It can be easy to become discouraged when listening to or reading news reports of crime in our area. We might find ourselves struggling with feelings of despair or even fear, as we grow concerned for the safety of our families and neighborhoods. Thankfully, things can improve and there is some good news to be shared that just might restore our hope and help us find our courage.
Published: February 1, 2018
By: Stephanie Rodda
Prayer Force United is a community effort that includes a variety of local churches, city leaders, law enforcement officers and other concerned citizens. In January it held its 9th annual government walk at Linn Park in downtown Birmingham. Prayers for wisdom, protection and direction for local officials and law enforcement are among the requests included.
Unusual dynamics have resulted in unusual results. Areas around Birmingham with the highest crime rates are chosen each month as the location for the community prayer walks. Local law enforcement officials offer suggestions based upon present criminal activity and statistics as to which areas will hold the march on any particular month. The group’s goal is to hold 10 prayer walks a year, usually meeting the third Saturday of each month. Those participating gather together first for a corporate prayer meeting before the prayer walk begins. This prayer focuses on the safety and success of the event itself.
A decade ago, reading in Forbes that Birmingham had been ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in America, pastor Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands was inspired to do something about these concerning statistics. According to Forbes.com, although rating Birmingham as the fifth most dangerous city in America, the crime rate is down 40 percent overall since its highs in the 1990s.
The ministry, now known as Prayer Force United, with the plan for community prayer walks, was originally founded by Eric Felty and Mark Hand in 2009, who both serve as PFU leaders. Ensloe, prayer coordinator and A.C. Roper, former Birmingham police chief, joined them to complete the four-member leadership team that exists today.
So, how can we know that the prayers actually make a difference? C.S. Lewis, the late author and theologian, is often quoted as saying, “You can’t know, you can only believe – or not.” I think he’s exactly right. After all, faith is choosing to believe and as for me, I believe that prayer matters and matters a lot. The many people who help to make the prayer walks happen also believe that prayer has the potential to change people and even communities.
Ensloe shared that there is now also a monthly prayer walk held in Opelika as well as the Birmingham area and they hope to be able to expand into other areas in the future.
“The prayer walks allow people to see the needs of areas that they would not normally be aware of,” Ensloe says. He noted that there has been an overall downward trend in the crime rate of areas where walks have been held. “Also, pastors, intercessors and city and neighborhood leaders have become united in their efforts. Together they can accomplish more than individually,” he explains.
Increased awareness goes a long way towards making a difference. It is when people see real faces, hear real voices and witness real need that they better understand the plight of others who are facing difficult days and hard seasons. It might be tempting to quote statistics, but statistics don’t inspire us. Quite the opposite, we may decide there’s nothing we can do that will make a real and lasting difference.
While three to four churches are heavily and regularly involved, many other congregations participate in the ministry throughout the year. Many volunteers help with the organization including many community leaders. New participants are always welcome to become involved, Ensloe says.
Safety is always a priority, and police are present at all walks. They not only help to ensure the safety of those walking and praying, but also assist with traffic flow. “The police department, with their intimate knowledge of the city’s neighborhoods has been very instrumental in recommending areas that are in need of prayer and blessing,” Ensloe says.
For more information as to how you might participate in a prayer walk, visit www.prayerforceunited.com and find the dates and location of upcoming walks. It is a great opportunity to help make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
Stephanie Rodda lives in the Birmingham area with her husband and children. She is a freelance article writer, blogger and author of fiction and devotional writings.