Engineering senior Israel Vicars didn’t think it was a coincidence when he walked by a drunken girl who had fallen over in a parking lot and desperately needed help.
Vicars attributes his ability to safely return the girl to her residence hall to the power of united prayer.
Fostering that united prayer is what the campus program 40 Days of Prayer is all about.
Thursday night, about 150 students crowded the sanctuary of the University Lutheran Chapel to kickoff what will be over a month of ongoing prayer.
With more than 10 campus Christian groups the second annual program aims to fulfill the ambitious goal of having at least one student praying in a small room in the chapel 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 40 days.
Though event organizers struggled last year to find students willing to pray in the middle of the night, those running the program this year are challenging participants to come at least two hours a week and pull an all-nighter.
The room’s walls are covered with paper for students to write down both current and answered prayers. Participants often connect their answered prayers to the original prayer with a string.
Organizers of the event said 40 Days of Prayer serves to bring otherwise segregated groups closer together to work for a common goal. School of Music senior Philip Michael, one of the event’s organizers, said the program strives to be something of a “moral backbone” for the rest of campus.
“The goal of 40 Days of Prayer is to see Christian groups from all over the campus uniting as we petition God to do big things on our campus,” he said.
Some participants said last year’s efforts paid off in the form of remarkable events experienced during the 40 day window. Vicars, who helped organize the event, was leaving the prayer room late at night last year when he was able to assist the girl.
“Lots of little stories like that were what impacted people,” Vicars said of the incident.
The program’s website features a blog with running commentary about the program, praising God and including a few posts about answered prayers.
LSA sophomore Julia Rodgers passionately spoke to a captivated crowd about how the 40 Days of Prayer helped her overcome an eating disorder.
She said that after making visits to the prayer room, her relapses of anorexia became much less frequent.
“Ridiculous coincidences started happening that got to a point where it was embarrassing to call them coincidences,” she said.
LSA junior Kathryn Rose said the prayer marathon is a welcome change to the usually separated climate of campus groups.
“I think it’s awesome how it brings together different Christian groups on campus,” she said.
LSA senior Jeffrey Chin, one of the event’s organizers, said the program strives to humble students through prayer.
“As Michigan students we think that we can do everything by ourselves, but that’s not true,” Chin said. “We need to rely on God and his power, and that’s what prayer is all about.”
Although this year’s event will follow a similar format to last year’s, a few changes should make this one different.
Students gathered at Christian fraternity Phi Alpha Kappa for last year’s program, but University Lutheran Chapel is playing host this year.
Engineering junior Craig Spencer, another event organizer, said he expects this year’s program to draw a bigger crowd than last year’s.
“Now that we kind of have a base from last year, it’s a lot easier to get the word out and to spread the unique concept of 40 Days of Prayer,” he said.
The Christian groups and churches included Campus Crusade for Christ, Christian fraternity Phi Alpha Kappa and New Life Church.
A ministry called World Reach International sponsors the program, along with similar events that take place at the University of Southern California, the University of Colorado and the University of Texas.