By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A.J. Platt and Ellie Mayhew crossed the Market Street bridge, praying as they walked.
On the first leg of their journey, which began at John Knox Presbyterian Church on the South Side, the couple prayed outside Eagle Heights Academy. They and about 30 other participants of Saturday's PrayerWalk event prayed for the parochial school and those it serves.
The group also prayed for Youngstown and its transformation.
"It means a lot to make a positive difference and pray for our community," Platt said.
Platt and Mayhew were among those who assembled at one of several churches to walk and pray. All participants from the North, South, East and West sides of the city began their walk toward downtown Youngstown at the same time.
Destination: Their destination was Federal Plaza East, where close to 100 people from the churches converged for a morning of prayer, song and celebration.
The South Side faction was part of the Helping Others Prepare for Eternity 2001 Crusade, a collaboration of about 30 Mahoning Valley evangelical churches.
"Our purpose is to pray for healing in our community. We need to change the hearts of the people in this city," the Rev. Kenneth Simon told the crowd, many of whom wore white T-shirts with Youngstown HOPE 2001 emblazoned on the front.
The Rev. Mr. Simon of New Bethel Baptist Church, as well as several other ministers, talked about unity as they took the stage to pray. Mr. Simon also urged everyone to prepare for a three-day citywide outreach crusade, scheduled to begin Oct. 21.
Many in the crowd sang, swayed and clapped as music filled Federal Plaza with songs such as "Amazing Grace."
The event was like "a family reunion," said the Rev. Rafael Cruz of Unity Baptist Church. He also said seven members of his church attended HOPE 2001.
Trying to change image: The Rev. Mr. Cruz added that he hopes the event's impact will help change Youngstown's image.
"I'd like to see the city known for things other than murders, corruption and drugs," he said.
Mr. Cruz said members of his church often go door-to-door, seeking prayer requests from residents and inviting them to various church events.
"We're developing relationships with people in [city] neighborhoods," he said.
Platt and Mayhew compared a recent mission trip they took to Mexico with what they want to accomplish locally. Platt said the trip reinforced his desire to reach out to those less fortunate.
Mayhew said she was encouraged by HOPE 2001 and seeing people from all parts of the city pull together. Too many Valley residents feel helpless to affect positive change, she added.
'A vision for our city': The event "has given us a vision for our city," Mayhew said. "It's made people excited."
The Rev. Phillip Imler compared Saturday's rally to a March for Jesus event 20 years ago. The minister at Christian Fellowship Church said this event was larger and that it drew more people from Youngstown's suburbs.
The Rev. Fred Mayhew of Trinity Fellowship Church in Boardman said one of his goals is to have all evangelical churches in the area part of the HOPE crusade.