National Lutheran News

World Mission Prayer League offers support from the heart

When nothing else looks promising, might you try prayer?

The World Mission Prayer League merged with the Santal Mission, founded in 1891, in 1972. Graphic image provided by World Mission Prayer League

Lutherans, our well-known divisiveness notwithstanding, still have two things in common: mission and prayer.

That’s where World Mission Prayer League (WMPL) comes in. Its supporters pray for 120 missionaries in 20 locations around the world — including Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Eritrea, India, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, and Nepal.

About 6,000 of the group’s advocates — many in the Upper Midwest — pledge to pray. They just pray.

It does get serious. Some missionaries work in unpredictable settings. WMPL is circumspect. One of its missionaries was jailed recently. Where? When? Executive Director Chuck Lindquist won’t say. It is still not resolved.

WMPL has deep roots and faithful advocates. WMPL received more than $3 million last year from individuals and churches in approximately equal amounts, says Lindquist.

Lindquist claims, however, that the group has no regular fund drive — and that it doesn’t even maintain a budget. “I am not in a position to put a dollar figure on the power of prayer,” Lindquist says. “There are not enough dollars in the world, I think.”

‘Daily walk with God’

Also noteworthy is that WMPL spans Lutheran divides. Board members include representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC), and the new North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

World Mission Prayer League director Chuck Lindquist; photo provided by Lindquist

Maybe prayer — the Christian secret weapon — was the best, if not the only, alternative in those days.

Veteran WMPL board member Eugene Bunkowske reports that WMPL devotees “call this daily walk with God ‘prayerful commissioned living.’”

The Rev. Bunkowske, whose doctorate is in linguistics and sociology from UCLA, teaches at Concordia University in St. Paul. Beginning in 1960, he worked in Africa, eventually as a Bible-translation consultant.

“WMPLers,” he explains, “see themselves as children of God who spend their lives in God’s business of restoring people to himself in Jesus the Christ.”

That means daily prayer, to begin with. Prayer life, according to Bunkowske, means “prayerful listening and talking to God” and being “involved in positive relationships” with people of all languages, tribes, and nations.

Bible translator Bunkowske points to a familiar verse in 1 Thessalonians 5, and translates it this way: “Listen to God and talk to God without ceasing.”

WMPL, based in Minneapolis, also has offices in Los Angeles; Seattle; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Camrose, Alberta. It “lends” missionaries to other organizations, including national churches and Lutheran church bodies, in Mexico, Kenya, and India, and sometimes to interdenominational agencies, as in Mongolia, Nepal, China, and the Philippines.

Lindquist is a WMPL veteran, starting with the group on a Luther Seminary internship in 1976 and then serving as a missionary in Ecuador before returning to Minneapolis as WMPL’s personnel director in 1986. He became its executive in 1997.

Missionaries in peril

The organization as it stands now is observing its 75th anniversary. 1937 was an interesting year to start a mission group. War in Europe was imminent. Japan and China were already fighting. Missionaries were in peril. Maybe prayer — the Christian secret weapon — was the best, if not the only, alternative in those days.

Yet the group’s roots go deeper still. Not actually a founder but a “father figure” for WMPL is Hudson Taylor and his wife Maria, who established the China Inland Mission in 1865. In 51 years their organization founded 125 schools and converted 18,000. “He was kind of a quirky guy in some ways,” says Lindquist. “He believed that if prayer worked and God was on the other end of it, that you didn’t need to get all kind of excited and worried about raising money.”

Another stream feeding WMPL was the work of Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, a Norwegian ex-con and recovering alcoholic whose organization founded a Minneapolis mission office in 1891. By 1904, Skrefsrud’s group was working with the Santal people of northwestern India. The Santal organization merged with WMPL in 1972.

In keeping with the approach of “father figure” Hudson, WMPL now asks its missionaries not to raise money for mission work, says Lindquist — just leave it to God.

What? No fundraising?

When WMPL strategizes, its leaders ask themselves “whether God is in it,” says Lindquist. “If we do think that God’s in this, we find it easier to trust that God is going to supply for what God has called us to do.”

No budget? How does WMPL set priorities? Lindquist paraphrases the 17th century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza: “One thing we think is important is to be quite clear from the outset what we think that God has led us to do,” says Lindquist. “And if it’s to do one thing, it’s not to do another.”

Is that a pretty good guideline for any congregation? That and pray without ceasing?

For more information …

To learn more about the work of the World Mission Prayer League, visit www.wmpl.org.

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