Prayer and the Prodigal

Prayer and the Prodigal

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When Pastor Jim Cymbala read the note slipped to him by a church member during a Tuesday night prayer meeting in 1991, he knew it was time to tell Brooklyn Tabernacle’s (BT’s) congregation about his eldest daughter. He and his wife, Carol — the multiple Dove and Grammy-award-winning director of BT’s choir — had long suffered parental agony over their child’s poor choices. The note declaring “Tonight is Chrissy’s night” drove them to intense prayer.

Al Toledo, 50, Chrissy’s friend at the time — and now her husband of 24 years — says he’ll never forget that evening. He sat in the balcony when Cymbala announced: “Our daughter Chrissy is really away from God. Everything about her and what she is to be is now upside down. We’ve done everything we can — there’s only one answer. So we need to pray.” The 1,700 people assembled in the building began to cry out to God.

Despite having accepted Christ as Savior as a little girl and seeing God work miracles at BT, Chrissy Toldeo, now 47, says that as a young teen secular media cultivated her addiction to perfection. Television shows such as Happy Days and movies like Grease also fueled misconceptions about romance. By her late teens, mainstream music of the 1980s began to shape her views on self-worth.

According to Toledo, those factors combined with other distortions led her into an obsessive relationship with a new Christian not yet grounded in his faith. “He represented everything that I didn’t know about the world that was sort of mysterious to me,” she says.

After they became intimate, Toledo says that emotional attachment led to increasingly dark places: dismissal from college; destroyed trust and separation from her parents; lost job opportunities. For a few days, she even relinquished her baby to foster care. Despite having no means to support her daughter, Toledo quickly realized she loved Susie far too much to let her go permanently.

The night of BT’s prayer meeting felt especially oppressive, Toledo says. After Lorna, a family friend who had taken Toledo and her daughter in, went to the meeting, Toledo just wanted to sleep. Unaware that hundreds of people were crying out to God on her behalf, she climbed into bed. Unable to sleep, she saw a menacing pitch-black figure appear in the darkened room and says she heard it claim her life and little Susie’s. As BT members continued laboring in prayer, a cloud-like entity radiating brilliant light became visible and vanquished the evil one, disappearing along with it, she says. Feeling inexplicable peace, Chrissy fell asleep.

By the next morning, everything had changed. Asking Lorna to pray with her, Toledo repented of her sins and sought God’s help. She raced to her parents’ home and asked for their forgiveness — as she introduced them to their granddaughter.

Al Toledo says he hadn’t realized as he beseeched God during the prayer gathering that he was interceding on behalf of his future wife and the mother of his children. As Chrissy fell away, he had embarked on a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

“The prayer meeting was the most important meeting of the week, I had to go,” he says. “There was a purity and a simplicity that was very attractive because it really spoke to my needs.”

After Chrissy became the choir director at the AG’s Northpoint Bible College, love blossomed between the two friends. They married, and Toledo adopted Susie. They now also have another daughter, Annie, 22, and a son, Tommy, 21.

Today, Al and Chrissy lead a multiethnic Assemblies of God church. Toledo says since its inception in 2002, Chicago Tabernacle has established the Tuesday night prayer meeting as the most important meeting of the week. He and Chrissy know that when God's people gather to call upon His name, miracles can happen. Chicago Tabernacle has 1,000 regular attendees.

Chrissy’s  page-turning book, Girl in the Song: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Lost Her Way — and the Miracle that Led Her Home, captures her dramatic redemption story.

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