During the summers of 1977 and 1978, from May 1979 to August 1980, and from July 1984 to February 1985, I spent usually about 40 hours a week answering a telephone like this: “Rex Humbard Prayer Group, may we help you?”
During that time, perhaps the zenith of the worldwide television ministry of Rex Humbard, his family and associates, there were anywhere from 12 to 20 of us answering the phones for personal prayer requests; it was 24/7 free prayer support available before the phrase 24/7 became fashionable. We had two rooms when I first started there – an office for our supervisor, and a room with desks and telephones for the rest of us. About 1979 we added another desk and another person on the day and evening shifts. We were a combination of middle aged men and women, young men planning on going into ministry, some men already in ministry part time, and others who were bound together by a desire to love and serve God and an unwavering trust in his Word and that he answers prayer. None of us were perfect by any means; some of us had gone through some deep problems in our lives, but what God gave us through those problems was an ability to speak and pray with others who may have been desperate, needy, emotionally hungry, abused, and even suicidal. We noted that often the calls seem to come to the one person on the shift who had gone through something similar and was able to minister to that person from a position of sympathy, understanding and faith.
I generally worked the evening shift – from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM EST, although sometimes I worked through till midnight, and sometimes I worked days and nights as well. When I first started, we would generally take about 30 calls per shift, and when I left in 1980 to attend seminary we were taking about 45 calls per person. During the summer of 1978 and from 1979-1980, I was shift lead, which simply meant that I started out the group in prayer at the beginning of the shift.
Most of the time we would simply be praying with people for various needs that they had. Many times there were requests for prayer for healing, and for financial needs, and sometimes for the needs of family and friends who were going through serious addictions as well as other problems. Sometimes people who had been drinking would call us, and those kinds of calls could be quite difficult. I do remember one lady who called who was definitely not sober, and we prayed together for her to receive Christ during the call. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but some time later she called back, stone sober, and assured me that she intended to keep on following Christ.
As it worked out, the telephone ministry was an ideal opportunity to witness to other people, and many of us did pray with many others as an expression of repentance and faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Generally, people who called had some level of spiritual interest already, and usually we would end up explaining the gospel, praying with them for them to receive salvation, and then praying for the need for which they had called. The followup was usually through mail and referral to churches, and we did regularly encourage someone who had professed Christ to start to attend a local Bible believing church and tell the pastor how they had prayed with us.
Wayward, backslidden believers were actually the most difficult people for us to deal with for the most part. The people in the Prayer Group were united in a desire to love and serve God, and it was difficult to have patience and show love to people who were either professing to know Christ or to have known Christ and yet were determined to act in a way contrary to God’s revealed Word. I personally often simply prayed for their requests for God to grant them for his glory (John 14:13) and according to how they were abiding in Christ and following his Word (John 15:7). Usually this was followed by a strained silence, and I would then try to say as lovingly as possible, “God bless you. Good bye.”
I don’t know of any statistics, but from the letters we received almost daily, we did see many, many answers to prayer. I can recall several testimonies of having been healed of cancer, though I know there were more. We always knew that there were more answers than letters, though, because there were times people would call back with more requests and mention that they had received answers to the requests that they had already received.
We never asked anyone who called in at any time for one penny, and I can remember saying several times that we would pray with anyone regardless of whether they were supporting the ministry financially or not, and that they did not need to pay for our prayers. When people would call for financial needs, we would ask them if they were giving to God’s work in some way, simply to know how to pray, since we could easily ask God to provide them sufficiency based on, “Give and it shall be given unto you,” and, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And I do know for a fact that pretty much everyone in the Prayer Group was supporting God’s work in some way with at least a tithe, since we knew that our own financial responsibility, generosity and obedience were on the line daily.
Though a number of Christian authors – charismatic, evangelical, classic and contemporary – were read by the members of the Prayer Group – often in between calls – the one Book we all agreed upon was the Bible. Though we may have had other translations at home, in ministry we all used the King James Version – not because anyone thought that it was a superior or inspired translation, but because it was the one that we all agreed upon. When we shared the Word of God with others, it was the King James Version that we used. There was a dictionary on hand for anyone who wanted to look up an archaism in the King James Version, but generally no one needed or wanted any special help to understand the older English dialect of that translation. And to this day I still use the promises of God’s Word in which I memorized long ago in the King James Version when I pray with others.
There’s also one artifact from this time which has remained with me – the book Personal Promises From God’s Word. I believe that it was compiled by John Hendricks, who was a veteran pastor on the staff of the Cathedral of Tomorrow and an associate of the Rex Humbard ministry. Over the years, I’ve come back to this book from time to time during times of difficulty. Pretty much the same book, in both King James and New International Versions, has continued to be reprinted since the 1970’s. Both my grandmothers received a copy, and one was buried with her copy. In addition, several years ago I found a large number on sale at a Christian bookstore, bought some, and gave them to the others on the worship team with which I sang. My hope has always been that others would come to know that the God of the Bible is faithful to his promises, and the riches of his compassion and goodness are to be found in the promises which are ‘Yea and Amen’ in Christ.
Few people have known about this part of my life, and I could not speak much about it when I was actually working there because of confidentiality of the requests and needs of people. It was a great disappointment to me that when I went to seminary and into the ministry that this part of my previous experience was pretty much ignored and dismissed, though it was highly relevant as a part of my preparation for ministry. Though in seminary I was known for fluency in Greek and Hebrew (and several did know about the time that I spent often alone in prayer and personal study), few seemed to have any interest in hearing about this part of my life and my past experience. Oh well.
For anyone who is interested, the TCT Christian Television network has recently been replaying some of the Rex Humbard programs from 1977-1979 on Sunday afternoons. These programs may also be accessible through their website.