JACKSONVILLE — “Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything; tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers.”
– Philippians 4:6-7
Although it may not seem like it, intercessory prayer can help strengthen healing in many different ways because of its spiritual impact.
“It's a comfort to people to know that they're being prayed for,” said Dominican Sister Mary Jeremiah Gillette of Lufkin, adding that prayer petitions come to her community on a fairly regular basis.
“Some days the phone is constantly ringing … a day doesn't go by when at least a few people call, asking for our prayers,” the nun said.
While the petitions are the only contact some people make, “every now and then, people will call us back and thank us for our prayers,” she said, then laughed. “We'll sometimes get a request from someone who can't have children – they ask for our prayers, then will later come by with their kids.”
The cloistered nuns at Lufkin's Dominicans of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus are among those groups in East Texas that provide spiritual assistance for problems often rooted in physical symptoms.
Inspired by the work of early twentieth-century missionary John G. Lake, River of Life Christian Church has incorporated a “healing room” as part of their ministries in Rusk, while Deacon Gary Treviño of Lufkin has traveled throughout the country taking part in Charismatic healing services and retreats sponsored by the Catholic Church.
“Most people are grateful (for the intercessory prayer), and they realize just how real God is” when he answers their petitions, said River of Life Pastor Robert Corbell.
“What we're talking about is having something real, something tangible that's changing people lives” on not just a physical level, he said. “Healing is one of the real manifestations of Jesus; (it's saying) 'He is alive.'”
The Rusk healing room ministry began in 2005, after the community made the former local ETMC building their home. “The Lord said that the building was used (once) for healing the natural, now it would be used for healing the supernatural (spiritual),” Corbell said.
He learned about Lake's successful healing ministry in the Pacific Northwest – “Lake began these healing rooms, and he began teaching (those in his ministry) about faith and God's plan for divine healing” – and encouraged by how the ministry helped people both physically and spiritually, Corbell received training to open a healing room locally.
The term “room” is a bit of a misnomer, because while there is “a specific room where we do healing, the faith is not in the room itself, but in (a person's trust in) God,” he said, explaining that a ministry team prays for and over the people who come to them.
They've seen “some amazing things happen” as petitioners are healed physically, though that always isn't the case, Corbell said.
“People like talking about all of the times that it doesn't work, but this is what I tell them: I can't tell you why it didn't work … but I do put faith in what I know, in what the Bible says … it says that by (Jesus') stripes we are healed,” he said, alluding to the Book of Isaiah.
Deacon Treviño said he's seen similar response by people he ministers to.
“Most people come to the services to receive healing, (while others come) because of curiosity – they want to know for themselves if God is still in the healing business. Folks by nature really have doubts about healing – until it happens to them,” the deacon said. “I have since seen many healed of so many different things that I know that God can heal at any given time. It might not be just right then, but it's in His perfect timing.”
Like the ministry at River of Life, the healing Masses are open to all.
“I have prayed with Jews and Muslims and Christians of all faiths, even those who don't believe in God,” Deacon Treviño said. “They have allowed me to pray for them, because their thoughts were, 'even though I don't believe, the fact that you do is good enough for me.”
The laying of hands is often employed by members of the team who are part of the liturgy, because “people want that touch, that feeling of knowing someone is praying with you,” he said, describing Scriptural accounts of Jesus and his apostles laying hands on the sick to heal them.
It is a physical manifestation of prayer, of helping someone initiate communication with God as they seek his help.
“It's a dialogue with God so that he can bless them,” the deacon said. “He can heal, because he's is an all-knowing God who knows our needs, but we must communicate those to him.”
Serving as intercessors through a ministry of prayer is how the nuns at the monastery – who don't leave their property except for health or business reasons – have interacted with the world since the community was founded in 1945.
Sister Mary Jeremiah Gillette said people have been calling and writing members of the community since those early days, and now with the advent of the Internet, petitions can be requested through their website, www.lufkintxnuns.com.
The Internet requests “have become fairly popular,” she said.
“We have a website and a blog, and we've got a number of followers (so) we get email and internet requests for prayer, it's really amazing,” the nun said, adding that “it was a big decision to do that, because some (members of their community) thought that it would be breaking our enclosure (and) going into the world, but it's not. We've got one sister in charge of (monitoring the website and email account), and she gathers the intentions, which are printed out and posted.”
Tucked away in the Piney Woods, the prayer ministry “is a way we can serve God's people,” Sister Mary Jeremiah explained.
“And we pray for everyone's needs, not just Catholics' – we've had request from Protestants, even the unchurched. By praying for their needs, we serve God, (much) like some people feed the hungry or teach or preach. This is our way of ministering,” she said. “Whether it's in our hearts or vocally, we pray (for others' needs).”