Prayers for Change

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 12, 2011

Joshua Walk begins today with focus on healing community

In a few hours, Richard Carter will stand with friends and strangers on a street somewhere along the perimeter of Ironton to pray for his city.

The pastor of Triedstone Church at Depot Square knows exactly what he wants to see happen from this public display of spirituality.

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“We are going to allow God to tear down the stronghold of sin in this city,” Carter said. “I want to be part of the representation of the world of the Lord. … This town is getting to the point where what you see is nothing but young kids standing on the corners overtaken by the devices of Satan, the temptations he has out there.”

On another section of the outskirts of Ironton the Rev. Jan Williams of First Presbyterian Church will also stand with others and pray. She too has definite ideas of what she wants to happen.

“I am participating because I want to see God do something here,” Williams said. “I believe the only way that can happen is for us to work together and open ourselves to God’s movements.”

If all goes according to the plan of pastors in Ironton what is going to happen this evening and every evening this week is the Joshua Walk, a seven-day community prayer service that takes its precedent from the Biblical story of the Battle of Jericho.

As Joshua led the Israelites, God spoke to him saying he must march around Jericho every day for six days with priests carrying shofars or ram’s horns. On the seventh day God said they were to march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the shofars. At that point the walls of Jericho fell down.

Focusing on the proverbial “walls” of Ironton came from an idea by Central Christian Church pastor Brent Baker and members of his congregation who led the way organizing the community rally.

“It’s our responsibility. It’s not the mayor’s, it’s not the town councilmen, it’s not the city leaders,” Baker said when talking about the motivation. “It’s our responsibility to turn from our wicked ways and to pray and humble ourselves.”

For the next six days churchgoers from all denominations will gather at assigned locations around the city to pray. Then on Saturday, all will walk their portion seven times.

Prayer list

First on their list of prayer requests is to end the epidemic of drug addiction and drug-fueled crimes that many have likened to the Biblical plagues against Egypt.

Ending alcoholism and child abuse and fostering economic health are also on their prayer agenda.

“I know that prayer whether individual, community or corporate changes things,” the Rev. Sallie Schisler of Christ Church, said. “I’ve been personally attracted to the power of a praying community.”

What they want is the same kind of transformation the one-time mining community of Manchester in southeastern Kentucky experienced seven years ago when thousands created their own march down main street.

Manchester is a town of 1,900 in Clay County in the heart of the Daniel Boone Forest, halfway between Knoxville and Lexington. Jobs come from farming, a federal prison and the schools.

“Our town was full of not only drug dealing, but corruption for 200 years,” according to Doug Abner, one of the pastors who organized the one-time march. “Nobody voted. They would take a half-million of drug money and buy the election. It got worse and worse.

Corruption rampant

“The problem wasn’t the darkness so much as the lack of light. Good people just gave up. Our kids were dying. We are a poverty-ridden place anyway. … It was a march against drugs and corruption.”

So on Derby Day, the first Saturday in May in 2004, between 3,500 and 4,000 marched in a cold rain about a mile to a city park to pray for the salvation of Manchester.

Changes they wanted and changes they got. But they came not in a sudden burst of divine intervention. Rather after that march, citizens became galvanized to start fighting for what they wanted in their city.

“The march just gave us a voice,” Abner said. “The thing we did after the march was visit every county official. We didn’t realize what an impact that would have. … We started a court watch. The courts were working with the drug dealers and nobody went to jail. We monitored all the court cases, did reports in the papers quarterly.”

Kentucky State Police stopped showing up to testify in drug trials because they knew the cases would be dismissed, Abner said.

Someone in their group wrote to the head of the KSP explaining how the citizens wanted to change Manchester. The next time there was a trial?

“Nine Kentucky troopers were sitting on the front row of the courtroom,” Abner said.

Citizens became watchdogs

Citizens started going to government meetings to videotape them and put them on television.

“We weren’t trying to catch people doing something,” Abner said. “We just wanted people to know what government was doing. They had been behind closed doors. Now if they have a closed session. They do it the right way. … That is the power of the people.”

In six years, 70 major politicians and drug dealers in Manchester have gone to prison including the mayor, assistant police chief, the fire chief and the 911 director.

“What can happen when the church and government work together,” Abner said. “God just raised us and gave us wisdom and understanding. … For us it was bigger than the parting of the Red Sea. For people to work together like that is off the charts.”

Working together

Already many pastors have seen a change in the corporate church community just within the fledgling stages of this Joshua Walk.

“Just how the idea has captured people’s imagination,” Schisler said. “Barriers have fallen away between churches. Whenever you are trying to put together something with lots of different parts, there are always stumbling blocks. People in the organizing committee are astounded on how it has come together.”

That was apparent to Dr. Wayne Young of First Methodist Church after this past Sunday’s kickoff worship service at Ironton High School.

“We had a large number of people and something like 30 churches and 15 or so clergy,” Young said. “That, in and of itself, is a benefit. It brings glory to God and that we really are one despite the differences we have.”

Those sentiments reflect the vision Baker had when he started working on the Joshua Walk three months ago.

“There is a large group of people who want to see our county and our community change and really the only way it can change is by allowing God the opportunity to change it,” he wrote in a column. “And I promise it will take all of us working together to get this done.”