YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – They may have had to move indoors, but the prayers were still offered Sunday to stop the violence in Youngstown.
The Stop The Violence Prayer Walk that was to be held by the group of city churches that was to walk a portion of Glenwood Avenue was instead moved inside to New Bethel Baptist Church.
A crowd of about 65 people offered prayers to God to help stop the violence in the city that has seen at least 63 people shot so far this year, including 15 homicide victims. The pastors announced the effort at a June 10 press conference and kicked off the event June 23 with a prayer vigil in the parking lot of the former Bottom Dollar store on Glenwood Avenue, where marchers were to meet Sunday and then walk to Sherwood Avenue.
Last year, a total of 98 people were shot in the city, including 27 of 28 homicide victims. At this time last year, 45 people had been shot, with 15 of those people being shot fatally.
Rev. Lonnie Simon, pastor of New Bethel, who has helped to put the coalition together, said the idea for the prayer walks is to have a presence in places in the city where violence has taken place. The stretch from the store to Sherwood Avenue has been the scene of several shootings over the years.
“We’re going to hit these hot spots with the presence of God,” Simon said.
The churches will also be offering mediation training to members to help stop disputes from turning into gunfire as well as opening up the churches to hold those sessions.
Prayers were offered by different pastors for victims of violence; the people who commit the violence, so God could turn them against hurting against someone; for safety in the neighborhoods; for guidance, safety and wisdom for police Chief Carl Davis and all law enforcement personnel in the area; prayer against the spirit of violence and retalitation; and for the church as a whole for God’s guidance and strength in the effort.
“We’re counting on you [God] for action,” said the Rev. James Bowie of Greater Friendship Baptist Church. “You told us to cast our cares upon you.”
A recurring theme in several prayers was for God’s help in stopping the cycle of revenge that has led to a large share of the shootings in the city. The pastors asked repeatedly for God’s help in turning people away from a need for revenge and for a peace in order to be able to do that.
“I know peace is stronger than violence and love is stronger than hatred,” said Rev. Raphael Cruz of Unity Baptist Church.
Rev. Ross Johnson of Bethel Church Of God In Christ asked for God’s continued vigilance in the city’s neighborhoods to keep residents safe.
“We’re not walking today, but you can walk up and down every highway,” Rev. Johnson said.
“We know, Lord, this is a spiritual walk,” said Rev. Tracey Dawson of the New Covenant Church of the Nazerene, when she asked God to change the hearts of those who were contemplating violence.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown thanked the pastors and said what he likes the best about the coalition is that is genuine.
“It’s the trusted voices in our community that will make a breakthrough,” Brown said. “Keep doing what you’re doing for our children and our babies.”
Rev. Simon said the effort will not be easy, which is why he asked for prayer for the churches.
“This requires us giving God all that we have,” Rev. Simon said. “God will honor what we give him.”
The next prayer walk will be announced shortly.