In 1989, James Keller laid down 10 Bibles on the floor of Abundant Grace Community Church in Edinburg, each one representing several cities of the Rio Grande Valley. Walking in between them, along with about a dozen others at the prayer meeting 31 years ago, Keller, the youth pastor of the church at the time, remembers praying for “revival to break out in every city of the region.”
Then in 2010, the year he began hosting Tuesday prayers at Baptist Temple Church in McAllen, the vision became clearer: “To have 1 million souls be swept into the Kingdom from Brownsville to Laredo from both sides of the river.”
After three decades of prayer for the Valley, Keller, along with many others from across the region and outside the state, decided to organize Fill the Bowls — a free, Christian-led event scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Prayer, worship, sermons and testimonies are planned that day, with members of more than 300 churches expected to attend, of which 100 are from Mexico. Twenty-one worship leaders from all across the Valley will take the stage. Though there is a set program for the event, Keller said that Fill the Bowls is “an outpouring of His (God’s) love, so we are going to listen to what He wants to do and go by His plan. God is moving this thing.
“This is about speaking unity into our region, into our cities. We have been praying up and down this Valley and right on the river with many different people. We want cities and people to come together.”
Keller added that the name of the event stems from the hope of filling the 13,000-seat stadium, and after several years, reaching as many as 1 million souls.
“He wants to bring his love here, and that is why we are believing in God for the million souls… He wants a river of life to flow through the Rio Grande Valley.”
Keller also stressed that the event is open to all denominations.
“We don’t care where you go to church, or if you don’t go to church,” he said. “It don’t matter to us. We just want to minister.”
Another lead coordinator of the event, Leah Ramirez of Orlando, said she was so stunned after hearing from a friend in McAllen about Keller’s vision of 1 million people, that she immediately bought plane tickets to attend his Tuesday prayer.
“The moment I heard that word, I just had a surge of faith in my heart,” she said. “In that moment, I just knew that the next big move of God would be in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Ramirez attended ministry school in McAllen for three years, starting in 1999. She moved back to Orlando after finishing, but said that she could not stop thinking about the Valley.
“What Keller received from the Lord that day was a promise from God to the Rio Grande Valley, and now we are laboring that promise because you can not just hold onto promises” Ramirez said.
“Promises are kind of like pregnancies — you can not stay pregnant forever. Now it is time to labor into this commerce.”
In preparation for Saturday, prayer and worship at Abundant Grace began at 9 a.m. Monday and will not cease until 11:59 p.m. Saturday. Worship leaders from across the region are taking part in the event. Hundreds have also been fasting and following a prayer schedule since Feb. 9.
Since hearing about Keller’s prophecy three years ago, Ramirez had a vision of her own: a symbolic wildfire blazing through the Valley.
“I think it means that something is happening that can not be contained by any one thing, and I really believe that God is going to do something with this strip of land along both sides of the river,” she said.
“When I say wildfire, I don’t mean that you just get a little excited for a couple of weeks. I mean that there is a legitimate move from heaven coming to the Rio Grande Valley. God’s eyes and intentions are on the Rio Grande Valley.”
Ramirez founded Resound Church in Orlando and was a pastor there for 20 years, but one year ago she decided to sell her belongings and travel the country in an RV. She has gone to Mexico twice and has hosted many other stadium events elsewhere, but said that Fill the Bowls is “really different from everything I have done before.”
Ramirez has visited the Valley countless times over the last couple of years, preaching in Abundant Grace, Center Church in Pharr, The Collective Church of RGV in Harlingen, and River of Life Fellowship in McAllen.
Bobby and Carmel Dizon are the senior pastors of River of Life Fellowship, one of the churches involved in Fill the Bowls. Several of their church’s worship leaders will be taking the stage Saturday, including their children, Breanna and Caleb Dizon.
During Ramirez’s guest sermon at the church a month ago, she preached to the crowd of around 250 people: “Besides being seated in McAllen, you have also been seated in Christ in heavenly places… The reality of heaven is all around us.”
The couple moved to McAllen from Dallas in 2001, and said that they “received the vision of River of Life” while attending a conference at Abundant Grace Community Church in 2003. He now understands that the focus shouldn’t be on any single church, but include the entire faith-based community in the Valley.
The church’s vision, Bobby said, is to “see the Rio Grande Valley covered with small groups, forming a glorious church that advances God’s kingdom and brings his presence to every home and establishment.”
Carmel said she remembers being brought to tears after hearing the origins of Fill the Bowls from Ramirez and Keller.
“We were both crying because we did not know about all these stories,” said Carmel, who’s also the risk management coordinator at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg. “All along we were just going with the flow of where God wanted us to go.
“The eye of the world is centered on the Valley right now, with the news about immigration and drugs… but I think that God wants to show the world, ‘Hey, look at what I can do with this place. Look at how I can revive this place.’”
Bobby, who is also the veterans health education coordinator at Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic, said that Fill the Bowls taught him that the vision of God is always rooted in unity.
“I am seeing the bigger picture now, after 17 years, we are seeing the beauty of it all,” he said. “God is always in the plan, and it makes us excited to know that the Lord has a big vision. I can not do it alone, it has to be ushered by unity between all the churches here.”