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While cities around the nation have become hotbeds of protest in the wake of the fatal shootings of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and the sniper killing of five Dallas police officers, Liberty County turned to prayer Monday evening.
About 400 people came to Connection Church in Flemington for a Unity in the Community prayer vigil. Residents and leaders of law enforcement, military and education, as well as emergency personnel, elected officials and pastors attended.
Pastor Richard Hayes of New Day Community Church in Walthourville, the president of the United Ministerial Alliance of Liberty County, kicked off the event.
“My brothers and sisters, if you came here looking for a protest, you’re in the wrong place,” Hayes said. “This isn’t a protesting place. This is a night of prayer.”
He said Liberty County is a melting pot of people and that while it is not perfect, people need to pray to make it better.
He pointed out that young African-American males make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but “60 percent of those young men are behind bars” and that African-American men are five times more likely than others to be killed by police.
Pastor Hermon Scott of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church in Walthourville prayed for the nation. In introducing his prayer, Scott cited Genesis 41, in which Joseph had two sons. The first he called Manasseh “because God has made me forget all my trouble,” and the second he called Ephraim “because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
“America, if we’re going to be fruitful, we need to have our Manasseh experience. We’ve got to forgive,” Scott said. “White folk got to forgive black folk, and black folk got to forgive white folk.”
Then he prayed.
“Father, I thank you that in spite of all of the ills of America, it is still the greatest country. And we thank you for the privilege of living here in America,” Scott said.
Pastor Aaron Cowart of Live Oak Church in Hinesville prayed for the community.
“Tonight, God, we come in here, and we are mad at what you’re mad about, God. We’re angry at what you’re angry at tonight,” he said. “… We are concerned for our sons and our daughters. We realize that the enemy is seeking to unleash a spirit of fear and hate across this great land, and so we cry out to the only one with the power to bring change and healing to a hurting people, the only righteous, the only just one, and that is you, oh God.”
Pastor A.D. Shaw of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Hinesville prayed for people on the front lines of justice and injustices.
“We pray for the families, God, that have been impacted by grief, the loss of their loved one,” Shaw said. “Even in the midst of tragedy, God, we stand by faith to declare and decree that we still trust in you.”
Pastor Timothy Byler of Connection Church closed with prayer as well as explaining how the vigil came together. He said he felt a pull after the fatal shooting of Aaron Sterling in Louisiana on July 5 and then the sniper who gunned down five Dallas police officers — Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens — Thursday night at the end of a protest against the shootings of Sterling and of Philando Castile in Minnesota.
“We stand on the declaration in your word that perfect love casts out all fear. Father, we have a determination in our hearts,” Byler said. “We do not want fear to reign in our communities. ... And so tonight, we stand together, brother to sister, and we declare your love will prevail.”
At the end, Byler called forward law enforcement present. Then he called for pastors and others attending to place their hands on the officers, pray for them and show them support. The pastors and officers hugged.