Oct. 25, 2020, column:
By Mike Haynes
A man sitting in front of Chris and Kelly Caldwell as they flew back from Washington, D.C., to Amarillo Sept. 28 had on a familiar mask. They recognized it from the free packet they had received in the mail before attending the Sept. 26 Washington Prayer March 2020.
Kelly asked their fellow passenger whether he had attended the Franklin Graham-organized event on the National Mall.
“That made him almost light up,” she recalled. “It made us friends instantly. We had the same goal in mind. You could tell if someone would take off work and spend that money to go, that they love our country and they love God even beyond the country.”
Kelly and Chris Caldwell at the
Washington Prayer March
on Sept. 26, 2020
Their new friend was a truck driver from Lubbock. “This is typical of the kind of people who went to the event,” Chris said. “He went by himself, and he had just the best time, he said, and he just really wanted to be there to pray with everybody.”
The march attracted between 55,000 and 60,000 people who walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol, stopping at seven stations to address various topics in prayer – similar to the practice at Amarillo’s annual prayer breakfast. For example, at the Lincoln Memorial, the prayer focus was “Humbling ourselves, repentance and healing of our land.” At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it was “National reconciliation.” At the World War II Memorial, the focus was “Military, police and law enforcement and their families – and peace in our nation.” And at the Capitol, it was “Congress and other leaders at all levels across America, Supreme Court, judges.”
Those attending had been asked not to display political messages or show support for one candidate or party. “Franklin Graham said over and over that this is not political,” Chris said. “But of course, since we were praying about our country, there were political issues.”
Politics had to be on many minds when, as the event was starting, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, strolled onto the stage at the Lincoln Memorial. “That wasn’t even a planned thing,” Kelly said. “He just showed up, and of course they let him. They were thrilled.”
Pence spoke for a few minutes, urging those present – and an estimated 3.8 million watching online – to “pray with confidence.” He said George Washington often had prayed for leaders and the states with “an earnest prayer,” and that Abraham Lincoln had been driven to his knees in prayer.
“When the president and I travel around the country,” Pence said, “the sweetest words we ever hear, and we hear them a lot, is when people reach out and simply say, ‘I’m praying for you.’”
Among many well-known faces were former Major League Baseball star Darryl Strawberry and Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At Stop 5 at the African American History and Culture museum, Strawberry prayed for compassion, kindness and racial reconciliation. King, director of Civil Rights for the Unborn, prayed, “We have sinned and misunderstood or just on purpose thought that we were separate races. We are one human race. Acts 17:26 says, ‘one blood.’ … We are not color blind … We’re going to recognize ethnicity and all the beauty that you gave us, Lord.”
Franklin Graham’s son, Edward, prayed for first responders: “Lord, an ugliness, a great sin and a lie has turned toward them. Lord, we ask for your hand of protection.”
Country music star John Rich, an Amarillo native and writer of the song, “Earth to God,” took his two young sons to the march and was interviewed afterward. “I think throughout our country, there is an effort to desensitize our kids to the fact that God is real – and the fact of how great our country is and the fact that our country allows us to worship him like we want to,” Rich said. “And I wanted them to come to something like this prayer march to see tens of thousands of their fellow Americans praying for their country.”
Along the 1.8-mile route, the Caldwells prayed out loud with each other. But Kelly said one magical moment happened near the beginning, when Graham asked everyone to pray out loud.
“You’re talking close to 60,000 people,” Kelly said. “To hear what that sounded like – there’s not words to describe it. It was almost like a magical melody, just so cool to hear. And it made us both just cry, it was such a beautiful thing, and I told Chris: If it touched us and made us cry like that, just imagine what that sounded like to God.”
“It just really felt like heaven,” Chris said, “because there were so many different kinds of people everywhere.” “And everybody was just happy, and they would smile and wave at you, and it was almost like a family reunion,” Kelly said. “We were all like-minded – different faiths, different representation, but we were all there for one reason, to pray for our country, and we were all united as one body in Christ.”
The Caldwells, both involved in ministry, viewed attending the half-day event as once-in-a-lifetime.
“I had just noticed a lot of things in the news that were troubling,” said Chris, a BSA Health System chaplain. “I had talked to Kelly about it and prayed about it. So when the prayer march opportunity came out, Kelly suggested that we go.”
Kelly, assistant to the senior pastor and office administrator at Trinity Baptist Church, said she had seen Graham promoting the event online. “He said, ‘Folks, our country’s in trouble, and the only person who can fix it is God. We are in need of everyone who believes to come together in unity and pray.’ And that just really convicted me.
“For me, it was just getting to be with my husband in a setting that was just, like he says, you think that’s what heaven is going to be like.”
Because of the virus pandemic, much of Washington was shut down that weekend. “We were surprised there were that many people who came,” Chris said. “People just felt like it was that important.
“We just think it’s one of these events that keeps on blessing people.”
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Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016. He can be reached at email@example.com. Videos and stories from Washington Prayer March 2020 can be found at prayermarch2020.com.