After going through a traumatic life shake-up in early 2014, Giancarlo Newsome “ended up stranded” in Kalama, where the Riverview Community Church took him in.
“They were just open arms, no judgement, just what I think church is supposed to be,” Newsome, 46, said Wednesday.
“I could see he was kind of hurting,” said Rob Neuschwander, pastor of Riverview.
Over the next several months, Newsome channeled his frustrations into work on a faith-based phone app he’d been brainstorming, working with church members and MetrixFox, an India-based marketing company.
That idea would eventually become iPray.me, a social networking app built to help people pray. Five years later, it’s accrued 500 active users that have generated more than 50,000 prayers, Newsome said.
iPray became his outlet: “Instead of drinking, I helped design an app. ... (Neuschwander’s) support in building iPray was sort of my therapy.”
Neuschwander, 59, said the app has “incredible potential.”
“I have huge hopes for it,” Neuschwander said. “The idea, as we understand scripture, is God wants to reach the world not (just) through the preacher, but through the general group that gathers, the body of Christ. ... Everybody is important. Everybody has something to offer.”
iPray administrative assistant Aubrey Bain describes the app as a faith-based social network. Users can share prayers much like they would a tweet or Facebook post, and invite friends and family or the wider public to pray with them.
The app helps users log regular prayer sessions and can send reminders to pray regularly.
“It’s a way to encourage more faithful prayer in the lives of individuals,” Bain said. “People that are active in their prayer lives are often more faithful in fellowship and more faithful to church. It’s to everyone’s benefit that we’re engaged in our own personal prayer life.”
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iPray is based on Judeo-Christian faith, Newsome said, but the app is built to be open-ended toward people of any faith.
Newsome will present iPray from 4 to 5 p.m. Saturday night at “Riverview at the Park,” an event the church is sponsoring for families at the Westin Amphitheater near the McMenamins’ Kalama Harbor Lodge. The event will feature a carnival for kids starting at 3 p.m., including a pumpkin patch and bouncy slide. From 5 p.m. onward, there will be live worship music and a worship leader brought in from a Vancouver church.
The event is not limited to any one denomination, Neuschwander said.
Newsome was born and raised in Texas but lived in Kalama between 2014 and 2018 while working for an aerospace company. He’s since moved back to Texas to care for his parents.
He said the app was inspired by his experiences praying for others and others praying for him. At a church he used to attend in Texas, the congregation was 8,000 strong — but the weekly prayer group averaged only about five to 10 people.
“I’d always been touched by people that prayed for me,” Newsome said. “(But) in the Christian community we throw around ‘I’ll pray for you’ kind of like ‘How are you?’ “
He wanted a way to keep track of those he was praying for that would keep him accountable. His first conception of the idea was to put a ticker tape up in his church where people could submit prayers, but the idea really took form after he came to Kalama.
The app is free, and Newsome said his team is still exploring how they’ll make it profitable. His current plan is to keep the base app free and introduce a premium version.
And Newsome said working with Riverview has made iPray more authentic.
“It’s not built out of some big tech company. It’s very much a local level product.”