by Karen Campbell, UBA Guest Editor

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A drive through the Third Ward offers views of a lot of Houston history, two universities, and struggling commerce. A walk along the streets ... well, with the record-breaking crime rate ... that's not often advised. Yet churches across the city are coming together to do just that as they pray for reconciliation and transformation.

The Third Ward is one of the six historic wards of Houston. Located inside the 610 Loop, immediately southeast of Downtown Houston and to the east of the Texas Medical Center, the Ward became the center of Houston's African-American community after World War I and is still predominately African-American in population.

Though the Third Ward is home to two universities-the University of Houston and Texas Southern University - the majority of the residents have little to no higher education and are primarily young adults employed in service and office jobs. The average household income is less than $40,000. More than 45% of the population is below the poverty level.

/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/18 Prayer_Line.jpgUnfortunately, rather than its rich past, the Third Ward is now known for its high crime rate and being one of Houston's poorest, most crime-infested neighborhoods including prostitution and immense drug trafficking.

Enter praying believers. A year ago just after Thanksgiving, Rickie Bradshaw, a UBA consultant, believed that transformation in the community would not come until the church repented of its sin. Calling church leaders from the community to pray together and seek reconciliation among themselves, Rickie and other ministers began to see God at work.

The prayer ministry continued. A year and many prayer marches later, a park where no children played because of the rampant drug and sexual activity has been cleaned up and reclaimed with children's laughter now heard on its grounds.

"We are conducting a repentance and reconciliation community transformation process in the bottom of third ward," explained Bradshaw.

/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/20 Hands_in_Prayer.jpg"We are working with about 30 churches from around Houston. We are seeing revival breaking forth among the churches. The churches are developing community projects in bringing healing to the community. They are engaging in everything from prayer stations on multiple corners for evangelism to a deliverance ministry for prostitutes and drug addicts."

One of th/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/25 Don_Waybright.jpgose churches is Sugar Creek Baptist where minister of missions Don Waybright says seeing God at work and wanting to be a part of it drew him and other members to the prayer walks.

This Thanksgiving at the anniversary of the initial gathering, churches divided the Third Ward into four zones. Every Saturday since then, they have been praying. Thirty people were on hand last Saturday.

/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/19 Prayer_Kneeling.jpg"We had people praying for God to reconcile that community, the relationships, the beauty, heal the churches, repenting for the land. We pray for God to heal the immorality in the land. We pray over homes. We are on our knees at crack houses. They receive it. Prostitutes come the Christ. We are seeing the Holy Spirit visit this place. We're seeing the law enforcement come in and clean it up."

Bradshaw agrees that the impact is great and growing.

/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/12 Poinsettia__Trio.jpg"The last three weeks Sugar Creek walked many miles to talk with people and distribute poinsettias to senior citizens. They prayed for many people who were afflicted with HIV and drug addiction. Many of the people were experiencing love and care in a very special way. The members of Sugar Creek, as well as others from other area churches, are benefiting in the form of spiritual renewal as they conduct cross cultural ministry," he said.
 
As a result of their exposure to the needs of the Third Ward, Waybright, Sugar Creek, and other churches are investigating how to move from project-by-project ministries to a systemic approach. A resource assessment of the community is planned. Talks are underway for a redevelopment project with the city of Houston where homes that have been repossessed by the City will be used to minister to prostitutes.

/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/16 Banner_Lion_of_Judah.jpg"It's going to be an investment," said Waybright of the efforts. "We are looking at resources and best practices. They [the residents of Third Ward] want to be rescued. They want out of that life. The oppression is so strong."

Waybright acknowledges that a Third Ward 18-year-old can make several thousand dollars a week making crack and that often "guys from the suburbs coming there to buy it."

So taking groups of what are primarily suburban white Christians - adults, teens and even children as young as 5 -- to walk Third Ward streets that even residents there tend to avoid is truly God at work. And the walks are getting the community's attention.

/files/Photo Gallery/News  Feature Stories/The Salt Shaker/Love in the Third Ward (Dec 2010)/14 Family-Poinsettias.jpg"We've had to keep an eye on them because they are walking boldly in Jesus' name. We are taking beauty in the form of poinsettias into this marginalized place where there is extreme darkness.  And God is recreating. It's beautiful. We are involved in reconciliation and are part of that recreation process," said Waybright.

"They are living their lives with Gospel intentionality. I think they feel very privileged that they can join in with what God is doing. They are seeing hope being restored. They are seeing the presence of Christ touching people's lives."

See a list of participating congregations.

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