My Friend Julie and How She Helped Change a City
(This blog was written to honor Julie Kieser on her retirement for serving the Jesus Loves Kalamazoo movement as its president, director, and lead administrator for 15 years.)
Julie Kieser has long been one of Kalamazoo's secret weapons for revival and city transformation. She's an administrative superhero who's led Jesus Loves Kzoo with humility, faithfulness, and compassion. I promise that when I first started writing this post, i wasn’t planning on sharing so much. But in the end, I wanted to honor my friend for her extraordinary impact upon Kalamazoo, MI and share about how much her friendship has meant to me over the last decade.
In February of 2012, God sovereignly connected the Greater Kalamazoo Prayer Push, a movement which was inspired by TheCall Detroit (11.11.11), with Jesus Loves Kalamazoo. Here’s the story:
Julie attended the very first 24 hour Great Kalamazoo Prayer Push*, hosted by the Empowerment Center, which involved 17 different churches and ministries. I believe that Jesus Loves Kalamazoo had been rolling for about 3 years at that time and was in the stage where it was really building momentum, but I personally had not yet heard of it. After the GKPP event, Julie reached out to me and we met for coffee. At the Biggby Coffee on Stadium Drive, Julie introduced herself to me and then told me all about Jesus Loves Kalamazoo. After listening to her share, I knew our collective movements were supposed to connect. Before this meeting, the Lord had given me a vision of intercessors serving as the "air force," confusing and taking out the principalities and territorial powers through unified, prophetic prayer and worship, while "ground troops" went out on the streets, sharing the good news of the gospel. I had been trying to figure out how to organize that kind of evangelistic prayer tandem effort....until I met Julie. I realized in that moment that God was not calling me to pioneer something else, He was showing me a prophetic snapshot of the blueprint so I would recognize the real thing when Julie and I spoke. Our "Father Nash" praying movement had found its "Charles Finney" evangelistic movement and the rest is history. To God be the glory!
Here's a story that came back to mind as I was writing my thoughts about Julie: I remember back in February of 2016, waking up on a Sunday morning to discover the horrific news that an Uber driver had shot and killed six people and injured two others in Kalamazoo the night before. I can't remember now who called whom, but Julie and I ended up deliberating that morning on the phone. There we were, still wearing our comfy pajamas and rockin' our "just woke up" crazy hair, sitting on our beds at our respective homes, asking the Lord how He would have us respond as a movement. I remember saying something exceedingly passionate, as I am ought to do, such as, "This is what generals do, Julie, they make decisions like this in moments of crisis."
After talking and praying together, we believed God was calling us to invite the city to pray and mourn together in unity. In God’s sovereignty, we already had a OneWorship** rehearsal scheduled at Centerpoint Church for that evening, so we (the JLK leadership team, in agreement with Centerpoint's pastoral team) decided to turn that rehearsal into a citywide prayer meeting. God’s hand and favor was upon that decision, and just hours later, Centerpoint's worship center was packed with Kalamazoo County residents (including one of the victim's families). We worshipped, cried, prayed together (for the surviving victims, for the families of those affected, and even for the gunman), and proclaimed Jesus’s eternal gospel with compassion and boldness. I remember being so proud watching my JLK friends and colleagues lead with such humility, anointing, and excellence. Our "hidden" movement was no longer hidden, for the room was also filled with clicking cameras and inquisitive reporters from many local and national news agencies, including organizations like the Associated Press, NPR, and the BBC.*** On top of it all, local and statewide political leaders, such as our Lieutenant. Governor, attended the impromptu gathering. It was such a surreal outcome, all stemming from an early morning phone call between two friends in their pajamas.
And there’s so much more I could share about Julie, like how she’s served JLK full-time for 15 years and has never received a paycheck (her decision). Or, about all the frazzled and exhausted single mamas whose kids she’s watched so they could have a moment of peace and attend a Bible study or run some errands. Or, the young men Mark and Julie have welcomed into their home over the years to help provide for them a stable and loving home during seasons of transition and turmoil.
I could tell you about that moment in a 2016 JLK vision team meeting when I shared about how KHOP was going to bring Jonathan Tremaine Thomas to Kalamazoo to speak at a Conference that we were going to call “Civil Righteousness," and Julie asked if JLK could co-sponsor it. (What a game changer that simple offer was!) I could tell you about the time we accidentally drove into the smoky haze of a gang war, while driving back to our hotel from a massive prayer gathering at the LA Coliseum. I could tell you about all the times she championed and advertised KHOP’s events. Or, when she and I mourned together the death of my amazing friend and worship partner Megann. I could tell you about the fun my family has had at the Kieser’s Fife Lake cottage or the ways she has tangibly loved on my husband John and our kids, like when she brought a meal to my family when I got Covid and we were all quarantined. Or, when she and I wrote a grant together asking for funding to create Civil Righteousness University and self-publish the first CR curriculum. Or, all the delicious lunches at Food Dance and Theo & Stacy’s we shared and how she never, to this day, lets me pay. (“It’s my way of supporting your work with KHOP, Tami.”)
Julie’s been a mentor, cheerleader, confidante, champion, sister, intercessor, and an incredible friend.
Julie Kieser, I honor you today. You are a gift to me and to Kalamazoo. THANK YOU. May your next season be filled with daily abiding in Jesus, messy kisses from your grand babies, belly laughter with your family and friends, and a supernatural peace that calms every storm. I love you!
*The Greater Kalamazoo Prayer Push was a 24 hour, unified prayer and worship gathering, during which churches and ministries would sponsor an hour or two hour block of time. Each group would lead worship for their block and another group would lead the prayer. Sometimes, one group would lead both worship and prayer. Our prayer topics usually involved praying for revival, people to be saved, healed, and delivered, unity in the Body of Christ, etc. Eventually, once JLK and GKPP connected, we strategically scheduled our GKPP events close to JLK’s Catalyst Week so we could pray for all of the evangelistic efforts and preparations. The most recent GKPP happened this past summer (2022). The Kalamazoo House of Prayer was birthed out of the GKPP movement.
**OneWorship is the prayer and worship expression of Jesus Loves Kzoo. It's a citywide worship & prayer gathering led in worship by a multicultural and multi-church worship team. Pastors and ministry leaders from the JLK movement would lead in prayer.
***Just to show how unexpectedly global this moment was, my mom's picture ended up in a BBC article and a friend of hers emailed her when they saw it. A TV station up in Grand Rapids actually broadcasted the first hour of the service live. https://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/news/local/2016/02/21/follow-live-coverage-kalamazoo-prayer-vigil/80708174/