Groups gather on special day to join hands

By Christen Stark

Globe Staff Writer

The path that Jerome Henderson walks each day led him Thursday to prayer.

Glancing up from his route in front of Webb City's Praying Hands statue, he stopped and joined the group gathered in front of the statue.

"I was thinking of the things I should pray for, especially my friends in the 203rd," Henderson later said of those in the National Guard who are serving in Iraq. "I haven't heard from them in a while."

Cooled by a breeze just strong enough to stir the row of American flags, Henderson prayed with the Rev. Joseph Liem of Webb City and others gathered on National Day of Prayer.

"I hope it affects everyone the way it affects me," the 20-year-old Webb City resident said. "People come together, lift up their prayers to God and say, 'This is what is on my mind and in my heart.' "

Local observances included a student-run service at College Heights Christian School and a nonstop, six-hour prayer session led by area churches at Webb City's praying hands statue. About 300 people attended Ozark Christian College's morning event, at which they were served breakfast, said Leasa Frye, the school's public-information director. The group also watched a taped message from President Bush and one from the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

"It is a great freedom we have to be able to come together and pray," Frye said.

Pastor Stephen Smitley of the Webb City Church of the Nazarene spent several minutes in thought sitting in front of the praying hands, despite the constant buzz of passing cars. He moved to the area 65 days ago from Ohio and said he didn't realize he could invite other members of his congregation to join him.

"I did bring a list of (parishioners) to pray for while I'm up here, though," he said.

At College Heights Christian School, such prayers are a part of students' day-to-day experiences. Kelly Riesenmy, a parent of a College Heights student, said for that, she is grateful. She tries to stress the importance of prayer to her own children and is aided by the school's encouraging the same.

"Prayer should be like breathing to us," Riesenmy said.

Students just finishing up their first year in the school stood alongside those completing their last to offer their thoughts. Seventh-grader Aleisha Joyce said she hopes their acknowledgment of prayer affects those outside the walls of her school.

"Inside our school, there is only one way," she said. "Once you step outside, so much is different."

Thursday's prayers, Aleisha said, revolved around those running the U.S. government. Of the five prayer points the National Day of Prayer Task Force suggests, she said, the government was the most important.

"They are the ones who make the biggest decisions in the country," Aleisha said. "They need the most guidance."

Second-grader Kolleen Glad's prayers centered on her family, from her pet bird to her aunts and uncles.

"Families are one of the closest things to you," she said.

Senior Ashley Ross said the celebration allowed her to realize the transition she has made from praying as a child to praying as a young adult. She said she no longer thinks of it as just a means to ask God for certain blessings but as an opportunity to thank him. The transformation has taught her to be humble, she said.

And she said she hopes that the focus on prayer will help people realize the good the comes of it.

"Excerpts from John Adams' writings say that this nation will fall without God," Ross said. "I think today is supposed to be a reminder of that."

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