I remember the first time I heard about what was happening in our Arizona schools. I was not aware that teachers used their own money to buy students essential clothing like underwear or that schools didn’t have the resources to maintain buildings. I had no idea that teachers gave out canned goods on Fridays so kids could eat over the weekend. I didn’t know about the number of students who were homeless, struggling academically, overdosing on drugs, or attempting to take their own lives.
Even the churches next door to these schools knew nothing about what was happening inside those walls!
So, when four young men—Mike, Matt, Jon, and Keith—showed up at our BridgeBuilders International ministry offices to ask if we would help them with an initiative to pray inside the schools of Arizona, we knew God was calling us to take action.
These young men felt that God was calling them to minister to the high schools of Arizona. So we prayed together, and we all heard the Lord say the same thing: Invite My transforming presence into the schools.
A Strategy of Hope
We began meeting with the principals of the schools we would be targeting for prayer. One of the first things we did was ask for their forgiveness, on behalf of the Christian community, for not taking the time to find out the needs of their schools sooner. Then, we asked how we could pray for their schools.
I remember sitting in the office of one principal and asking him, “What is the biggest problem your school faces?”
He struggled to hold back tears as he answered, “That’s an easy question to answer—there’s no hope here!”
We knew God wanted to change this.
So, we rented school auditoriums, one after the other, and then held 26-hour prayer vigils in schools across the state throughout the fall of that school year.
I’ll be the first to admit, this stretched us. We struggled to step out in faith to raise the money to rent the auditoriums. Then we pressed through the all-night intercession every weekend for 11 straight weeks.
With broken hearts, we cried out to God, asking Him to provide food for the students, more teachers, money for repairs of the buildings, new sports equipment, and better test scores. In the midnight hours, we worshiped and contended together against suicide, depression, and despair.
And then, the reports came rolling in.
At Mingus High, about one to three students a month were overdosing on Oxycodone. The school ranked in the bottom 25% of the state academically and was on probation with the Arizona Department of Education.
Following our 26 hours of on-site prayer, the police conducted a routine drug search in the school. For the first time in anyone’s memory, they found nothing! Three months later, after another search, still no drugs. According to a resident of the community, there have been no overdoses since we prayed in this school.
And, within one year of our prayer vigil, they moved to the top 25% of the state academically. Within two years, they received an A+ ranking from the Arizona Department of Education. The principal, who had not been enthusiastic about our prayer event on campus, told our team afterward, “I still don’t believe in prayer. But I know results when I see them.”
At Peoria High School, we solicited donations specifically for their school prior to the prayer vigil. We had enough donated to take the vice principal shopping to buy sweatshirts, underwear, and socks for the students. Nearby churches also donated school supplies and toiletries. We presented these gifts to the school community on the opening night of the prayer vigil.
After our prayer vigil, the school’s academic scores improved so much that the vice principal called us back to host 40 days of prayer and fasting before students took their AIMS aptitude tests. We did, and Peoria continued to improve in its academic rankings. The following year, U.S. News and World Report listed Peoria High School among the top schools nationally and internationally!
At Central High School, facilities were run down, the sports fields and landscaping badly needed refurbishing, and the school couldn’t afford to hire an adequate number of teachers. The general atmosphere in the school was depressive. Fights broke out daily among students.
Shortly after we started praying specifically for these needs, the Arizona Cardinals NFL team got wind of the desperate needs of the school. They donated cleats, jerseys, pads, and other gear they could no longer use. Then, the NBA Cares Foundation heard about the school’s plight and provided $150,000 worth of furnishings, extensive landscaping, and general maintenance, including refurbishing the school’s sports fields. And, the Phoenix Suns Charities came to fix up the campus and gave the principal a check for $200,000 to hire additional teachers.
In addition to a change in the school’s physical campus, the environment also improved. That fall, Central reported no fights on campus. One teacher posted on Facebook, “The entire atmosphere of our school has changed!”
Every School Needs Prayer
The problems we discovered in the schools for which we prayed are not unique to Arizona. Most schools face similar issues. Beyond the physical and financial needs—and they are great—our schools desperately need the healing power of Jesus. Secular institutions can’t solve a spiritual and moral crisis or give kids what they need most: an encounter with the Lord.
The good news is, we’ve seen what God can do time and time again. Miracles happen when we invite His transforming presence into our schools!
Ways to Bring Transformative Prayer to Your School
Just like the four young men in Arizona, there are many ways you can connect with Christian ministries, churches, and intercessors in your community and invite the power of prayer into your school. Here are a few ideas:
Encourage Christian groups to adopt a school. Think about relationships you or fellow believers on your campus have with people of faith who can be called upon to adopt your school. This could be a local church, small group, or an organization such as Moms in Prayer. Share this article with them; help cast a vision for Christians in your community to connect with their neighborhood schools. The power of united, fervent, focused prayer aimed at local schools partnered with concrete acts of service and building long-term relationships with school officials will open doors to meet tangible needs that can result in powerful transformation.
Throughout communities in Arizona, churches, families, and local groups are adopting and supporting schools through prayer and practical service. In addition to prayer, they have provided backpacks, food, tutors, and mentors to students in need. In one school, at the request of the principal, we created a “Serve, Watch, and Pray” program. About 80 members of a nearby church signed up to serve as volunteers on campus, and Bridgebuilders trained them how to “watch and pray” while serving at the school.
Host a prayer vigil. Gather a group of like-minded believers (fellow church members, fellow Christian teachers and friends, local prayer groups, or other ministries). Meet with your principal and discuss how your group can rent the school auditorium (or perhaps a portable building, lunch room, etc.) to host a prayer vigil. Ask him or her to tell you the school’s specific needs and promise to pray for these during the event.
We prayed for 12 hours during the spring of one school year at Manzo Elementary School after the school received an F ranking. The school board had considered firing the principal and closing the school. We prayed specifically for improvement in the students’ academic scores. By the end of that academic year, the school had risen to a C+ ranking. When the Tucson Unified School District statistician called the principal, he asked, “How did you do this? No school moves up 22 points in one semester. It’s statistically impossible!” But God specializes in the impossible. Not only did Manzo Elementary School remain open, but the principal was given a promotion. God answered our prayers!
Mobilize a prayer walk. You could do something similar to what we do in Arizona by mobilizing a 21-day back-to-school prayer-walking initiative. (This, of course, can be done any time of year.) Individuals, families, and church groups can prayer walk schools in their neighborhood or the school they or their children attend. BridgeBuilders’ Reclaim a Generation: 21 Days of Prayer for Schools is a great prayer guide for this.
One year, a woman was walking near the high school where just a few days prior she had asked God to protect the students during a prayer walk organized by her church. While passing by the school, the Lord drew her attention to two cars crammed full of people just sitting in the parking lot. She sensed something was terribly wrong. When the car doors suddenly flung open, she ran into the school and alerted the principal. He locked down the building just seconds before the angry men stormed the front door. The principal was able to diffuse the situation and no one was harmed. The Lord honored this woman’s prayers for protection within days of the prayer walk.
Every Prayer Counts
As a teacher, you may not have the time or connections to launch a major prayer initiative. Here are a few ways you can pray for your school without much preparation:
- Find a prayer partner. Connect with a trusted Christian educator in your school and pray together. You can pray regularly over your classrooms and every student by name. You can pray for the needs you observe as well as any unspoken needs that the Holy Spirit brings to your attention.
- Gather a small group of Christian educators. Invite Christian teachers in your school to pray together for your school before your duties begin or after the end of your contracted work day.
- Create a prayer team. Ask your family and friends to commit to praying for you, your students, fellow staff members, and your school at a set time each day. You can provide the focus for their prayers. Even though you might not be in the same location, you can all come before God at the same time with the same concerns.
Vital issues for which every school needs prayerOvercoming hopelessness: Declare, in Jesus’ name, that students and staff will be delivered from all thoughts of hopelessness, including suicide, depression, and despair (Jer. 29:11). Pray with expectation and confidence that students and staff will experience salvation and the hope that comes from knowing Jesus.
Protection from evil: Pray Psalm 91 over the school and ask the Lord to station His angels all around. Ask God for protection not only from shootings and other acts of violence but also from bullying, drugs, gangs, and evil spirits that come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
Prospering in school: Ask the Lord to place all students with the teachers and in the classrooms where they will flourish. Ask Him to send godly influences to encourage them in their studies and their walks with Jesus Christ.
Contending for purpose and destiny: Ask God to raise up both students and teachers with godly purpose and destiny to contend for righteousness and justice in their schools (Amos 5:24). Because our schools are major sources of cultural influence in our nation, ask God to raise up those who will fulfill the purpose of God in their generation.
If your school culture needs hope right now, I want to encourage you that God can deliver entire schools from hopelessness when Christians come together and intercede for their schools. We just need to take the initiative to pray!
Cheryl Sacks is a co-founder of BridgeBuilders International. She is a national speaker and best-selling author of the Prayer Saturated book series (The Prayer-Saturated Church, Prayer-Saturated Kids, and The Prayer-Saturated Family) and her two newest books Reclaim a Generation: 21 Days of Prayer for Schools and Fire on the Family Altar: Experience the Holy Spirit’s Power in Your Home.
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