Outside a modest beige church near dry mountains in Tulare County on Monday, around 100 people pleaded to God in Spanish with arms raised to the sky. Each prayer was a little different, but the catalyst was the same.
Drought brought them together.
They flocked to Orosi from all over the central San Joaquin Valley for the third stop on a tour of prayer, started by pastor Roman Hernandez of Porterville primarily to pray for rain.
Every two weeks, Hernandez and other pastors are leading prayers at a different church in another drought-stricken Valley town. They plan to end the tour in October, back where they started in Porterville.
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“Porterville is ground zero as far as the drought,” Hernandez says. “If you are talking about the drought right now, you have to talk about Porterville, especially the east side of Porterville.”
In this town where some 3,000 people have reported dry wells, Hernandez has helped provide free showers and bottled water at his church, Iglesia Emmanuel, since last year through a county-sponsored program.
Do not go and hide in your churches. You need to be on the front lines. I believe that. I believe that with all my heart, and that’s what I’ve done in my city.
Pastor Roman Hernandez
Each weekday, around 40 to 45 families, on average, come to the church for help. He wishes the numbers were in the hundreds. He knows many aren’t asking for help when they need it.
Several months ago, he spoke to a father of five children whose family was boiling water from a duck pond. Hernandez loaned the man his truck so he could take some bottled water to his family. The man did that, brought the truck back, and Hernandez hasn’t seen him since.
The inspiration for the tour of prayer, a very human response to human suffering, was born out of Hernandez witnessing, day in and day out, this dire need for water.
After the idea took hold of his heart in the spring, he called a number of churches, predominantly Spanish-speaking congregations, with his proposal, and the first gathering to pray for rain was June 29 at his church.
Personally, I don’t take any credit. If you ask me, God put it on my heart to do.
Pastor Roman Hernandez
Seven pastors came, with around 50 people. Two weeks later at the second church, The Potter’s House in Woodlake, the numbers had more than doubled.
Hernandez hopes the momentum continues as he travels to Parlier, Kingsburg, Lemoore, Hanford, Huron, Coalinga, Kettleman City and at least one more still-to-be-decided church in Kern County over the next couple of months.
Among those gathered outside Primera Iglesia Bautista in Orosi on Monday was Julian Martinez, 23, of Lindsay.
The drought has affected the livelihoods of family members, who work in the fields as farmworkers, and his work on an assembly line, making pipes for water systems. Martinez says the company he works for cut staff by nearly half because there’s less need for pipes as reserves of water dry up.
Of praying for rain, he says: “It feels amazing to be a part of this. It’s a good feeling.”
Yolanda Reed of Woodlake, another participant, was so swept up in the emotion of the prayers she says she nearly started talking in tongues, which happens to her from time to time.
The prayers extend beyond rain.
“We pray for anything and everything that people ask us to pray for,” Hernandez says.
Many also ask God to heal sickness, stop crime, guide and protect families and city officials, and promote unity among people.
Pastor Daniel Sanchez of The Potter’s House in Woodlake says: “The rain that we’ve been praying for is not just physical rain, but it’s more spiritual rain, the presence of God in our homes, in our families.”
The prayer tour is bringing pastors and congregations together in ways Hernandez has never seen in his 31 years of ministry.
“I’m proud and I’m happy that we are joining forces,” he says, “but at the same time, how tragic that it took (drought) for us to say, ‘You know what, let’s meet somewhere on a Monday afternoon.’”
Mauricio Fernandez, who hosts Christian radio shows through KBLO (102.3 FM) in Visalia, says the prayer tour is “breaking the denominational barriers of the church of Jesus Christ.”
And, many say, the prayers have already helped bring rain. July rain showers in the Valley followed their first prayer meeting at the end of June.
“It was raining so hard there for 20 to 30 minutes that puddles started forming in the parking lot (of Iglesia Emmanuel in Porterville),” Hernandez recalls of the storm. “This family is jumping up and down in the parking lot. … One of the family members, she’s an atheist, she doesn’t believe in God, and she’s the one yelling the loudest, ‘Hallelujah! God is doing a miracle in Porterville!’”
Struck by her emotion, Hernandez got out of his truck and joined in the festivity. “I got soaked, it was raining so hard, but it was awesome.”
He checked the news about the weather when he got home.
“There was a hurricane in the Pacific and coming this way from Mexico and all of that,” he says. “And you can say, ‘Well, it was just a coincidence,’ but no, I don’t think so. If you ask me, it was a result of praying and believing that God will answer that prayer.”
I believe our spiritual makeup affects the dynamics.
Pastor Juan Wall
Some ask why God hasn’t kept the rain flowing.
“Sometimes he allows us to go through things to fulfill his purpose in our lives,” Hernandez says.
Hernandez thanks God in advance for rain. He thinks of a verse in the Bible, which he sums up this way: “Pray for rain and it will come through.”
“Prophet Elijah prayed and it rained. … So if he did it in the time of Elijah, why can he not do it today? He’s the same God and we’re praying the same prayer.”
And, many say, praying together gives those pleas more power.
“When I’m praying just me by myself, I do believe it’s being heard by God, that he’s listening,” Hernandez says. “But there is something about the prayer of the church … joining forces with other believers. So if God listens to the prayers of one, imagine what God is doing with the prayers of many.”
The next prayer circle is Aug. 10 at Iglesia Fuente de Vida in Parlier. Its pastor, Juan Wall, wants to keep the blessings flowing.
“I always believe there is power in unity in every aspect — faith, crisis, or whatever else,” he says. “When people respond, there is a lot more help and a lot more influence and power if they have a common beat in their heart.”
If you can’t join us in Parlier, unite with us in prayer that night, maybe from 7:30 to 9, an hour and a half, and you can pray for the same things we will pray for.
Pastor Daniel Sanchez
Join the next prayer circle
The next prayer gathering will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at Iglesia Fuente de Vida in Parlier, 13257 E. Ann Ave. Previous prayer circles were conducted primarily in Spanish, but pastor Roman Hernandez said pastors plan to include more English so they can share with more people.