A 40-day, multi-denominational prayer effort in El Paso, Texas, for the neighboring Mexican city of Juarez was followed by a reduction in murders. But increased violence in July reminded participants to persist in their intercession.
"We continue to pray for Juarez," said Larry Wilkins, missions pastor at Cielo Vista Church, a Southern Baptist congregation that participated in the effort. "When we were going through the 40 days, there was much discussion from the pulpit and encouragement. We still have a prayer time in our services and will often lift up Juarez in our prayers."
Meanwhile, believers in Texas' Del Rio Uvalde Baptist Association, two hours west of San Antonio, have seen decreases in violence across the border in Acuña during three years of praying for the region.
During the 40 days leading up to Easter, approximately 20 El Paso congregations participated in a prayer campaign for Juarez, where warring drug cartels have increased the murder rate tenfold over the past several years, topping 3,000 homicides last year and 8,600 since 2008. Some call it the murder capital of the world.
Coordinated by the nondenominational Christian ministry El Paso for Jesus, the effort involved members of a different church each day meeting on a hill overlooking Juarez and praying from noon to 1 p.m. and again from 7 to 8 p.m. that God would decrease the violence, protect commuters and change the hearts of drug cartel members perpetuating the bloodshed.
In June God answered their prayers: murders were down by nearly 200 in the first half of 2011. While there had already been 1,200 homicides after six months in 2010, this year's six-month total stood at 1,037, according to Fox News.
"I love the fact that we had many people that professed Christ that were collaborating intentionally and intently on praying for our neighbors in Juarez," Wilkins told Baptist Press. "So in that regard it was good to be a part of the grander body of Christ."
On Cielo Vista's day at the Juarez overlook, participants prayed silently using printed guides and then took turns praying aloud. In addition to praying on its assigned day, the church also made a point to pray for Juarez during all its worship services during the 40 days. Those prayers included interceding for members who have relatives in Juarez and for those who risk their lives to share Jesus in Mexico.
"The violence that is happening over there and has been happening for several years now had gotten to such a point where we knew that only the prayer of God's people could intercede," Rod Smith, lead pastor of Cielo Vista Church, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal. "It's gotten to a point where you don't even go across the border to witness anymore. It's not safe. The violence is terrible."
Despite the good news in June, the El Paso Times reported that in July murders in Juarez were at their highest level since February, with 218 dead -- a statistic that reminded Cielo Vista members to continue praying for their neighboring city.
"The violence is so engrained in the culture now along the border, and particularly in Juarez," Wilkins said. "I believe with every fiber in me that will require a sovereign move of God. God will have to move to break the hold of the drug cartels."
Coordinated prayer involving multiple congregations is "not organized" and has been "sporadic" since Easter, Wilkins said. But he expressed confidence that God would answer all requests offered according to His will.
"Jesus said, 'Whatever you ask for in my name,'" Wilkins said. "... Am I praying what God would have me pray? If that's the case, then God's going to answer."
DEL RIO UVALDE ASSOCIATION
Several churches in the Del Rio Uvalde Association have organized a network with Mexican congregations across the border in Acuña and Piedras Negras to facilitate prayer and financial assistance. God has used that partnership to bring about spiritual victories, said Jeff Janca, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brackettville, Texas.
Violence, however, has not been the main focus of the prayers, Janca said. Instead, much of the intercession targets churches in Mexico, asking God to strengthen and use them, which God has answered even amid cartel violence.
In a recent meeting of border ministers, a pastor from Acuña said that before violence escalated several years ago, some Mexican congregations relied almost completely on American mission teams to do ministry in their communities. But because it has become too dangerous for American teams to cross the border, Mexican churches have been forced to mobilize their own members with renewed fervor.
"There were some Baptist churches that had become so dependent on the American churches that they weren't doing anything for themselves," Janca said. "They weren't contributing financially. They weren't doing the mission work. They weren't doing the evangelizing. They weren't doing the work on the buildings because they thought, 'Well, the Americans will come in, and they'll do it.' Now those churches are learning that if it's going to get done, they themselves are going to have to do it. This pastor said that's the positive ."
Janca's congregation makes a point to pray for Mexico during Wednesday prayer meetings and supports a pastor in Acuña financially. But he cited the need for continued prayer to combat drug cartels, violence and false religion across the border.
"There have been occasions where we have focused, because of the drought, on praying for God to send not only physical rain but spiritual rain and revival upon us," he said.
David Roach is a writer and pastor in Shelbyville, Ky.
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