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Answering the prayers of others

Some of the most inspirational stories of faith are about those who answer the prayers of others, those who defy sometimes enormous odds to heed the commandment: love thy neighbor.
/ Source: NBC News

Bible stories tell of it and millions today bear witness to it. In times of crisis, many believers turn to prayer. They pray for help and they pray for answers. But some of the most inspirational stories of faith are about those who answer the prayers of others, those who defy sometimes enormous odds to heed the commandment: love thy neighbor.

In the sacred texts of every major religion -- including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam-- there are lessons, taught in parable and poetry, aimed at creating the ideal person of faith. Lessons of love, forgiveness, and grace. Lessons still being taught and learned, all around us.

Sarah James: “Do you believe God is still speaking to us today?”

Dr. James Forbes:“I believe that God has never ceased to speak.”

The Reverend Doctor James Forbes Junior is pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City. He sees the power of the divine message made manifest in the people he meets every day.

Forbes: People of faith are loving, they are tolerant, sensitive, they are forgiving, they are caring.”

James: “Is it just enough to have faith, or should you be able to see that someone has faith?”

Forbes: “If someone charged you with being a Christian or a Jew, could they find enough evidence from the way you live your life to convict you? Is there the fruit of your life, that shows the root of your faith?”

Americans believe in the power of faith. A Gallup poll found three in four Americans believe their lives have meaning and purpose because of their faith. And through the years, Dateline has discovered many people who have what the Bible describes as the faith “to move mountains,” people who believe faith has quite literally, altered their destiny.

It even allowed Bruce Murakami to forgive the unforgivable. Bruce was a hard living bachelor until he met his wife Cindy. From the moment they met, Bruce knew how lucky he was. He became a devoted father of two sons and a daughter, Chelsea, adopted from Korea when the girl was just four months old. His family and his life, Bruce felt, were gifts from God.

In late 1998, their daughter Chelsea had this answer, when a minister asked if she was saved, if she was ready. She said, “Yes, I’m ready.”

The very next day, Bruce said goodbye to his wife and daughter as he left the house. About a half hour later, he saw smoke, and somehow, was drawn to the site of an accident.

Bruce Murakami: “I started to run toward the scene and by then these cars were already on fire and they were exploding.”

One was his van. Inside were his wife and his child. They were gone. Bruce's ideal life was upended.

Murakami: “I was never supposed to leave the house without kissing them.”

For months, Bruce was virtually paralyzed.

Murakami: “I got to a point where because I do believe in God, I just said, man if you are real, you gotta come down here right now. You need to come down here and explain this to me.”

But there seemed to be no explanation for the accident -- until Bruce hired a lawyer, who laid the blame at the foot of a teenager. Justin Cabezas, it turned out, had been drag racing, recklessly speeding up to 90 miles an hour when he struck the van carrying Bruce's wife and daughter.

There would finally be justice, Bruce thought. But just a week before Justin's trial, something strange happened. When he saw the boy in court, Bruce felt a change inside. And decided to meet Justin face to face.

Murakami: “I just looked at him and I said, I want to hear what you have to tell me from your heart.”

Justin Cabezas: “I think the first thing I said was, I'm sorry.”

Murakami: “That is what I wanted him to say all along.”

In fact, that simple phrase was the beginning. Bruce Murakami was about to get his life back, all because of faith in God, and in his fellow man.

James: “You know, I think of all the virtues, forgiveness has got to be the toughest.”

Forbes: “It’s tough. It’s tough to forgive! But its easier to forgive if your life feels under girded by the power of God.”

Faith was also key to the story of Lance Williams, who was a reporter for WFLA, the NBC station in Tampa, Florida. He and his wife Amy were active in their church; the parents of two small children. But back in 2000, coworkers like anchor Gayle Sierens began noticing Lance wasn't his old self.

Gayle Sierens: “I'd look over and he was just slumping down in his chair, as if he were just exhausted.”

A trip to the doctor brought a stunning diagnosis: Lance Williams had a rare and deadly form of leukemia, from which he had only a one-in-five-chance of recovery. Weeks of chemotherapy began. And his wife Amy began a journal, pouring out her heart to God.

Members of Lance's church prayed fervently for his recovery. And he was too sick to know that even at the TV station, Gayle Sierens organized a prayer circle, then made this extraordinary on-air plea for her friend.

Sierens: “’We ask if you believe in the power of prayer, this might be a good time to say some prayers for Lance and his family’… We did it because Lance needed a miracle, and that's what we prayed for. we prayed for a miracle.”

And a miracle was what they got. An amazing series of events followed: A doctor was found who had answers no one else seemed to; a new cancer drug was approved; and finally, a bone marrow donor appeared, it seemed, out of the blue.

A life-saving transplant followed. Lance has now been back at work for two years, no longer the hard-hitting investigative reporter, but focusing on positive, uplifting stories, much like his own..

Forbers: “When there is concern centered around someone we care for, it is amazing how true it is, that God works in mysterious ways.”

And finally, a miracle from a stranger was also what Toni Whatley was praying for, when we first met her at at the First Assembly of God church in suburban Cleveland. For five years, since her kidneys failed, Toni had been hostage, three days a week, three hours at a time, to a dialysis machine. Without it, she knew she would die in a matter of weeks.

What she didn't know, was that another member of her church choir was about to make a life-altering offer; to put the command to, “love one another” into action.

Diana Harrill: “There's no way that i could possibly have known that this could happen. And yet it happened.”

Diana Harrill had seen Toni for years at church and Sunday school. But they were little more than nodding acquaintances, until a 40-day church fast, when Diana somehow found herself drawn to pray for Toni.

Diana Harrill: As I was driving one day to work, the thought just came to my mind, would you be willing to be a part of the answer for Toni? I began to think, Lord is this you speaking to me? And the thought came, would you be willing to donate a kidney to Toni?

Donate a kidney? To a virtual stranger? Put her life on the line for someone she had only begun to know?

Toni Whatley: “You could've probably knocked me over with a feather.”

When the church found out that Diana was going to donate a kidney, it touched everyone. The day before the transplant, more than two hundred people rallied around them.

Toni Whatley: “I think about all the time we spent praying, and now God has come to answer in such an unusual way.”

For Toni and Diana. the surgery was a success. Now nearly  six years later, there are no signs of rejection and no regrets. In fact, the two women are now close friends.

Forbes: “It reminds me of an African proverb which says, I am because we are. If I'm really God's child, that makes you my sister.”

It’s a lesson in the sacred texts, an ideal to aspire to, and living proof of the power of faith.

James: “For a person who's a Christian, would you say being a person of faith is trying to live a christ like life?”

Forbes: “Thats exactly. You say it better than the preacher here. While we may not all be saints, not all of us are gonna be Ghandis or Mother Teresas If its a genuine faith it will reflect the values of the God you say you serve.