For the past decade, on the weekend before the beginning of Richmond County Schools’ start of the new school year, the ROC Church in Rockingham has organized and hosted a prayer walk covering all Richmond County Schools: public and private, students, staff, faculty, and administrative offices.
This year’s event began around 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 with at least 117 attending a breakfast served at the church.
The breakfast was provided by Place of Grace Campus in East Rockingham and bottled water was provided by Church of God of Prophecy in Hamlet.
There were 18 churches involved in the event along with members of the community, teachers, school board members, and Superintendent Dr. Joe Ferrell.
Participating churches were The ROC Church, Mount Carmel, Crestview, Hope, Hamlet COGOP, King’s Gate, Sweet Haven, Place of Grace, Calvary Baptist, Freedom Baptist, Faith Baptist, Spring Hill Wesleyan, Pemberton Temple COGIC, Ellerbe First Baptist, Beverly Hills Baptist, First Assembly of God, and two representing the Gideon Association.
In opening, ROC’ Pastor Steven Gilmer recognized all the churches represented as well as all other organizations before introducing Ferrell.
“I’m about to have my 28th first day of school in which those 28 years have ticked by really quickly,” Ferrell said. “I can’t think of a time in our nation when it’s more important that we pray for our schools and for our teachers and staff members.
“I want you to know, from my perspective and from where I sit in my service to this community, how much I appreciate that this room is full today and what you mean to this community,” Ferrell continued. “As you are praying for our schools today, safety and security is the thing that stays on my mind always. I never thought in our nation that I would ever have to worry about children being harmed in our schools.
“I do appreciate your prayers and support, as well as Mr. (Jerry) Ethridge being here as a board member today. He sends me an encouraging message every Monday morning. Those things are important and ground me as well as bringing me back to what matters.”
Afterwards, pastor Robbie Stewart from Crestview Baptist Church in Rockingham gave a brief message as well as opening the walk in prayer.
“We are having to gather together to pray for our schools in the way we do because we have left the foundation; that objective truth that our country was built upon, that our public education was built upon as well,” Stewart said. “Just as Einstein explained his theory of relativity, we have reached a point where truth isn’t objective anymore, it’s all based on subjection.”
Stewart went on to mention how things have progressively gotten worse, and how in the past there was a revival in the church, culture, and communities.
“Every one of those great movements going back to God began with prayer. It was a group of people like you and I that have come together this morning that has realized the dire straits that we are in,” Stewart continued. “We are under a grave attack in our culture today; various different enemies who offer various different ideas that challenge the very foundation by which we’ve been building on. A lot of it is being driven by evil and demonic spirits behind the background; we can’t deny that, it is a truth. We have to see it that way because if we don’t, we think we have the power to do this within ourselves. I don’t want to get political, because I don’t think politics is the answer.”
He then spoke on 2 Chronicles, chapter 20 and mentioned how the people felt safe because they had a king named Jehoshaphat who was a good king, a Godly king.
“We learn from this situation no matter how well-guarded we are, that the devil is always one step ahead of us,” Stewart said, explaining how three enemies unexpectedly appeared. “Jehoshaphat acknowledged his fear before his people and that he didn’t have time to prepare for an attack, so he called the people to a time of fasting and prayer. He realized that with man some things are impossible, but with God all things are possible. They assembled together to pray.”
He highlighted the prayer in the scripture which reads, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you,” before following up with another verse: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”
“Here in 2023, we are having to come together to pray that our schools will be delivered from evil because we have left that rock of which Jesus said we should build our house on, which is Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.”
Stewart concluded by relating how the Levites gathered to praise God because they knew He would deliver them.
“We need to pray; I promise you, God will hear and He will help us, because He has promised to,” Stewart said.
Vonnie Gilmer, wife of Pastor Steve Gilmer, said the event began 10 years ago with 38 people and that number had nearly tripled to 98 last year.
She is a former principal of L.J. Bell and assistant principal of East Rockingham commentaries, and mentioned how much the schools need prayer.
“I felt inspired to present this idea to our church, and we decided we would do it on the Saturday before school started,” Vonnie Gilmer said. “We continue to move forward in building this prayer initiative with all the churches in our community. Our main goal is to pray for safety and success”
Groups of people were designated to cover each school in the county in prayer, first meeting at Richmond Senior High School.
“I’m very pleased with the unity among our churches in the county,” said Steve Gilmer. “This prayer effort is all about the kingdom of God.”
For more information on how to participate in future events, visit the church’s Facebook page.