Student Leaders Mobilize Online Initiative
BY EILEEN SCOTT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Slack. Zoom. Pray. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the University of Pennsylvania moved classes online, members of Martus, Christian Union’s ministry on campus, swiftly leveraged digital and social media tools to create a sacred space for remaining close to God and each other.
Ministry Director Tucker Else reading Scripture with students weeks prior to the pandemic
Leo Chen ’22 and Bianca Altamirano ’22, student leaders with Martus, launched a 24/7 online prayer gathering that lasted six weeks. As a result, students from around the nation were able to come together regularly and intercede for their campus, their city (Philadelphia), and their country.
“It was a straightforward way to solve what we feared to be a formidable spiritual challenge facing our community,” said Chen, co-leader of Martus’ Seeking God Team. “We really wanted to mitigate the spiritual drought and despair within our community before it set in.”
Every Wednesday at 8 p.m., fifteen to twenty-five students committed to twenty-four consecutive hours of intercessory prayer, using Google sheets to sign up for one-hour time slots. The Google document also included meaningful questions, scripture verses, and prayer requests that the students could use to guide their prayer time.
The first few weeks of the initiative were dedicated to helping students bring their frustrations, anxieties and worries about the pandemic to God. Toward the middle of the six-week period, students focused on supplication, fasting, and intercession. Finally, as the semester came to a close, the hours in prayer became strong platforms for reflection, praise, and thanksgiving.
Scattered across the country, the students joined digital prayer partners from their bedrooms and family rooms. Some prayed alone after midnight or during the predawn hours, keeping the chain of unceasing prayer going.
“It’s not easy to pray in the middle of the night, but it’s especially odd to pray in front of the Zoom camera at 3 a.m.,” said Tucker Else, Christian Union Ministry Director at Penn. “But that’s what these students did to keep the chain of prayer whole and to beseech God on behalf of so many.”
Despite the physical distance between students, the unity of prayer anchored their faith and their lives as they experienced an unprecedented moment in history where the world stopped, and people retreated to their homes. Being apart, together, the students witnessed first-hand that God uses all things for his purpose.
“The Spirit really moved among us in a way that unified the sentiments, joys, and sorrows of our community despite our distance from each other,” said Chen.
Likewise, Bianca Altamirano ’22 said her times of seeking God during quarantine revealed the amazing power of prayer.
“The pandemic has shown us how small and helpless we are, but I have slowly recognized the sense of peace knowing it is not us, but the almighty Lord who is in control,” she said. “I was so thankful for the opportunity to come together in prayer despite the distance and time differences. God made it all possible.”
Else noted that even when digital fatigue set in, and as each week seemed to bring more bad news, the students held on to hope.
“At the time, it was a life-saver for our students,” said Else. “Just to feel connected with their brothers and sisters in Christ; to be able to pray for our campus and city—both of which we love.”
Additionally, Else said this experience fostered a deeper and lasting camaraderie. And through that bond, they have found confidence that God will move and act in a way that brings physical and spiritual healing to a wounded land.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Else. “They’ve been incredibly resilient, focused, and honest about their need for each other, their desperate need for God, and their hope that even through this strange season God will work all things for His glory and our good.”