A Prayer Walk Guide for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas PD
It can be difficult to know how to respond to the tragic violence we’ve seen over the past week. The bigness, complexity and volatility of recent events can leave us feeling inadequate.
What should we pray?
What questions do we ask?
What action should we take?
As inadequate as I felt for the task of talking to teenagers about the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers – and what all this means in America today – I plunged in anyway. I read various articles, wrote down some prayer requests and compiled a list of questions that I didn’t know all the answers to.
As youth workers we get this beautiful and difficult opportunity to talk with teenagers about how their relationship with Jesus connects to the world around them – how their faith grows legs and walks around in the context of current events. Among the many difficult things these shootings are, they are an opportunity for us to engage students in meaningful dialog and intentional prayer.
I hope this resource gives you a starting place in creating space with the teenagers under your care.
Download a version of this resource as a Word Doc HERE.
HOW TO USE THIS RESOURCE
Use the following pages to process the shootings between July 5–7 with your group.
A SUMMARY OF RECENT VIOLENCE offers a succinct update of the three major events in Baton Rouge, Alabama; Falcon Heights, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas. Some students may not know all the details and this will give you a concise way to bring them up to speed. You may need to add updates to this summary.
WHAT TO PRAY FOR gives a bulleted list of prayer focuses. You might print this out for students and leaders, or you might create stations for each prayer focus, or you may simply move through this list in large or small groups. Add, edit or omit as you see fit.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT provides a list of questions to get your conversation off the ground. These are difficult questions designed to create processing space. The conversation might be messy with varying viewpoints. Seek to create space where students can give each other the grace to share honestly. The discussion guide includes an invitation to look at Romans 12:9–21. As a facilitator, become familiar with this passage and consider what other Scripture will be relevant for your group. Change these questions to meet the needs of your group.
PRAYER FOR THOSE CAUGHT UP IN TRAGEDY may offer a good way to wrap up your time together.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: If you live in a community where a shooting occurred, you might do a prayer walk to or nearby a memorial location. If not, consider what location in your own community might be a good setting. If you visit a memorial, invite students to bring flowers to add to the memorial to take part in mourning and as a symbol of hope and healing. You might also bring chalk and invite students to leave a word or verse or phrase that represents their hope or prayer as we move forward together.
A SUMMARY OF RECENT VIOLENCE
From July 5–7 two black men were killed and 5 police officers gunned down. The following is a summary of those events, posted on July 9. Since that time, there have been many peaceful and somewhat violent protests as well as ensuing arrests of protestors.
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
Alton Sterling, 37, was fatally shot Tuesday (July 5) during a struggle with two police officers outside a convenience store where he was selling CDs.
What was the reaction?
Sterling’s shooting was caught on cellphone video by an anti-violence group. It quickly spread online and sparked several days of protests in the city where 54 percent of the population is black and more than 25 percent live in poverty.
The demonstrations in Baton Rouge had been largely peaceful, but there were some tense moments Friday night and early Saturday.
Both officers involved in Sterling’s shooting — four-year member of the department Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, who was on the force for three years — have been placed on administrative leave and had prior “use of force” complaints.
The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
FALCON HEIGHTS, MINNESOTA
Philando Castile, a black 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor at a public school, was shot Wednesday night (July 6) in suburban St. Paul, Minn., during a traffic stop that involved two officers. He died a short time later at a hospital. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, says he was shot while reaching for his wallet.
What was the reaction?
Black Lives Matter protesters gathered that night outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion, which is close to the shooting site, and a smaller group remained there into Saturday.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting. Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi said Friday that he asked for a “prompt and thorough investigation,” but declined to comment on it.
An Army veteran fatally shot five police officers and wounded seven other officers during Thursday (July 7) night’s downtown protest over the deaths of Sterling and Castile. Two civilians were also injured.
What was the reaction?
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said that it’s within people’s rights to protest, but that protests can “put our police officers in harm’s way.”
Center for Media Justice director Malkia Cyril defended the Black Lives Matter movement, saying it “advocates dignity, justice and freedom, not the murder of cops.”
Authorities are investigating the shootings. Johnson had amassed a personal arsenal at his home, including bomb-making materials, rifles, ammunition and a journal of combat tactics.
Obama, who on Saturday described the gunman as a “demented individual,” plans to visit Dallas in a few days to pay respects and mourn.
WHAT TO PRAY FOR
- Begin by praying for yourself and others praying with you – that God would use this time to soften or calm or strengthen you, that God would open your eyes and that God would be present.
- Pray for the families and friends of those killed in shootings from July 5–7.
- Baton Rouge: Alton Sterling’s 5 kids and other family and friends
- Falcon Heights: Philando Castile’s girlfriend Diamond (and her 4-year-old daughter), mother Valerie, sister Allysza and other family and friends
- Dallas police officers:
- Brent Thompson’s wife and other friends and family
- Patrick Zamarripa’s wife Kristy, two kids, father Rick, step-mother Maria, brother Dustin and other friends and family
- Michael Krol’s father Frank, mother Susan, 3 siblings, and other friends and family
- Lorne Ahrens’ wife, daughter Sorcha (10), son Magnus (8), and other friends and family
- Michael Smith’s wife Heidi, two daughters (ages 9 and 14), and other friends and family, including those at Watermark Community Church
- Pray for those who knew the Dallas shooter, Micah Johnson, who are dealing with the aftermath, including his mother Delphine.
- Pray for African American communities and individuals across the country – as well as other minority groups – who are feeling unfairly targeted, mistreated and overlooked because of their skin color. Pray that injustices would be brought to light, reconciliation would be pursued, and healing would begin.
- Pray for many men and women in law enforcement – that they would be able to do their jobs with integrity and good will despite mounting pressure.
- Pray for the specific police officers involved in the Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights shootings – that God would be present in their lives as they deal emotionally, spiritually, socially and professionally with the results of their involvement in these shootings.
- Pray for police and government officials who are discerning what specific and broader responses are necessary in the face of recent events.
- Pray for churches across our country – that God’s people could be all about peace and reconciliation in the face of anger, fear, sadness and apathy. Pray that the bigness of these issues would not overwhelm us, but lead us toward action.
- Pray for our community. That the people right here in this community would be strengthened toward service and love for each other. Pray for reconciliation here in our own neighborhood.
- Pray for our church and our youth group – that we would find meaningful ways to cross borders and love people who are different from us.
- Pray against racism, against apathy, against passivity, against injustice, against fear, against pride, against retribution, against hardened hearts and against disunity. Pray for humility, for justice, for healthy dialog, for healing, for hope, for forgiveness, for peace, for unity, and for the presence of Christ.
- Conclude by praying for yourself and others who are praying with you – that you would find your place in responding to big and difficult issues. Pray that your involvement would not end in prayer but extend into your relationships and passions and actions.
WHAT TO TALK ABOUT
- How did you hear about the shootings that took place between July 5–7? How did you respond to getting the news? What emotions did you feel?
- What conversations have you had since the shootings? What responses have you seen in others you’ve talked to?
- The national conversation about these events are not only about shootings. The question being asked is, “In America, do black lives matter as much as other lives matter?” What’s your reaction to this question? What do you feel? What do you think?
- What do you think it means that so many people in Americans feel like they have to be part of demonstrations to remind people that “yes, black lives matter”?
- As followers of Jesus, what should our response be to these recent events?
- What’s hard about responding or knowing how to respond?
- Read Romans 12:9–21. This is not a passage about identifying enemies, but about building bridges across differences and loving others.
- What connections do you see between this passage and the recent violence we’ve seen in our country?
- We can get very caught up in the argument of who is right and who is wrong. We are quick to choose sides and miss that there are real people who are really hurting. This passage says to “mourn with those who mourn… live in harmony with one another… do not be proud.” In our own lives, how can we apply those words to our response to recent events?
- It can be easy to feel stressed out, fearful or even petrified by the bigness of these issues. This passage ends with the encouragement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” What are some practical ways you can contribute to overcoming evil with good concerning these events?
PRAYER FOR THOSE CAUGHT IN TRAGEDY
(FROM THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND)
Lord of all compassion
We pray for all of those caught up in the midst of tragedy or disaster.
For those who have lost life and those working to save life
For those who are worried for people they love
For those who will see their loved ones no longer
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in need of the peace that passes all understanding
For all who turn to you in the midst of turmoil
For those who cry out to you in fear and in love
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in confusion and those in despair
For those whose tears are yet to dry
For those in need of your unending love
Lord Have Mercy
 A summary of recent violence. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/A-summary-of-recent-violence-8350061.php
Sam Townsend is the Program and Brand Manager for YouthWorks, where he has helped shape mission trip experiences and curriculum for more than 10 years. Also a youth leader in his church for over 12 years, Sam carries a passion for people, good writing and puns bad enough to make grown men groan. Sam lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Youth Ministry, English Writing and Biblical Studies from the University of Northwestern and a Master of Divinity from Bethel Seminary.r
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.