EL PASO—After El Paso churches united in a 40-day prayer effort for the neighboring city of Juarez, Mexico, remarkable news broke: God answered their prayers by decreasing the murder rate in what has been dubbed one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
The prayer effort, coordinated by the non-denominational Christian ministry El Paso for Jesus, involved approximately 20 congregations of various denominations and spanned the 40 days leading up to Easter. Each day a different church was responsible for 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 violence.
Following the prayer effort, Fox News reported June 24 that 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.
Over the past several years, warring drug cartels have turned Juarez into a war zone and the city has seen its murder rate increase tenfold, topping 3,000 homicides last year and 8,600 since 2008. In contrast, El Paso had five murders in 2010.
“The violence that is happening over there [in Juarez] 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, a congregation that participated in the 40-day prayer campaign, told the TEXAN. “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.”
On Cielo Vista’s day to pray at the Juarez overlook, participants prayed silently using printed guides and then took turns praying aloud. In addition to praying on their 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.
Rhonda Cariker, a Cielo Vista member who participated in the prayer overlooking Juarez, told the TEXAN the effort was an opportunity to engage in spiritual warfare.
“We were able to look down from the mountain and see the lights of the city of Juarez across the river,” she said. “You can see right down into it. So we could imagine the people and the needs that were down there as we stood and we prayed from the overlook.”
As she looked into Juarez, Cariker prayed for “the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the people” and for “God to do something amazing spiritually to break the bondage that was going on there,” she said.
For Cariker, the prayer time was very personal. She said she is grieved that Christians in El Paso can no longer go across the border safely to minister in Juarez and regrets that she used to take such ministry opportunities for granted.
“We used to just take for granted that anytime we wanted to we would be able to go over and do an outreach there, do a mission emphasis with a missionary that might be over there doing something, actually go and work on buildings that the church was constructing, even building houses for areas where people live in cardboard houses or where they take packaging material and make temporary houses,” she said. “And that’s all come to a screeching halt. I felt ashamed of taking the opportunities for granted.”
In addition to the decrease in murders, El Paso believers have seen answers to specific prayers for individuals and churches. For example, one Mexican pastor’s kidnapped daughter was returned unharmed, and several churches have continued to minister without falling victim to violence.
“God is showing favor to some of the churches that are in Juarez, and there’s not a tremendous amount of violence that’s happening in those locations,” Smith said. “So that is a great thing.”
Still, there are many reasons for continued prayer, according to Smith and Cariker. They include rampant gang activity, corruption in the Mexican government and the need for Mexican criminals to be saved.
The situation in Juarez is “outright spiritual warfare,” Cariker said, “because it’s the gateway into the rest of Mexico. And we have a lot of missionaries that would have very effective ministries there. We have a lot of nationals that were having very effective ministry going on there. I think Satan is trying to put it to a stop because if you can put it to a stop right there as you enter Mexico, you can stop a lot of what was going on from Juarez down into the interior.”
Cariker also sounded a warning for American believers in other cities: “God has opened doors in front of whatever church that you’re a part of, wherever you’re attending and serving. Don’t take them for granted that they’re always going to be open. Like the Apostle Paul said, be wise and redeem the time because the days are evil. … We could have probably done a lot more when the door was open and didn’t because we just assumed the door would stay open.”
UPDATE: As the TEXAN went to press, the El Paso Times reported that murders in July in Juarez were the highest number since February, with 218 dead. The TEXAN editorial staff urges readers to join the churches of El Paso in prayer for the El Paso-Juarez area.