GREENFIELD — The older woman, a fellow pastor she respected, would be leaving the next day. On this last evening of her stay, they lingered in the living room, talking. She sat on the floor near the older woman seated on the couch, who began to pray, and she soon was sobbing with her head in the older woman’s lap.
Dr. Sun Fannin remembers the pastor who left a lasting mark on her own ministry. In the years following that moment, Fannin would start a prayer conference that has grown since 1989 into an international event, one that draws worshipers to Greenfield from as far away as Japan and South Korea for a few days of worship, prayer and fasting.
“Prayer has always been a big part of my life,” Fannin said.
So around 1986, when she came across a book by Korean pastor Choi Ja-shil, she wanted to read it.
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Choi was mother-in-law of Cho Yonggi, pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, a church of hundreds of thousands of members that is pointed to by some as the world’s largest congregation. Choi also was known as someone with a strong prayer life.
Fannin read Choi’s book on fasting and became inspired. She said she fasted for a month after reading it, and somehow, someone working with Choi heard about her journey.
Choi, then in her 70s, was touring in the United States at the time and decided to meet Fannin. On her last night in Greenfield, she chose not to stay in the quarters available at Evangel Christian Church (then known as Body of Christ Fellowship). Instead, she wanted to stay at Fannin’s home.
Fannin felt intimidated, maybe even unworthy, in the face of the request but agreed. That night, they sat talking in the living room.
“She asked me, ‘What is the vision you have for America?” Fannin recalled.
Fannin tried to verbalize an answer. “I … want to help hurting people.”
Choi kept asking: “What is your vision?”
Finally, “She said, ‘I want to tell you my burden for America,’” Fannin said.
Fannin said Choi told her that Americans sacrificed their lives to tell Koreans about God, that revival came to Korea in the 1980s and that God had prospered in Korea. But as churches were popping up in Korea, Fannin remembers Choi telling her that Americans were losing their own fervor.
“She was heavily burdened, thinking about America,” Fannin said. “(She told me) ‘God wants you to help America wake up. … You are going to teach them about prayer and fasting.’”
Fannin was already traveling and teaching, having established Sunshine Ministries in 1985. She and her husband had co-founded what is now Evangel in 1981.
Until that visit with Choi, when Fannin traveled, she had largely shared her life story. It’s a story she shared in a book, “Bad Luck Baby.”
Fannin’s father died before she was born, and as a child in Korea, she faced the social stigma of growing up without a father. She spent time in an orphanage and in the home of an abusive older brother.
She found hope in teachings from an American missionary school but also pressure from those around her to reject “the American God.”
Along the way, there were broken relationships, suicide attempts, an abortion and an unfaithful first husband. At the end of that string of pain, though, she felt God wanted her to forgive all those who had hurt her.
A documentary by Chicago’s Total Living Network, “Sun Fannin: Journey to Forgiveness,” would be shown over satellite and the Internet in 1999.
Fannin urges Christians not to remain focused on their heartaches but to face them, find help and healing, and move forward in ministry. She said the lengthy times of prayer that are part of the conference begin with time to pray about those issues and later transition into prayers for other people and for nations.
Though others had been inspired by Fannin’s personal story of renewal, after Choi’s visit, Fannin talked about prayer and fasting when she traveled to speak.
Fannin said two years after that encounter in the living room, she was traveling and had a dream. In it, Choi received a certificate and turned to hand it to her.
When she returned from her trip, Fannin learned Choi had died.
“Later I understood: She imparted to me her burden for America,” Fannin said. “After that, I had this vision to hold three days of prayer and fasting.”
Martha Mundy has been to almost all of the conferences. She lived in Greenfield for several years, but she lived in Jasper when she started coming and has since moved back there. She helps out at the registration table and with other details of the conference.
“She’s very compassionate … there’s a lot of teaching,” Mundy said. “I just kept coming back because it fed me, spiritually.
“You really get touched by the Lord when you’re in the conference. It’s very powerful.”
The first conference in 1989 took place in Indianapolis and drew fewer than 100 people from various states.
Now, 100 chairs will be the extra seating that’s needed in Evangel’s 6,300-square-foot auditorium in Greenfield. Conference organizers have reserved a block of about 30 rooms in a local hotel near Interstate 70 and rent three 15-passenger vans so church members can shuttle conference-goers south to the church on East Main Street.
“We’re going to be packed,” Fannin said.
More recent conferences have included meals and focused on prayer, not fasting. But many who came approached her and said the fasting needed to be part of the gathering again.
“It’s amazing that people requested it,” she said.
So this year, there will be a “denial fast” and some simple salad and soup fare patterned after Daniel’s fast in the Bible’s book of Daniel.
This year’s conference, set for April 23 to 26, also includes an April 25 march from the church along East Main Street, heading west to the Hancock County Courthouse. Those who gather will pray for the United States and for Christians facing persecution around the world, she said. She’s inviting Christians to join the gathering.
“So many Christians I see never cry out to God for mercy for their own nation,” Fannin said. “This is what I feel God is calling me to do — alarming Christians to wake up.”
In the years since she was charged with sharing that message, Fannin has ministered to people in the United States, Korea, Japan, Denmark, India, Belgium, France, Canada and other countries. She’s planted churches and sent out missionaries.
She remembers admiring Choi, wondering if she, too, could have that kind of impact some day, and choked up as she spoke about people who were hurting and she’s trained and sent out, who call her “Mama.”
“When I met them, they were basket cases. I was a basket case,” she said. “Now they are saying, ‘Because of your love, because of your caring, now, we can do the work for God.’”
Carolyn Rueter of Monrovia, who has attended past conferences and plans to be there again this year, has seen that caring at work.
“She is very, very gentle toward the people who come to her meetings. … The conference is spirit-led,” Rueter said. “God, through her, has blessed so many people and delivered them.”
“Anoint Me, Lord,” Sunshine Ministries’ 2015 International Prayer and Fasting Conference, runs from April 23-26 at Evangel Christian Church, 1221 E. Main St. Speakers include Dr. Jerry and Sherrill Piscopo, Drs. Sun and Larry Fannin, and Pastor Hiroko Ayabe of Japan. Psalmist Fay Kim will lead music during times of intercessory prayer and worship, and the Evangel Christian Church Worship Team and Fire Fall Worship Team will also provide music. Registration is free. Register and find other information at www.evangel-cc.org.
At 10 a.m. April 25, a group will make its way from Evangel Christian Church to the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza for a time of prayer for America and for persecuted Christians around the world. Those who want to join the march can park at the church parking lot and join the march at the start, go to Riley Park and join the marchers as they pass, or wait at the courthouse plaza to meet the group there. For more information, call 317-326-8658.