WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Bright House Field in Clearwater; 7 p.m. Friday, Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. INCLUDES: Worship music, prayer by local pastors and community leaders, dance troupes. Tampa's event includes keynote speaker the Rev. Reinhard Bonnke, international evangelist. COST: Both events are free; attendees are encouraged to bring canned goods for Somebody Cares Tampa Bay's food pantry. INFORMATION: www.PrayPinellas.com or call (727) 595-2034; www.facebook.com/NDPTampa or call (813) 484-4200
No one needs to sell Daniel Bernard on the power of prayer.
As founder of Somebody Cares Tampa Bay, a Clearwater-based network of churches and ministries in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties that serve the needy and working poor, Bernard's life centers on divine intercession.
On Thursday, when the country celebrates the 62nd annual National Day of Prayer, Bernard will have yet another testimony to share about how prayer has shown its grace in his life.
“My son Luke is alive because God answered us,” Bernard says. “Unified prayer was the difference-maker.”
On March 9, Luke, 25, was in a serious accident; his truck went off the road in Los Angeles, where he lives. The University of Central Florida graduate lay in a coma in a hospital for three days before authorities tracked down his parents.
Bernard was in Houston when he got the news about his oldest son. He immediately boarded a plane for Los Angeles, staying with Luke for the next six weeks as he began the long recovery from his traumatic brain injury.
Father and son returned home to Clearwater last weekend. Luke is walking and talking now — two things his doctors couldn't guarantee at the onset — and will soon resume an intense therapy program here.
They plan to attend the National Day of Prayer event Thursday night at Bright House Field in Clearwater and, if Luke's energy allows, Friday evening's gathering at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Though both events are free, Somebody Cares Tampa Bay will collect canned goods for its pantry, which distributes free food to area ministries.
Bernard says this will be a good opportunity to thank the hundreds, if not thousands, of local people who offered prayers and support to the family since Luke's near-fatal accident.
“We prayed and got prayers every step of the way — that his brain wouldn't swell, that the pressure wouldn't be too much, that he would survive being taken off the ventilator, that he could stand on his feet and talk again,” Bernard says. “When he started to read his Bible again, we knew he was on the road to recovery.”
Though the national spotlight on prayer is Thursday, public events already are underway.
On Sunday night, volunteers began reading the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, 24 hours a day, in three- to four-hour shifts from a pulpit under an awning by Tampa City Hall, 306 E. Jackson St. Some 300 people are involved in the second annual Bible Read-A-Thon, which will wrap up Thursday morning, then segue into a worship and prayer event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lykes Gaslight Park.
Joy Green, chairman of the Tampa National Day of Prayer Task Force, says the purpose of the Bible recitation is to offer downtown passersby “words of peace, love, encouragement and hope.”
“We get the occasional heckler,” she admits, “but for the most part, we're very welcomed. Even in the middle of the night, we usually get an audience of homeless people.”
Several Tampa churches are hosting prayer events this week, leading up to the national celebration. Tonight's gathering is at the Dominion and Tower Worship Center, 6705 N. Florida Ave.
Some 70 Pinellas County churches will participate in Thursday's event at Bright House Field, which will include youth dance troupes, worship bands and prayers led by local pastors. The event's website is PrayPinellas.com.
The festivities continue in Tampa on Friday, where sponsors raised about $30,000 to put on a mega-event at Steinbrenner Field. The lineup includes a citywide youth dance group and worship team, and prayers offered by several pastors and community leaders. Keynote speaker will be the Rev. Reinhard Bonnke, a German-born evangelist and founder of Christ for All Nations International.
Bonnke is mainly known for his missionary work in Africa; he has reportedly preached to more than 120 million people worldwide. This is his first major public appearance in the Tampa Bay area.
He said in a telephone interview from his Orlando headquarters that he will offer a message for America that counters all the “prophets of gloom and doom.”
“It's not all about hopelessness now,” he says. “We've gone through some tragic and heartbreaking times in this country recently, but I know this is also a day of good news and salvation. Jesus can change the human heart.”
Bonnke, who became an American citizen, is hoping for a large turnout of youth at Friday's event. The 73-year-old evangelist is using social media to connect with the younger generation, and now claims 3 million followers on Facebook.
“I believe the arms of the Lord are wide open and ready to receive them and give them a purpose in life,” he says. “The Romans built roads so the apostles could take the word to the people. Now we have electronic roads to transport our message. I see Facebook as just another pulpit.”