Redigging the Wells 2012
How the Vision was Birthed
The number 50 is associated with a JUBILEE anniversary. The concept of Jubilee comes from the Jewish Old Testament book of Leviticus where at the end of the 49th year, as the 50th year begins, a year of Jubilee is declared where slaves are freed, debts are canceled, and land inheritances are restored.
August 1, 2008, was my (Paul Hughes) 50th birthday. It was also the day Birmingham Mayor, Larry Langford, spoke at a ministers luncheon I attended a week after a city-wide prayer summit Mayor Langford had called at a downtown auditorium. That gathering was a sackcloth and ashes themed event where he, like the Mayor of Ninevah in the book of Jonah, called thousands to prayer. It was the third city-wide prayer summit Mayor Langford had sponsored. I had attended the Sackcloth and Ashes meeting along with a dozen or so from the Birmingham Prayer Furnace community. But at the August 1 luncheon, Langford scolded the gathering of mostly white suburban pastors for not showing up. In the midst of his harangue he invited anyone who wanted to help him plan the fourth city-wide prayer summit to meet him in his office at 2 that afternoon.
As I was driving home from the luncheon, the Holy Spirit said, "Turn around, you have an appointment with the Mayor." I was escorted to his office and wasn't surprised to find I was the lone taker of his invitation. He put out his cigarette and called his assistant, Frank Matthews, to join us. He said, "Count off 45 days and plan the fourth City-wide Prayer Summit so that more white pastors will come." Off we went to Frank's office.
As we counted off the 45 days for the event it fell on September 15, the most significant date in the psyche of the city, the bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church. "We cannot have anything on that date without clearing it with Rev Arthur Price of the 16th St Baptist Church!" I said. Off I went to see Reverend Price to seek his blessing.
I never heard from the Mayor or his assistant after that meeting. Perhaps it was because I had gone to the suburban pastors to ask them what it would take for them to participate in the next prayer summit. I summarized the broad based honest responses in a three page email with a word of encouragement that the bridges could be crossed. I have no idea if the Mayor or his assistant ever read it.
As years passed, I sensed the meeting with Mayor Langford was still significant because I had been given spiritual authority to call Birmingham to prayer. I did not want to drop that baton. In 2011 God began to stir me to call the city to pray. I had forgotten all about September 15 until one night in July when I wrestled all night asking God when He wanted the city to pray. Later in December of 2011, I looked at a starry night sky alone in downtown Kansas City and told the Lord "If loving you means marching right into Legion Field I will do it." I fully believed God would fill a 50,000 seat stadium on September 15, 2012, the beginning of the year of Jubilee since the 1963 church bombing.
In June of 2012, Mayor William Bell attended a kickoff luncheon to bless Redigging the Wells, the name we had chosen from the Genesis 26 story of how Isaac taps into the old wells of his Father and blocked blessings began to flow again to a new generation. I had served on the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast Committee and had first cast the vision for a city-wide stadium prayer meeting to the Mayor at his office in January of 2012. I never thought for a minute there would be more than one Redigging the Wells until after the first well had been dug.
"It Begins Before it Begins" Prelude to the Battle of Birmingham
The event didn't take place at Legion Field as planned. But the many meetings with Parks and Recreation staff built trust for a last minute exception for a Prayer Tent to be placed in Kelly Ingram Park for 72 hours. There was constant worship on Birmingham's "Temple Mount", the park where the world watched brutal racism 49 years before with fire hoses and dogs attacking young black Civil Rights marchers. From September 12 to when the Procession for Jesus started from Kelly Ingram to Railroad Park on September 15, the heart of the city was cleansed with night and day worship. Though more than a thousand people gathered for 12 hours of worship and prayer in Railroad Park after the Procession that day, I believe the battle for Birmingham was actually won in those 72 quiet hours of sweet worship in Kelly Ingram. As Jesus was in the tomb three days and three nights, then resurrection, something like that happened in Birmingham to begin to resurrect a dead city.