ALTUS — Wheat farmer Jim Pryor looked up on a recent December's night into an open sky dotted with stars.
On this night, Pryor was among 10 members of the “Grace Street Praise Team” from First Baptist Church in Olustee, gathered to sing at the weekly “Pray for Rain” gathering organized by the Jackson County Ministerial Alliance.
Farming full time since the mid-1960s, this 70-year-old has never been through a drought that has choked his land this hard for this long.
Much of this southwest part of Oklahoma remains in exceptional drought, the worst of the U.S. Drought Monitor report's categories.
Rainfall in Altus, the Jackson County seat, is 47.51 inches below normal through the last 39 months, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. So, Pryor and 26 others gathered on this night sang, “Let it rain, let rain open the floodgates of heaven.”
They continued, “We feel the rains of Your love, We feel the winds of Your spirit, And now the heartbeat of heaven let us hear.”
Minutes later Pryor looked up and said of the drought, “It will end.”
He knows the day will come when his boots are caked in mud. Until then, the Sunday night prayer meetings will continue, said Kevin Baker, pastor of Martha Road Baptist Church and a member of the ministerial alliance.
“At one of our ministerial alliance meetings in the spring we were talking about the seriousness of the drought and how it's affecting our economy and we decided that the only real solution to this is ask God to send the rain,” Baker said. “He makes the rain, he sends the rain. So we just made a commitment that we would pray every week, every Sunday night, until the drought breaks, until the lakes are filled and things are back to normal.”
The initial prayer meeting was on Mother's Day. With Christmas near, they continue.
During the summer, an average of about a dozen people gathered outside the courthouse in Altus. Then it grew to 75 people. The gatherings were moved inside to the Altus Community Center as cooler weather set in.
On a recent night, another activity was being held in the center, so the more than two dozen people who came to pray for rain gathered outside.
Through the years, the established normal for rainfall changes, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. Keeping that in mind, Altus has had below the established normal annual precipitation total — at that time — for 15 of the last 20 years, McManus said. That includes Jan. 1 through Dec. 12 this year, and Altus was 14.02 inches below the normal in that span alone.
But the Grace Street Praise Team led off the prayer meeting by singing, “How Great is our God.” A statement, not a question.
“One of the things that we've talked about is that we could worry about the situation, we could wring our hands and fret,” Baker said, “but that doesn't get us anywhere.”