National group that urges prayers for political leaders got its start in Charleston

By Caitlin Byrd Dec 25, 2017

Rick Jackson stood in halls of Congress with his daughter when he spotted his congressman strolling down the corridor.

"Look! There's Mark Sanford," Jackson thought he whispered to his daughter.

He didn't.

"You looking for me?" said Sanford, who was now standing in front of him.

At first, Jackson said he stumbled over his words, trying to pick the right ones. But finally the Wadmalaw Island resident told Sanford why they were there: It was a senior trip for his daughter, and they were there to pray for their leaders. At that mention, Sanford ushered them into the congressional elevator.

When they got to Sanford's office, the Republican offered Jackson's daughter a cookie. The three posed for a picture. Then, Sanford turned to Jackson.

"You know what I've been through. You know the issues," he said. "Would you pray for me?"

With his permission, Jackson laid his hands on the former governor of South Carolina and prayed. It didn't matter that Jackson had worked for the campaign of Curtis Bostic, the former Charleston County Councilman who faced off against Sanford in a 2013 GOP primary.

Prayer, Jackson said, is not a partisan act. Soon, they were all in tears.

"It was the sweetest moment and, as a leader, he needed it. Life is tough, but it's tougher for them," said Jackson, recalling that moment two years ago. "To encourage a man who many thought one day could have been president, is still a man in need."

It's the reason why Jackson has been praying daily for three politicians from somewhere in America on a rotating basis for nearly a decade with the help of a 13-year-old nonprofit called Public Servants Prayer.

The 58-year-old gets a daily email reminding him who to pray for in South Carolina. Though Public Servants Prayer is based out of Indiana, its founder Matt Barnes said its mission was born in Charleston.

During a family trip in 2004, Barnes attended a service at Victory Baptist Church on James Island. During the service, the pastor preached on 1 Timothy 2:1-4, which talks about the importance of praying for leaders.

Hearing that scripture, Barnes realized praying for politicians would be a great idea for a ministry.

"As you may tell by the headlines there are many temptations to do wrong," Barnes said. "Leadership by definition is lonely. The higher you get to the top the less friends you have. It’s important for believers to be praying for their leaders."

Initially, Barnes set up a website that named three lawmakers from Indiana differently each day and encouraged people to pray for them. It grew from there. Now, in addition to daily emails, the organization has a social media manager that runs Twitter accounts in all 50 states. And each day, the accounts tweet the three politicians to pray for in each state.

"Across all 50 states, we have more than 30,000 Twitter followers combined, and our tweets are retweeted by about 1 million people a day," Barnes said. "It's a way, in the modern age, for lawmakers to get a notification that they are being prayed for today."

To be fair, Public Servants Prayer goes in alphabetical order when picking leaders to pray for on a given day. Given today's partisan divisions, Barnes said these small acts of prayer are needed now more than ever.

"Party and issues are not what our focus is. Our focus is on the people," he said, "and politicians are people."

For Jackson, it is also a humbling experience to lift the names of his lawmakers up in prayer.

"You're sitting there and caring, not railing not accusing," Jackson said. "Wouldn't life be better if we all did that a little more?"

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

This article originally appeared here -