WOODLAND PARK • The “Free Prayer” sign that Florissant residents Emil and Karen Liko plunk by the side of the road attracts more than the weary, the downtrodden and the brokenhearted.
It also draws obscenities, blasphemies and the occasional bird from cars whizzing by.
And that’s not the worst: Poorly aiming gunslingers in Arizona shot at them on two occasions.
Resistance to the couple’s 16-year-old Roadside Free Prayer service tells the Likos, both ordained ministers and former church pastors, that they are indeed doing God’s work.
When the devil “takes a cheap shot,” God always triumphs, Emil says with a smile.
One wayward bullet that came from a truck on an Arizona roadway landed in the dirt 6 inches from Karen’s foot.
“We still have the casing,” she says nonchalantly.
At the time, the couple turned to one another and said, “We just got shot at.”
Emil said God replied to him, “See, that’s how much I can protect you.”
The other shooting happened when a man who had stopped for prayer accepted Jesus and was raising his hands high in the air as a sign of praise. The gesture apparently raised the ire of a passing motorist.
“I heard the gun go off, and the shot hit the road,” Emil says.
The couple has operated the traveling prayer ministry in nine states, spending the past three years in Colorado. While the coronavirus has changed nearly everything about daily life in recent weeks, people’s problems largely remain the same.
Divorce, grief, illness, past hurts, family grievances, drug addiction, finances and job loss have been common troubles for which people sought prayer before and during the pandemic, the Likos say.
“There’s a lot of brokenness,” Karen says. “People have been mistreated; they have childhood trauma. It’s the same wherever we go.
“We see people leave the hospital with a bad diagnosis and stop because they want someone to pray for them. Some are in the middle of an argument and come upon us and want to pray. We help them get to the root of their issue.”
After beginning cancer treatment for the third time, Divide resident Mary Scott needed someone to talk to. She and her husband had taken a break from attending church, so when they passed the prayer trailer last year, she said she got a feeling they needed to turn the car around.
Scott and her husband spent an hour praying with Karen and Emil that day.
“When we got done, it was like a big weight off my shoulders,” Scott said last month, after finishing a chemotherapy appointment. “They’re really good at helping you understand things. I’m now focused on God and healing, and not my treatments.”
Miracles, healings and spiritual conversions have been as bountiful as the biblical loaves and fishes tale, the Likos say.
One couple stopped to pray on their way to the emergency room because the wife appeared to be having a miscarriage. Months later, they contacted the Likos to relay the news of a healthy baby.
One woman approached the roadside ministry with a cigarette in her hand and an oxygen tank strapped to her side. She said she wanted to get rid of both.
Emil and Karen prayed and helped her understand that forgiving her husband — not by condoning his bad actions but by releasing them — would set her free and lead to healing.
Once that happened, Emil said, “Her lungs popped open, and she was able to breathe.”
The Likos stopped counting after they hit 1,000 people who had accepted Jesus during a prayer session.
“We just sit and talk with them and address their issues,” Emil says. “Once they come to that term and want to accept the Lord, they get delivered on the spot.”
People receive a Bible and a Beanie Baby plush animal with the date written on the tag, “so they never forget the day they accepted the Lord.”
The prayer ministry is nondenominational, and it doesn’t matter to the Likos what particular church or philosophy people subscribe to.
“We never pressure people. God said never argue with people so we never get into theology,” Emil says.
They also don’t judge. The couple ran their own church in Idaho through the Association of Vineyard Churches, a neocharismatic evangelical Christian denomination, for five years and used the same approach.
“We don’t take sides,” Emil says. “God said people don’t want your opinion; when they stop, ask me what to say.”
That’s what Emil and Karen do.
“We start praying, ‘God, what do you want us to say,’ as soon as someone pulls in,” Karen says.
Their purpose, she says, is to help “set people free” of their burdens by offering God’s “love, acceptance and forgiveness.”
“A lot of things people experience in their bodies are things going on in their minds or internally that they haven’t dealt with,” Karen says. “God opens those up, and they’re healed.”
It seems like Emil and Karen have a direct line to God, said Woodland Park resident Esteban Ruiz, who works as a nurse and is studying to become a pastor.
Several times when he’s sought their prayers, he said the couple had divine inspiration on what to tell him and his wife about their careers and studies.
“Without giving them any background, they knew about my sons and told me some things that went deep into my heart,” Ruiz said. “I couldn’t stop weeping.”
Emil and Karen usually park their trailer at one of two places in Teller County: at U.S. 24 and Trout Creek Road, and near Mueller State Park off Colorado 67.
Some days, cars line up. Other days, it’s only a handful of takers. One day, 17 people stopped, with the wait lasting up to three hours.
“It looked like a parking lot out here,” Emil said.
Restrictions related to COVID-19 have led to a drive-up service instead of meeting with people inside the decked-out trailer Karen and Emil haul behind their car.
Because they have committed supporters, the word “free” in the sign is literal. They don’t charge anyone to pray with them or ask for an offering. They will accept a donation, if someone is so inclined.
Supporters contributed nearly $14,000 a year ago, and the couple was able to buy the trailer and adapt it to include a heater and a restroom.
The Likos pick up and move to another state when traffic for their service slows. They quit as pastors of their church in Idaho when one Sunday Emil said he heard God audibly say they should only do roadside ministry.
The prayer business has been good in Teller County.
“This spot is such a great crossroads,” Karen said while at the pullout near Woodland Park.
“Crises never end, whether it’s the coronavirus or not.”
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.