The Homecoming of Three Prodigal Sons
The Battle is Won in the Heavenly Places
by Ken Barnes
Are you a Christian mother or father who has a son or daughter who seems to be so distant from God? Are you a believing grandparent who has labored over you grandchild in prayer, but the more you pray the worse their spiritual condition becomes? You are starting to wonder if all the Christian training he or she received as a youth was all in vain. Listen to this little story and be encouraged because the “Hound of Heaven” is loose and the battle is won in the heavenly places.
God broke through and invaded that little piece of North Carolinian real estate!
In the early 1990s I was leading a Youth With A Mission team traveling up the East Coast, working with churches in evangelism and promoting short-term mission opportunities. Our team did creative movement, mime, music, testimonies, and preaching—all with a focus on reaching the lost. We had a contact in Jacksonville, North Carolina, who arranged some ministry opportunities for us. One day we had an unusually full schedule. The plan this day was to visit a nursing home in the morning, put on a storefront church service in the early evening, and evangelize in the red light district later that night.
The nursing home went well. The storefront church was packed and the service was going well, but in the middle of the service the air conditioner failed. It was a sultry North Carolina evening, and after the service my team looked sapped of energy. One of the team members came up to me and said, “Are we really still going out to evangelize tonight? The team is very tired.” She looked at me like I had asked her to go to Siberia. I walked away thinking, Am I being too tough on the team? Lord, what do I do? I had a sense deep inside me—just continue.
A few minutes later, a man from the church came up to me and said, “You don’t want to go to the red light district. The mall is the happening place. There is not going to be anybody in the red light district tonight.” I thought, The mall? Lord, is this from You? I decided to send one of our team members to the red light district to spy out the land. He returned with the report, “It’s packed.”
We hurriedly loaded the bus, but the team seemed to be fading. As I got on the bus, I heard one of my team members say under his breath, “Ken Barnes works his people day and night.” I fired up another prayer, Lord, are you sure you want us to do this? I still felt it—just continue.
We arrived in the red light district, and the sidewalks were packed. Jacksonville, North Carolina, is home to one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the world. It was payday and the streets were crowded with young Marines eager to spend their money until their pockets were empty. Finding a spot to do our ministry was a problem, so I approached a policeman thinking he might assist us. He politely told us to go take a hike, adding that us “church people” should not even be down here. I shot up another prayer. Just continue.
As we walked up and down the street, it got later and later and the team was growing wearier. Finally, we found a little spot on a sidewalk and quickly started to set up. A crowd was starting to form even before we were done setting up. Our friendly officer of the law showed up and told us to move, as the crowd was swelling to the point of impeding the flow of traffic in the street. Another plea for help went up. By this time I was asking, “Lord, do you really want us to do this?” The same thought came to my mind—just continue. By this time I was tempted to say to the Lord, “Then give us a break, will yuh?”
With increasing difficulty, we continued walking the street, looking for a suitable spot. The feeling that I should “cut bait and run” was growing stronger. Suddenly, I looked across the street, and there it was. A vacant lot between a tattoo shop and another commercial establishment was sitting there waiting for us. The tattoo shop was closed, but the other store was still open. The lights from the store provided the illumination we needed to do our ministry. “Thank you, Lord.” We quickly got set up and started our ministry. A crowd of young marines gathered to watch. Things were going well.
And then the lights went out. The store either closed, or they turned their outside lights off because they didn’t want us there. Either way, we were in the dark. “Lord, help.” My prayers were getting shorter and more desperate. In less than a minute the owner of the tattoo shop, who still happened to be in his shop, turned on his lights. He told us later that it made him mad when the store turned their lights off. God can use the owner of a tattoo shop.
We continued our presentation. About halfway through our program something changed. From the time we had arrived at the church that afternoon, it had been nothing but struggles. But in the middle of our ministry time, God broke through. I can only describe it as God invading that little piece of North Carolina real estate. The presence of the Lord permeated that alleyway, and I could sense that God was touching people’s hearts. An atmosphere of struggle and trial had changed to liberty and freedom.
When we gave an invitation to accept Christ, no one came forward. But as the crowd dispersed, we noticed three young marines lingering on the perimeter of our makeshift stage area. We approached them and heard a similar story from each of them, an account about being raised in a Christian home but forsaking the faith of their fathers and living in the sinful ways of the world. We ministered to them, and they confessed their sins and recommitted themselves to the Lord. That night, three of God’s prodigal sons came home. One of the young marines, after his discharge, even joined our mission.
What was going on that evening? There was a battle raging in the heavenly realm over the souls of these three young men. We were in pursuit of these three, who were like lost sheep of the House of Israel. When I get to heaven, I believe I may run into prayer warrior parents or grandparents who were crying out to God to bring their Marine Corps sons or grandsons back home. We had the privilege of being part of the answer to those prayers.
Well after midnight as we drove back, our bodies were weary but our spirits were soaring. We rejoiced with the angels in heaven over not one but three sinners who had repented and had come home.
So, weary Christian parents or grandparents, take courage because God hears your prayers and see your concerns. Christ’s spirit (the Hound of Heaven) is following your loved one’s tracks and is poised to break through at just the right time and place, even in a dark alley in a pit of Hell. God is prepared to perform his Word. “Train up a child in the way they should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6).
Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 122-125.