Event serves as prelude to several rallies
By LINDA M. LINONIS
Metro Assembly of God hosted “A Call to Prayer for the Peace of Youngstown” recently as a prelude to the Increase the Peace rallies that begin Tuesday.
NOW Youngstown organizers measured the success of last year’s Increase the Peace rallies by the numbers. Pastor Al Yanno of Metro Assembly reported that an estimated 3,000 people attended the 12 summertime events that took place in areas where violence had occurred.
Pastor Yanno and other organizers, Pastor Rolando Rojas of Spanish Evangelical Church and Pastor Rafael Cruz of Unity Baptist Church, are hoping to reach even more people at this year’s rallies. The initial effort for the events took place in 2012 in partnership with the mayor’s office and Community Initiative to Reduce Violence headed by Guy Burney.
The rallies are a three-fold effort, Pastor Yanno said. They involve law enforcement, social-service agencies and the faith-based component. “They will grow and make people stronger,” Pastor Yanno said of the events. NOW Youngstown isn’t based on an acronym but part of a
passage from 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation.”
The pastors, who all have ministered on the streets for more than a decade, believe that the word of God can change lives. But they also realize people need practical help and information.
That’s where organizations such as MYCAP, Teen Challenge, drug and alcohol counseling and pregnancy services and Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley step up. “People at the rallies have talked to counselors and used some of the services,” Pastor Yanno said. “Some have made life changes.”
That’s the crux of the rallies. To reach people in various ways so that they make positive choices, not violent ones, the pastor said.
Martha Taylor, a Metro member who assists with rallies, said, “We want people to see things aren’t hopeless.”
“By reaching out at these events, we want to show people they are loved and worthy to be loved,” Pastor Cruz said. “It’s not only our presence but the presence of God.”
Pastor Yanno said the rallies allow the clergy to talk to people in a relaxed atmosphere. He said the pastors hope talking about “getting past the heat of the moment” and “handling anger and frustration” will help people take steps to forgive.
“Forgiveness will break the cycle of violence,” he said. Pastor Cruz added that retaliation only escalates violence.
Pastor Cruz said an important element is talking about the “value of life.” He asked ... how can some people value the lives of others when they don’t value their own? He added that “violence is a weakness, not a strength.”
Pastor Yanno said various service-providing agencies will share information. “A lot of people feel trapped by their circumstances. We want to empower them and show them there are different choices.”
The pastors formed an intervention team to visit families of victims of violence. “We want to mentor to the families and try to intervene to stop retaliation,” Pastor Yanno said.
Burney of CIRV said the partnership effort of pastors, police and social services had an impact last year, and he’s banking on more success.
He said the community- outreach events show people there are opportunities for choices other than a criminal lifestyle and ways to extract themselves from that route.
Burney said VIP (Violence Interruption Patrols) by police and the mayor’s “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” curfew campaign reflect the cooperative effort of the community and churches working to reduce violence in the city.