As a university student in the United States, Heather* had the chance to hear from George Verwer, the founder of OM. She said: “I was very inspired by him.” She participated in multiple short-term outreaches throughout college and pursued a degree in intercultural studies with the goal of becoming a full-time missionary.
After graduation, Heather considered travelling to Asia for two months, so she met with her pastor to talk about the next steps. She remembered him saying: “You don't really need to be going anywhere for two months. You need to go somewhere for two years.”
Heather started to search for a sending missions organisation and discovered that OM offered a two-year opportunity in the Himalayan mountains of South Asia. “It was the obvious choice for me at that time of my age and my marital status,” she said. “I knew very little about the country. But it was the right fit for me at that time.”
Life in South Asia
In 1998, Heather headed to South Asia, working in a variety of different roles from bookkeeping to leading worship for the team. She also immersed herself in the new culture, formed relationships with women and participated in evangelism outreach.
She found that the spirit world and idol worship were part of everyday life. “For people, there's no question as to whether or not there is good and evil in the world,” Heather explained. “Talking about religion is very normal, so don't be afraid to just jump into religion and ask them questions.”
Although Heather saw communities of Christ followers grow, she realised there were many barriers for people to make the decision to follow Christ. “It's very difficult for them to trust in Christ alone and break away from traditions that have been passed down,” she said.
As part of the work there, the team met each week for a time of prayer. In addition to praying for the country they served in, the meeting always included intercession for other nations around the world. For Heather, this was a new part of her weekly rhythm. She remembered: “It really impacted me that we have the power to stand in the gap for Jamaica and for Russia and for countries in South Asia.”
Many times, Heather never saw the answers to her prayers. “We did not see answers to maybe 95 per cent of our prayers because they were for places we were never going to go to,” she recalled. “But He does always answer our prayers. Sometimes it's with a 'yes' and sometimes it's with a 'no.'”
Sharing a passion for prayer
During her time with OM, Heather married and their family grew to six. On visits to the United States, the family shared stories of what God was doing in South Asia with churches and small groups. “That's a very important part of the missionary going out and coming back. They raise up a lot of awareness,” she said. “We need people coming back and reporting what's going on.”
Heather worked to inspire other Jesus followers to pray for the country she served in. “Prayer is important to me because it is a conversation, and it's a form of worship. It’s the vehicle by which we're able to communicate with God.”
Heather’s heart is to pass on her passion for prayer to her four children. The children use prayer guides and books as part of their home school routine. She and her husband work to help them understand the power and importance of prayer.
While with OM, she often included her young children in the weekly prayer meetings. She said: “It was important to us that the children also had the opportunity to participate in prayer with adults.” Heather also encourages her children to pray on their own as well as in groups. She said: “Praying is something you can do alone. And it's something we do corporately. It's not just one or the other.”
Practical prayer tips
After working in South Asia for 18 years, Heather and her family moved back to the United States, but prayer continues to be an important aspect of her life. When life gets busy, Heather tries to spend her spare moments in prayer. “The alternative to interceding is maybe just letting my mind wander or letting my mind worry,” she said. “But the Lord wants us to use our time to bring Him glory and to intercede for His creation.”
Heather hopes to encourage other followers of Jesus to pray for the nations, too. “Start small,” she said, “Pick one nation and commit to pray for that nation every week or pick one nation and commit to pray for that nation for one minute a day.”
There are many resources available, including newsletters and missionary reports, that offer practical ways to pray for the nations. Heather said: “Utilising those resources that organisations have put online is great because then we know we're joining actually with many others that are praying for the same thing.”
Heather added: “We may never know what effect our prayers have in the spiritual realm. And we probably won't know until we get to heaven. And even then, we may not know. But that's OK because it's for the Lord's glory.”