Inspiring speakers celebrate National Day of Prayer

Published 5:20 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

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Guests from around the world added their inspirational stories to a bright morning filled with prayer and reflection at the 2023 Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast.

Elected officials, soldiers in uniform and a variety of special guests gathered for the fellowship while providing both prayer and scripture Thursday, May 4 as the community celebrated the National Day of Prayer Thursday, May 4 at the Hilton Garden Suffolk Riverfront.

Ukraine Armed Forces Commander Col. Hennadiy Kovalenko shared greetings from his nation, expressing his thanks for the United States’ support during the war against Russia.

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He received a standing ovation as a show of support from all those attending the breakfast.

“We have been waging war against Russia for the last 400 years, as simple as that,” Kovalenko said. “Ladies and gentleman, Ukraine is waging war of necessity. Russia is waging war of choice.”

Proving prayers for family, city, state, nation and the world respectively were students James McFarland of Lakeland High School, Claire Mitchell of Nansemond Suffolk Academy, Bryson Barber of Kings Fork High School, Joshua Peacock of Suffolk Christian Academy and Madie Baker of Nansemond River High School. The Good News Report was provided by fourth Grader Rylie Bufton alongside Tidewater Child Evangelism Fellowship of Virginia Coordinator Tracy A. Foss. 

Second Congressional District Rep. Jennifer A. Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, Congressional district, discussed prayer’s positive impacts.

“Prayer is very powerful. It’s something that we can do any time of the day, no matter what we’re doing, I think of all the challenging times in my life where I needed help and maybe no one was there,” Kiggans said. “God is always there and prayer is always there for us.”

Fox News Chief Religion Correspondent Lauren Green, the event’s moderator, gave an emotional recitation of “The Fellowship of the Unashamed,” a work written by a Rwandan man in 1980 the night before he would be killed for not renouncing his faith in Christ.

“I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity,” Green recited tearfully. “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until Heaven returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My colors will be clear.”

Following a performance from singer Scott Butler and comments from Freedom Seekers Inc. Ambassador Scott Cottingham, Mayflower Church Pastor Yongguang Pan shared his story of God’s deliverance, alongside translator College of William and Mary Professor Gloria Q. Su.

“In China, many christians had read the book. In China, every Christian knows that becoming a Christian comes with a high cost,” said Pan.

He described his father’s death in a car accident and a group of Christians coming to visit and teaching him about the gospel. Hearing God’s words is what led him to becoming a pastor.

“And I realized a doctor may heal a person’s physical body, but only the gospel can save a person’s soul,” Pan said. “Doctor enjoys high social status [and] has high income and is respected in society, but being a pastor you have nothing. As a pastor in China, we gathered in a very small place. Every time when I was a preacher in China, whenever a knocking on the door, everybody would [be] anxiously looking at the door and I would stop my preaching. Everybody held their breath and wondered who is knocking at the door and who will storm inside. Is that person a police? If the person turned out not to be a police, then everybody had a sigh of relief.”

Pan shared he often told his congregation that this “might be our last time gathering.”

Pan said that in 2019, the church voted to leave China to seek asylum in South Korea. The decision made the congregation passionate about the future and knew they were “deeply moved by the Holy Spirit.” 

Two months after reaching South Korea, the pandemic began and Pan and his congregation stayed in South Korea for three years. While there, a Christian gave them a small plot of land.

“We could plant vegetables and plant some corn,” he said. “That reminded me in the year 1620 when the Mayflower pilgrims came to North America and they worked on the land as well and what they gone through.”

The harvest was initially “not good,” but with a system change with families in charge of each lot, the following year’s harvest improved. 

Pan and his congregation soon went to Thailand to “seek asylum from the United Nations Refugee Agency.” Unfortunately, Thai immigrant police arrested all of the church’s congregation and sought to deport them back to China. 

Pan said a “miracle” happened on the way to the airport.

“Many House representatives of America, they spoke out on our behalf,” he said. Congressman Mr. Smith, Mr. Cruz, Mr. Rubio, they spoke out on our behalf. U.S. State Department took quick action. All this happened without my knowledge, because at the time I was in prison.”

Seven days later, the prison guard summoned him to the gate of the prison where I met the U.S. Council to Thailand, Pan said. “And he told me, ‘You are safe now. You can go to America now. The air ticket is ready for you.’”

Pan and his congregation boarded the plane to America, with nothing but T-shirts, shorts and sandals. After a layover into Seoul, South Korea, the airplane finally landed in the Dallas, Texas airport where a State Department official greeted him.

“He said to me in my own mother tongue, is that ‘America welcomes you,’” Pan recalled. “In the whole process, I know this is the work of God.”

There were other local residents participating in the program.

Lakeland High School student Malia J. Feliciano delivered the opening prayer along with Director of Central Asia Strategy Nathan Rostampour adding praise through son. Mayor Michael D. Duman provided greetings from the City of Suffolk with Lt. Col. Emily J. Hoffman of the Virginia Air National Guard providing greetings from the military.

The breakfast ended with Tampa Bay Rays and USA Defensive Player of the Year Zach Rutherford providing the closing prayer and Scott Butler providing the closing music.