Truckers, snipers & prayer

There are still churches left in this land where folks gather every Wednesday night for "prayer meeting," since they're convinced God doesn't just listen on Sundays.

Central Church of the Nazarene in Fort Wright, Ky., is that kind of church. Last week, the Rev. Larry Dillon told his mid-week faithful that he felt God wanted them to spend some extra time praying about the sniper attacks near Washington, D.C.

"We prayed for the victims and their families," he said. "We prayed for the police. We also prayed that somebody out there would find the killers. ... Our people just kept praying, 'Please Lord, let this end.' "

One layman who couldn't be there was trucker Ron Lantz. Normally, he drove his 18-wheeler back and forth to Wilmington, Del., on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But he'd been called in special and had to be on the road Wednesday night and into the morning.

This is, of course, where this prayer story turns into a news story.

Christian truck drivers often like to take their breaks far from the temptations and noise of giant truck stops. The Myersville rest area near Frederick, Md., is one safe refuge where Lantz regularly pulls over and parks.

This time, it was a few minutes before 1 a.m. and, as usual, the 61-year-old Lantz was listening to the national Truckin' Bozo Radio Show. The host was urging truckers to look for a 1990 blue Chevy Caprice with New Jersey license plate NDA21Z. Lantz pulled into the rest area and there was the car. He was one of the first callers to get through and alert the police.

"I called 911," Lantz told CNN. "They told me, 'We'll be there as soon as possible. We'll be there right away.' He didn't say how long. He said, 'You stay right where you're at.' I said, 'OK.' "

Lantz and another driver blocked the rest area's entrance and the exit and, about 20 minutes later, swarms of officers arrived. After a cautious stakeout around the car, the police awoke John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo and put them under arrest.

The next day, Lantz enjoyed a few sheepish moments in the media spotlight.

That was the end of that story. But what few journalists noted was that the folksy trucker was telling them that his story had a beginning, as well as an ending. Finding that deadly sniper-mobile followed some serious prayer, he said.

A week earlier, lots of truckers were talking on their CB radios about the sniper case. Finally, Lantz and several others told everybody to pull off the road. It was time for a prayer meeting. According to Lantz, at least 50 truckers and a slew of other drivers got together -- a mere 20 miles from that Myersville rest area.

Lantz is on the road again this week, far from reporters. But he told the whole story in church last Sunday, said Dillon.

"That truckers' prayer meeting is a big part of all this, the way I see it," said the preacher. "Ron said they all knew that the sniper was probably driving on the same roads that they were. So they prayed that the truckers out there would be able to help stop him, somehow. ...

"Ron's testimony is that he was just in the right place at the right time. But Ron doesn't think any of this was a coincidence and I don't think it was a coincidence, either."

It's probably hard for journalists to figure out where prayer fits into this kind of news story, said Dillon. But millions of people sincerely believe prayer makes a difference. So they keep praying. It's part of the story of their lives.

"I know people ask, 'If prayer matters, then why didn't God stop the killing earlier?' Well, God gives people choices. They can choose good or they can choose evil," said Dillon. "So we don't know why those men chose to do what they did and we don't know why God didn't stop them sooner.

"Those are tough questions. But we know that we're supposed to choose what's good and keep doing what God wants us to do. We'll have to get to heaven before we truly understand how all of this works."