February 21st, 2011
06:00 AM ET
By Jim Spellman, CNN
Colorado Springs, Colorado (CNN) — They call Colorado Springs “Little Jerusalem” for good reason.
Christian churches from mega to micro dot this city nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and prayer is an integral part of the lives of many of the worshipers who fill those pews.
Most prayers start on the ground and are sent heavenward. But helicopter pilot Will Sanders is taking prayer to the air by flying pastors up to the skies to pray down on the people below.
“I believe prayer works, and I want to take prayer warriors up to pray for their community. Inspire them to see it from a different angle, from a different view,” he said.
Sanders earns a living running Colorado Vertical, giving tours of the area in his Raven II four-seat helicopter. About once a month he opens his chopper up to local pastors, who fly over their churches and areas of the city they think are experiencing hardship and pray for them.
“Pastors know their areas, they know where people are hurting, where people need prayer, where people need help, and I can take them over those areas,” Sanders says.
He says that flying is a profoundly spiritual experience.
“I see God’s creation. I do believe God created this world, and I see that in nature. When I fly I see the fingerprints of God.”
On a sunny winter day, he meets two pastors from Vanguard Church, Alan Briggs and Jonathan Madrid. It’s Briggs’ third trip and Madrid’s first. As evangelical Christians, they said prayer is an essential part of their faith.
“I care so much for our city that I’ll do anything, and so just starting with prayer is what I think we need to do,” Briggs said.
“I think the first thing we need to be doing as a city, as a body of believers, is to get down on our knees and pray,” Madrid said.
The tower clears the helicopter for takeoff, and a few minutes later we are cruising over the city. The prayers fly over the tinny audio of the headset microphones, with Briggs and Madrid taking turns.
“We pray that you bring the needs of the city to these churches that they may be able to help.”
“We pray that you bring this city together.”
“We pray for the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson.”
“We pray over this land that it would be dedicated to you.”
“Lord I pray for the high schools in our city, that your light may shine in those schools.”
We bank to the left and pass over the offices of The Independent, an alternative free weekly newspaper that has been critical of the evangelical community.
“We pray for The Independent and particularly publisher John Weiss. We pray for a partnership between such a sometimes hateful organization,” Briggs says.
A minute later, after a bit of quiet, he adds, “That we would be marked by our love and not by our judgment.”
Sanders heads west towards Garden of the Gods - a stunning orange rock formation popular with hikers. Pikes Peak is clearly visible to the south.
“Lord, when people see Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, I pray we would see you.”
We head back toward downtown, and Briggs turns to me to ask if it would be OK if he prays for me. I give him the thumbs up.
“Lord, we pray for Jim and getting to meet him today. I pray that you give him protection, that you keep the hand of safety on him,” he said.
As the airport comes back into sight, the pastors get in as many prayers as possible before we land.
“I pray you would drive out the spirit of consumerism in our city.”
“Lord I pray for more Spanish speaking churches.”
“We pray for military families to be taken care of.”
The voice of an air traffic controller interrupts the flow of prayers and clears us to land.
The cockpit is quiet as we gently touch down.
Back on the ground, Madrid is smiling widely.
“It was great. A different perspective for sure. As I saw the city, so many things came to me,” he said.
“It just gives you a whole new perspective on people, I think. You see these different areas of the city that you never would have thought to even pray for before, so I think praying from a different view is huge. I think it’s awesome and we’re blessed to be able to do that sort of thing.”
The pastors head back to their church as Sanders shuts down the helicopter.
“I was given a gift. I’ve been so blessed. How many people have a helicopter?” Sanders said. “I do believe in the power of prayer, and I want to cover this whole community with it”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.