Craig Dunham, Petra Headmaster
Craig Dunham, Petra Headmaster

As the old saying goes, “As long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer in school.” Indeed, but at Petra, our prayers to God include more than just students’ prayers of desperation as they take finals this week.

Each and every morning, our teachers gather at 8 a.m. to pray for our students by name; on Monday and Thursday afternoons (respectively), our Education and Admin Teams meet, beginning each meeting with prayer for the tasks at hand; and our monthly Board meeting always includes a focused time of prayer for the school.

Syd Nettik with husband Steve, daughter Alyx, and son Matthew.

In addition, on Tuesday mornings, our Moms-in-Prayer group, led by Petra mom Syd Nettik, meets from 8:35-9:35 a.m. in the cafeteria to pray for the needs of our school, as collected in the prayer request jar at the front desk. I recently asked Syd for some observations from the group’s Prayer Tree initiative at the end of December, and this is what she shared.

Tell us more about the Prayer Tree.

“Moms in Prayer had the unique privilege of hearing the prayers of Petra children, faculty and staff, by reading aloud the beautiful prayer messages written on handmade ornaments. We held these prayers up to the Lord and asked for His blessings of good health and safe journeys. All of the prayers touched our hearts, especially the children who asked for more time with their family, health for parents or loved ones, and to get over the flu! The scripture verses showed the love children have in their hearts for His Word.”

How did you approach the prayer requests you received?

“When we divided up the ornaments and went around the circle – first reading the request then praying over it – it felt like the family gift opening tradition at our home, where gifts are opened one at a time and we go around the circle until all are opened and appreciated. So it was with the prayers. We opened the prayers one at a time and offered them each to God (kind of like a gift) to care for them as He sees fit.”

Did anything surprise you about the students’ prayer requests?

“The prayers of the young people were unselfish and genuine. They eagerly wanted to pray for someone whom they thought needed God’s help. Prayers were requested for friends, grandmothers, parents, and even pets.

The reality of life’s pain and disappointment were often evident as we read the prayer requests. One prayer that I read and prayed for was from a child who was asking God to help his or her dad not to have to work so much.”

What were some specific things for which students asked for prayer?

“Someone had written a request for ‘all the children in the world.’ I had to stop and compose myself after shedding some tears. This led into a time of thanksgiving for organizations like Compassion International and World Vision, both of whom are on the front lines helping children around the world.

Also, a young daughter with a compassionate and sensitive heart listed a prayer request to pray for her mother, who happened to be a part of Moms-in-Prayer. Her daughter’s prayers opened up a door for us to pray over this mom in some specific ways and minister to her that morning.”

Was there anything else special for you about the Prayer Tree initiative?

“Two ornaments from my pile were prayer requests for (former Headmaster) Mr. Hicks, as well as for you, Mr. Dunham. It was as if God had planned that each would be lifted up side-by-side in prayer.”

I’m thankful for Syd and the moms who gather each Tuesday morning. I’m thankful for teachers who purposely start each day with prayer. And I’m thankful for leadership teams and a Board of Directors who pray whenever the business of our school is discussed.

I’ve talked with enough parents to know very few of us feel we pray enough, even when we consider the challenges our kids face growing up in the world. Add to that already-present sense of failure the (good) words of those like E.M. Bounds, who wrote, “Prayer is the highest intelligence, the profoundest wisdom, the most vital, the most joyous, the most efficacious, the most powerful of all vocations,” and most of us wonder why the Lord even gave us kids in the first place, for surely we’re not worthy of them.

Yet I’m comforted to know that, while there are plenty who – like me – struggle to pray on their own, there are others who lift us up in our feeble attempts to lift up our children. This is as significant an answer to prayer as any, and I’m grateful to God for this provision at Petra.

(For more information about Petra Academy’s Moms-in-Prayer group, email Syd Nettik.)