A recent wave of violence that has overtaken Clinton in the past several weeks brought several dozen people to Newkirk Park to pray — for the people, for law enforcement and for a better tomorrow that contains less hate and more love.
A large group gathered Thursday evening at Newkirk Park to offer up prayers for the community, its youth and law enforcement in the wake of violence that has occurred since the middle of September, including at least three shootings — one claiming the life of Benjamin Cunningham, for which a Clinton teenager was arrested — and a stabbing, which resulted in the arrests of two people.
Leading the ceremony were the men of Lisbon Street Missionary Baptist Church, including the Rev. Victor Wilson, the Rev. Willie Earl Imes and Deacon Willie Dixon. Each lifted up a heartfelt prayer for the community and those in it.
“Clinton needs Jesus,” Wilson said. “We’re here to pray for our city and let the devil know he’s got a fight on his hands. This is never black and white, it’s not a group against another group. This is the Satanic forces that we’re fighting. The only thing that is going to win is us coming together and praying. That’s the only thing that is going to win.”
His words were met with a rousing “amen” by those gathered.
The same crime that can take over big cities can happen in small ones like Clinton, he noted, and slowly that element is creeping in and having a larger presence. Prayer was as important as ever in these times, Wilson noted.
“We want to be proactive, rather than react,” Wilson said. “Our prayers have to mean everything to us before it means anything to Him. We have to believe that us coming here is going to make a difference.”
Others talked about the importance of praying and sharing God’s love every day. In a world full of retaliation, retribution and crime, turning the other cheek was never more vital than it is in a time when violence could envelope a community — and strike down young lives.
One could walk just a couple minutes from where the group was gathered Thursday and be at that sites of shootings and stabbings on Morisey Boulevard, Lisbon Street, Butler Avenue and Ferrell Street that have occurred in the past few weeks.
“Prayer is good, but you have to go out and do something,” one gentleman chimed in. “All these killings and shooting are happening in this area right here. They are getting locked up and they get out of jail. How can you be a convicted felon, (commit more crimes), get out on parole and still walk the streets in Clinton?”
Wilson interjected, noting the meeting was not about political agendas. It was about prayer. It was about healing, trying to save those who needed saving.
“We’re calling on you on this day, on behalf of the community,” Imes recited. “There’s shooting and killing on every side. Touch the hearts of these men that are allowing Satan to lead them. Turn them around. Save their souls. Heal this community. Thank you for the police officers who are trying to keep order in this city.”
“Father God, you say where two or three gather … you’ll be in the midst … we ask you to come by here,” Dixon prayed. “We ask that you heal this land, touch our young people. We ask you no more killings. Oh Lord, no more shooting. We ask to touch them and heal them, even the drug dealers, let them know they have a soul to be saved. Father God, we need you right now.”
The Rev. Marcus Becton, City Councilman for District 3 asked that people continue to pray.
“Prayer is the most powerful weapon,” Becton said. “I really believe that in this time with the things going on today in our community, it is important we pray not only for our youth but for our police department, those who are working diligently to keep order in our city.
“I commend you and I ask that you continue to pray for one another,” Becton continued. “Band together.”
Police Chief Jay Tilley asked that everyone pray that police officers “be the shepherds the Good Lord needs us to be and gives us the power and the strength to protect the weak and the innocent.”
Nettie Pernell, a fixture in the community and a member of the Newkirk Park Committee, noted the park’s namesake, James L. Newkirk, who she called a humble man who loved his community and church.
“What we need to do is keep his spirit and his hope alive too,” Pernell said. “Pray for each other, because we are all God’s children. We are family, we love each other and, just like family, you may disagree, but in the end we are all together.”
Along with praying, some said, it is important to reach out to the community’s children, go into the schools and have an effect on the youth — volunteering to be a big brother or sister, a mentor or taking time to read to a child and getting to know them.
“Tell them there is a different way to live,” one woman said, “a different way to think.”
“No matter what we do, the devil’s always going to try to do something else,” said Wilson. “That’s why we’re here for prayer. We’re not here for a statement or political agenda from anybody. We’re here for a Christian agenda, and that’s prayer. All lives matter, isn’t that right?”
There was another resounding “amen” from those gathered.
“We save Clinton right now,” Wilson said in closing. “We reclaim Clinton for Christ.”
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