We have all heard of city prayer walks but a 200km prayer route that touches every sector of a city and tells the story of the past and present role of the church in the city has to be pretty unique.
The Nehemiah Prayer Route through Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch) which meets those novel specifications, was birthed in prayer by a group of church and business leaders who have been praying together for years around a vision to restore the broken walls of the city as Nehemiah restored the walls of Jerusalem in biblical times.
One of the challenges recognised by the Nehemiah Vision prayer group was how to connect the people of Nelson Mandela Bay — and after months of prayer the Lord planted the idea of the Nehemiah Prayer Route in their minds, said Trevor Jennings, one of the roleplayers in the development of the route.
“We saw an electrical cord joining all 60 of our municipal wards. The cord became the route joining the wards and prayer became the electrical current that flows through all the wards,” he said.
He said the route has been mapped out with GPS coordinates and driven four times by team members, which now include city tourism leaders and officials who have enthusiastically embraced the unique Christian tour initiative.
It takes five hours to drive the route which includes stops at places of interest where it is envisaged that trained tour guides will share stories about the role that the Church has played and is playing in NMB and where groups will pray, said Jennings.
For practical reasons the route has been divided into five sections which will make it viable for groups to undertake morning or afternoon prayer journeys, he said.
“I thought I knew this city well but experiencing this route showed me I hadn’t the foggiest idea. The experience will really open people’s eyes to the real challenges facing our communities and country,” he said.
Some of the highlights will include the story of fiery European missionaries who irked colonial authorities as they broke racial taboos while building a missionary village for Khoikhoi people in the modern-day Bethelsdorp area; accounts of forced removals of a thriving community from South End in the 1960s, gritty stories of the struggle against apartheid in the townships, and hopeful stories of pioneering economic incubators addressing massive challenges of unemployment and poverty in the city’s northern areas.
Jennings said the official launch of the route was being planned for early October when Bishop Eric Pike, 82 and his wife Joyce have volunteered to walk the entire 200km.
Before the launch, local groups will have driven their sections in cars and motorcycles, or cycled, walked and run through.
Local pastors, ward religious desk leaders, ward councillors, NGOs, school principals, health clinic managers, the city tourism department, voluntary tourism consultants, librarians and university staff are all expected to contribute towards finalising the many different elements that go into preparing the prayer route.
The main target market for the route is church groups from Nelson Mandela Bay and surrounds and the goal is to keep it simple, uncomplicated and safe, said Jennings.
“We have agreed not to rush the project but to implement it in phases. Pastor Thobile Sonjica has made himself available to be trained as the first tour guide,” he said.
He said at the end of the day, evangelism was at the heart of the Nehemiah Prayer Route vision to connect the people of the city as it created opportunities to engage positively with communities and to share Jesus with them.
“If we believe that the Gospel is the only hope, we better share it,” he said.