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Prayer group hopes to bring positive change

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By Erin James
Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

YORK — Malcolm Malone's deep voice rose above an enveloping chorus of pleading words and the noise of traffic behind him.

As the minutes passed, Malone's prayer grew louder and louder. He bounced with the rhythm.

“Oh God, we just appreciate you, oh God,” he said. “Save this community, oh God. Oh God, I love you so much. Oh God, you're too wise to make a mistake.”

Malcolm was one of about 20 people gathered Thursday at the corner of Penn and Market streets in York City.

For two months, the growing group has been meeting weekly in the darkness of the evening hours to pray for their city.

Men, women and children bowed their heads, clasped hands, closed their eyes and prayed — each in his or her own way.

Some spoke to God in Spanish. Little girls lifted their heads to scan the circle, absorbing a scene they probably see regularly in church but rarely on the street.

After about 10 minutes, they finished by singing a hymn.

The idea for a weekly prayer gathering originated with two young men who said they want their children to have a better future than perhaps they did growing up in York City.

“We both felt like we had to do something more,” Nate Feliciano, 24, said. “We want to instill hope. There's a lot of people that have lost hope — especially the young people. We just want to bring it back.”

Politicians and police officers can't solve all of the city's problems, EC Holmes, 26, said.

The prayer gatherings are already having a positive effect on the city's neighborhoods, he said.

Holmes said his perspectives changed when he got married and when his daughter was born six months ago. Prayer is a way of protecting them, he said.

“I've got someone I'm responsible for,” Holmes said.

LaShay Stevens said she's been praying for peace at the weekly gatherings, which, she said, give her an opportunity to be a positive role model for her daughter.

“I believe in prayer. I know prayer changes things,” she said. “There's always a sense of peace every time we come together.”

That's because, Stevens said, God “shows up.”

Carlos Zapata, who arrived Thursday with a Bible clutched at his side, said his wife noticed Facebook posts about the gatherings about a month ago.

“Quickly, my spirit, I sensed that, ‘Yeah, that's where I want to be,'” he said.

Zapata, 32, is the pastor of a new congregation called Open Floodgates Ministries.

He's lived in York for 15 years and said he believes the city's socioeconomic problems are getting worse.

Prayer, he said, is “how we battle in the spiritual realm.”

“Just asking God's spirit to come and touch the hearts of the people,” Zapata said.

Erin James is a staff writer for The York Dispatch.

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