In 1926, a young woman named Elizabeth Dabney and her husband, E.H. Dabney, were asked by their pastor to move to Philadelphia. Their assignment was to assist a budding preacher, O. T. Jones, as he began his ministry, there. The Dabney’s were a godly, servant-hearted couple and complied with the request. After working with Jones for three years and seeing hundreds come to Christ, they too were sent out to start a church and mission in North Philadelphia.
As E. H. and Elizabeth settled into full-time ministry, economic times were hard. Their sending organization could not provide much support. After searching the city for meeting space, the only building the Dabney’s could rent was a small storefront that went for $28 dollars a month. It came with 18 broken chairs and a dilapidated pulpit, which had been partially destroyed by a previous fire. Yet, they pressed forward. Times were also hard from a social standpoint. The neighborhood was overrun with illegal drugs, domestic violence, sexual promiscuity, and poverty. In spite of their efforts in preaching, prayer, and pastoral care, the couple struggled to understand how to make a difference for Christ in the face of such challenges.
So, one day, remembering the family prayer altars in her childhood home, Elizabeth made a radical covenant with God in which she determined to have her own, personal prayer altar at the mission. She told the Lord that if He would send revival to their turbulent neighborhood, she would meet Him in intercession at an appointed time each morning for three consecutive years.
“I asked God if He would give us the victory in our neighborhood if I made a covenant with Him to pray. He said He would. God told me to meet Him the next morning at the Schuylkill River at 7:30 am. I went home and asked my husband to take me to Riverside Drive the next morning. I was so afraid I would miss the appointment with the Lord that I sat up all night and crocheted. I dared not put my trust or confidence in an alarm clock.
We arrived at a place where a tree was bent over the road, and the Lord said: “This is the place.” As I stood [alone] between two large stones, the presence of God overshadowed me, and I acknowledged His presence with tears, and a delighted, “Good morning, Jesus!” I said: “Lord, if You will bless my husband in the place You sent him to establish Your name, if You will break the bonds and destroy the middle wall of partition, if You will give him a church and congregation—a credit to Your people and all Christendom—I will walk with You for three years in prayer, both day and night.
I will meet You every morning at 9 a.m. sharp. You will never have to wait for me; I will be there to greet You. I will stay there all day. I will devote all of my time to You. Furthermore, if You will listen to the voice of my supplication and break through in that wicked neighborhood and bless my husband, I will fast seventy-two hours each week. While I am going through the fast, I will not go home to sleep in my bed. I will stay in church, and if I get sleepy, I’ll rest on newspapers and carpet.”1
In time, God honored Elizabeth’s devotion and determination. Slowly, amazing things began to happen at the mission. The presence and power of God poured down from heaven week after week. First, more and more hungry souls from around the region came to their mission and found healing, salvation, and deliverance. Soon, the little building could not accommodate the seekers and the couple had to rent a larger space. Then, people began contacting Elizabeth from around the country, requesting prayer. Hundreds came to Christ, with some visiting from as far as Syria, Africa, China, India, Australia, and England.
History teaches us that when a man or woman of God commits to intense and unconventional seasons of seeking Him in prayer, breakthroughs occur. I fear that this kind of spiritual activity is out of style or seen as unnecessary today. May we learn from this woman’s example that God responds in radical ways to radical prayer.
Marlinda is the cofounder and a ministry leader at Christ Church with campuses in Montclair and Rockaway, New Jersey. For more than two decades, she and her husband David have trumpeted a passion for seeing the nations of the earth come together as one to worship the living Christ.
Through all of the challenges and joys that come with local church ministry, sovereign mandates, and missional living, God has etched on her soul the meaning of full-blown- surrender. It’s out of this internal imprint that she teaches the Bible with insights that make living for Jesus more than just a cliché.
1 Dabney, Elizabeth, “Praying Through” Accessed April 1, 2010: