(Editor's note: The following story is published with permission from the Akron Area Eutopia Report.)
In just one week, six people were murdered in Akron. Between this and the Copley and Craigslist shootings, some in the faith community are saying "enough is enough" and taking a stand against crime in our area by gathering together in prayer.
Twenty-six murders were committed in the city this past year alone. "That's 26 mothers without sons," said Serita Terrel, who lost her 24-year-old son last May, due to a gunshot to the head.
The morning of a recent prayer service meant to address the violence, Pastor Mark Ford, founder of Love Akron, was on the WAKR morning show. There he was asked by the host, "What is the answer (to end the violence)?" "The Holy Spirit," Ford replied. "God is able to bring answers to the situation."
Police officers, pastors and city officials were among those who arrived to pray at Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Bell Street. Captain Sylvia Trundle, from the Akron Police Department, along with three other officers, and Billy Soule and the Peacemakers, welcomed everyone at the door. Mayor Don Plusquellic came, as well as many local ministry leaders including Hank Richards with Kingdom Builders, Michael Starks with S.L.A.A.P., Duane Crabbs with Southstreet Ministries, and Jonathan Greer with the ManUp Movement.
"We are a people in pain, but also of great hope," Ford said. "We have come to look up to heaven, not to pray pretty or professional prayers, but heartfelt prayers," he continued.
During the evening they prayed for comfort for those affected directly or indirectly by violence, as well as wisdom and unity in the community and neighborhoods. "We pray that the presence of God would permeate the atmosphere. Emmanuel means God is with us. The same God is with us in Akron tonight," Ford said.
A new year, a new way
"As we face the new year, our prayer is that the best is yet to come," Ford said. "At any moment God can walk into our city and do the impossible. It's time to look up and pray."
Two congregations' worship teams came together to praise. This ignited Ford's vision and what Love Akron is all about -- colors, cultures and congregations coming together.
Pastor Delphine Allen from the House of the Lord prayed for peace and unity of heart. "God, my heart is broken over the current things in this city," she said.
Many times we open the newspaper and there's a story, or a face. But it is distant. This evening, it hit closer to home. Serita Terrel, a guest in attendance took a stand, sharing about the loss of her son.
"Our family hasn't been the same since," she said. Not only are she and her family suffering from the loss of their son, but also from losing friends. "A lot of the youngsters killed are friends of my sons," she added. "We've got to get our kids' minds off of the violence and crime."
A prayer was said for grieving families and friends that have been left to deal with the devastation. "It could have been any one of us and could still be…" one woman said.
Ending the silence
"We pray to end the silence in the streets and that there will be a new lead and break in every case," said an attendee. Prayers for bringing peace back to the city of Akron and for order in the city in 2012 were lifted up.
Groups gathered around about 10 individuals who were directly or indirectly affected by crime in the city and prayed.
Those in the safety forces never know when they leave for work that day if they will come back the way they left, or even come back at all. Often unrecognized for the great works they do, this was a night to thank them and cover them in prayer.
Groups in the congregation gathered around four police officers, praying for their protection and safety, as well as getting leads in cases. One woman prayed for the norm of silence in the streets to be broken and that people would speak up so cases can be solved and families can have closure.
Councilman Mike Freeman stood up to pray for the city, county and government officials. "Thy will be done, thy kingdom come in Akron as it is in Heaven," Freeman said, encouraging others to pray for leaders and officials in the city.
Marco Sommerville was there as well and received prayer.
Prayers for pastors and ministry
Pastor Dennis Butts prayed for pastors and organizations in the city that are helping others, such as Victim's Assistance, who are first on the scene at crime's and tragedies. He prayed for youth, men and women's ministries as well.
"Help us to direct and help those who are hurting," Butts prayed. "And also those who are our first responders on the front lines."
The congregation prayed for creative ideas on how to solve crime, get answers and make it stop.
Jasmine, a girl in attendance, prayed for the children. Others prayers from the congregation echoed within the church walls. "God help us to stop the violence," "God please bring peace to Akron."
A teenage girl prayed for the youth. "People around them are being killed," she said. She prayed for the lost youth and for fatherly and motherly role models to step into their lives.
A mother prayed for the sons and daughters in the city saying, "Satan wants to sift them like wheat." Her cry was for the hurting mothers.
"Lord in the midst of our trouble and pain, we thank you," she said.
Those present prayed for a new season in 2012 and that the community will rise up and get involved. "Men it's time. It's time we say 'Not at my house. Not on this street! Not in this city,'" Ford said. "And that we'll take a rightful place in our church, cities and homes."
They prayed that men in the city would stand up and step up. Near the end of the gathering, Pastor Duane Crabbs shared things people could do in a practical way to help change the city. He mentioned many of the creative attempts out there, including True North Ministry and Rahab, that compassionately serve "the least of these" day in and day out without recognition.
"We don't know how many more murders there would have been without these people," Crabbs said.
Gary Wyatt, Perry Clark and Michael Starks stood up as representatives of men whose lives have been changed. Clark was in a penitentiary for 10 years and is now successfully running a ministry for men coming out of jail and prison.
"Mike Starks stands in the gap at the Summit Lake Community Center," Crabbs shared. "These men need practical help -- funding and volunteering. We need to ask, 'Can we do more?'"
Southstreet Ministry, founded by Crabbs, is developing a Community Chaplaincy for 2012. "Our police department needs our prayer and support," he said. The evening concluded with everyone holding hands, singing and leaving with the impression, "I need to do something."