- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

FARMINGTON, N.M. When San Juan County Sheriff Michael Davidson started looking for new ways to battle crime in this mile-high county in northwestern New Mexico, he chose an unusual weapon.


Having discovered a video film about four cities around the globe that saw their crime rates dip after residents gathered for prayer, Sheriff Davidson thought he knew a good idea when he saw one.

Digging into discretionary county funds, on March 2 he ordered 90 copies of "Transformations," an hourlong video produced by the Sentinel Group, a Lynnewood, Wash. nondenominational Christian organization. The videos were sent March 13 to Protestant, Catholic and Mormon churches along with a letter asking for "partnership" in praying against pornography, drugs, domestic violence and for success on the part of local police.

The sheriff pointedly connected his efforts to the National Day of Prayer on May 4.

The story of the praying and preaching sheriff first landed in the local newspaper, then got picked up by the Associated Press in Albuquerque and ended up in magazines around the country.

Even the producers of the video were a bit taken aback by the sheriff's request.

"We had no idea it was going to hit like that," said associate producer Vickie Berg. "We made 5,000 copies of the video and thought we'd be happy if we sold those."

They ended up selling 150,000 copies worldwide to churches interested in how united groups of Christians could influence crime rates through prayer. Approximately 50 million people in 120 countries have watched it, the producers estimate.

The video, filmed in the mid-1990s and released in 1999, chronicled how the cities of Hemet, Calif., Almalonga, Guatemala; Kiambu, Kenya; and Cali, Colombia had become more livable after Christians in each locale had united for prayer. A second video, "Transformations II," is due out in June.

Reaction among San Juan County residents was not long in coming.

After some residents complained to the local paper that police funds should not be used for such a questionable method of fighting crime, the sheriff reimbursed the department out of his personal savings.

But others saw opportunity. One was Jim Baker, president of Navajo Missions in Farmington, the largest city in the "Four Corners" region near the junction of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Using the video as a way to unify pastors in this city of just over 40,000, he and a group of clergy rented out the local Civic Center for two nights to show the film.

"I don't see why prayer couldn't affect crime," he says.

The same group of pastors rented out the Farmington High School stadium on July 28 for a five-hour rally to pray for repentance and Christian unity. A crowd of 2,500 gathered, including 54 clergy.

"That was an incredible time of intercession," said the Rev. Randy Joslin, a local Assemblies of God pastor. "It broke some things loose. Our area is not transformed, but it's on the road to transformation."

On New Year's Eve, about 1,800 people gathered at Shiprock High School on the Navajo Reservation 28 miles to the west of Farmington to pray for families and against crime, domestic violence and addictions.

"I've been waiting for something like this to happen for many, many years," said the Rev. T.H. "Tulley" Lee, the Navajo pastor of the Church at Farmington.

"It's nearly impossible to get Navajo pastors together because there's so much suspicion. Eighty percent of the churches on the reservation are independent."

"I believe God has something special here for the Four Corners," said Robert Tso, the Navajo pastor of Victory Life Church in Shiprock and the director of an alcohol recovery program for 20 young men. "I believe that if we hang around here a little longer, we'll see something."

The sheriff, a Southern Baptist who was elected in 1994 and a second time in 1998, has already seen the glimmers of hope. Producing a graph comparing 1999 to 2000, he insists crime is down in the 5,500-square-mile county. Rape, assaults, burglary, larceny and car theft are all down, he said. But homicides went up.

"If you're looking for instantaneous results that are answered divinely, I think you're looking wrongly," he says. "But God has His own timing. On a small scale, there's been some changes. It's hard to say what that's attributed to."

For instance, his department has gotten some unusual breakthroughs this year on unsolved homicides. One was a man responsible for four killings.

"This came after the video was sent out and then arresting officers were Christians," the sheriff says. "Now, is there a link? Who knows?"

At least, he added, San Juan County has, per capita, many more criminals arrested and in jail than does Albuquerque to the south.

The high desert, sagebrush-covered Four Corners area is known for Wild West-style crime statistics. A book, "The Broken Circle," chronicles how the murder of several Navajo men by white teen-agers in 1974 split the community.

"Twenty years ago, our violent crime was much worse," conceded the sheriff, 50, a 26-year veteran with the department. "In the 1970s, it was rapes, homicides and aggravated assault. Today, it's drugs, drunken driving and domestic violence. We're having less extreme violence."

But the area is hardly crime-free, according to statistics from the Farmington Police Department, which asserts that crime within its boundaries actually increased in 2000. Homicide, rape, robbery, assault, larceny and embezzlement were up. Burglary, car theft, arson, drunken driving and fraud were down.

"We need to pray about this, folks," Mr. Baker told a twice-monthly gathering of pastors who met at the Navajo Missions office for a recent early-morning meeting.

The 17 pastors seated in the room nodded. In an effort to boost the spiritual temperature of the area, churches and individuals brought in Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, for a crusade in 1996.

But still the dreary everyday work needs to be done.

One pastor, who confessed to feeling "discouragement, despair and disillusionment," conceded: "Things don't happen at the pace we want or the depth we want here. It's truly taken a lot of golf and coffee to bring this group together."

"We're establishing a spiritual beachhead," said Cindy Crebo, coordinator of the Four Corners Prayer Center. "But we've not seen social transformation yet."

At the end of their meeting, they all gathered to pray.

"Lord," one prayed, we're not where You want us to be, but when You compare us with where Farmington was in the 1970s and 1980s, things are much better now. Biblically, we are one body whether we like it or not."

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