A Walk to Remember
06/12/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: Taking The City [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
Taking The CityBy Patrice Doucet
Usually, no good action follows the line “We’re taking the city!” It brings to mind menacing scenes from a movie. But, the phrase could not have more opposite a meaning as it relates to an initiative in New Iberia playing an important role in transforming the city for the good. Pastor “Zack” Mitchell of Word of Hope World Church in New Iberia is director of the movement called “Taking the City,” an effort involving pastors from 15 churches in Iberia Parish and a growing group of proactive citizens who have taken to the streets, literally, with their prayers.
Like every city, large or small, New Iberia experiences its challenges with crime, but the problem-solving nature of this community’s residents has prompted movements like this that are inspiring change.
Since January, on the second Saturday of each month, a group of about 40 get together, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., walking down the streets of designated areas (districts), where residents want to see prayers answered.
Each month, the prayer walkers cover one of five city districts: District 1 - the Acadian Acres/Squirrel Run area; District 2- West End; District 3- St. Jude St. to College Park Subdivision; District 4- Deare St. and Bayard St. area; and District 5- The largest district, downtown Ann St.
The mere sight of a group slowly walking down the center of a street, holding banners, praying aloud (and accompanied by three police officers) commands attention. Passers-by begin to take notice, stop, and listen to the prayers being said. In some of the more notorious areas of the city, the group creates a safe place for a moment, where residents can experience peace. Participants explain to inquirers what they are doing and ask if there are specific intentions for which they can pray.
Oftentimes, a neighborhood gives indications of what to pray for with signs of elderly, poverty or groups of young children who are idle. Mitchell says they also gather around stores, schools and pray for God to do His work in those areas. “At schools, we pray that teachers are inspired and that children learn and are submissive to authority; we pray that school districts make the right decisions concerning the children; at businesses, we pray for a prosperous economy; we ask God to raise up politicians, pastors and to dissuade any matter of perversion,” he says. The list goes on.
This is a powerful ministry that works with a loving and compassionate intent. The goal, simply put by co-organizer JoAnna Rochester, Ph.D.: “To see New Iberia come to the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rochester, a missionary from Dallas, has over 35 years of experience organizing prayer walks in other parts of the world, namely Ireland, Africa, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. Her ties to this initiative began at the suggestion of a friend in New Iberia. Now, every month she’s on the city’s streets, working alongside Mitchell, and “seeing the hand of the Lord at work.”
Having seen firsthand the effectiveness of consistent prayer walks, Rochester shares the changes on the horizon for Iberia Parish: An upbeat economy; young people feeling encouraged to perform better in school and a creativity ignited within them, and, with a new-found hope, more of a desire to stay after graduating high school and help their city flourish.
If the federation of pastors that have come together in support of this effort is the fuel for this ministry “bus,” then the backing of city officials represents the wheels that keep it moving. Early on in the movement’s conceptual stages, Mitchell approached council members from each district getting their approvals on the idea of prayer walks in their areas. He and other group members regularly attend city council meetings to update the mayor and council members with observations made from walking the neighborhoods and knowledge gained from talking to residents.
Leading the bandwagon of supporters is New Iberia Police Chief Todd D’Albor who is in full support of the efforts of ministers praying for the community. “As a Christian, I feel anytime you bring faith and Christian values into any endeavor, it’s a positive thing. This is about praying for our community and a better day and I involve myself as much I can,” he says.
To meet the schedules and needs of as many residents as possible, “Taking the City” offers other modes of prayer, like the all-night prayer vigil the fourth Friday of the month, with participants moving from church to church, beginning at 10 p.m. and continuing into Saturday until 2 p.m.
Then on Saturday, they begin again at 10 a.m. “boots on the ground” and back to work, returning to the districts, going house to house until 3 p.m. Rainy days do not stop them. “We talk to residents about concerns they have, problems they’re experiencing and offer prayer with them,” says Rochester. Afterwards, the group meets back at the church to share stories told to them, gaining encouragement to continue their ministries. The commitment of the group is undeniable and inspiring.
Changing attitudes and giving hope is a mammoth undertaking, and it starts with our children, the most formidable opinions that can be shaped. Rochester says they are already seeing youth attitudes in Iberia Parish turn around. To keep the fire stoked, “Taking the City” is bringing back their popular Children’s Crusade day, “Lit to Overcome,” on July 7, free for those 8-20 years. The one-day camp will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in City Park and is usually attended by hundreds.
Another free summer activity for children that parents should schedule is the Children’s/Youth Summer Camp to be held July 23-27. Coordinators incorporate fun with ministry, teaching lessons on character-building, submitting to authority and handling bullying. For the location and times, call 256-3672 or 365-5651.
Mitchell says all of these efforts of the “Taking the City” initiative work towards changing the city, changing the system, and changing mindsets. “I want this to be an example to spread from here to other cities, regions and states around the country. When the hearts of people change, then their surroundings change, too - that’s spiritual change.”
You don’t have to live in New Iberia to participate in “Taking the City,” just, as Mitchell puts it, a heart’s desire.