___"When the kingdom of God comes into a community, it arrives like a river of molten lava," Otis said. "It burns through the church and breaks through the walls. It transforms everything."

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