- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Armed with only their Bibles, 14 people recently set out on foot after dark on the streets where the violent prey.

Their starting point was the parking lot at Eastdale Village Community Church on Tunnel Boulevard.

It was just two minutes up the street to where Kenny Hall had been shot to death two weeks before.

“We are not afraid,” said Martha Williams, mother of Eastdale pastor Charolette Williams. “We know that God is with us.”

The group headed in that direction carrying a message of peace and hope, part of an outpouring of effort among Chattanooga churches that has intensified since 10 people were shot - three fatally - during one week in late October.

But the violent were at work long before October. So far this year there have been 25 homicides in Chattanooga, compared to 17 in all of 2013.

Among the faith-based efforts under way:

. Church of the First Born Pastor Alfred Johnson says, “Jesus can stop these bullets.” Johnson and members of several churches marched in September and vow to march and pray until “there is noticeable decrease.” His church helps men get jobs and has helped at least 60 men in the past year.

. Nation of Islam leader Kevin Muhammad hosted a fundraiser for the family of 28-year-old Terrence Lebron Bivens, who was shot to death Oct. 27 in Alton Park. His group also offers manhood and womanhood mentoring every Monday.

. The Rev. Ezra Maize, pastor of Friendship Central Community Church, is opening the church gym every weekend to assure that young people have a safe place to play. The gym and game room open at 7 p.m. and remain open until the last person goes home, said Maize.

. Pastor Rosena Billingsley, of Branches Praise Worship Center in North Chattanooga, sets up a prayer tent on Saturdays near a Brainerd Road gas station to pray for peace and the specific needs of anybody who asks. She said she’s taking prayer to people who might not stop at a church.

Earlier this month, women with United Methodist churches in the city organized and conducted four days of prayer walks and programs focused on curbing child abuse, domestic violence and street violence.

The Eastdale Village Community Church was among those taking part. Other churches include Stanley United, Hurst United, Wells Chapel and Randolph United.

Police officers are also participating in some of the community prayer walks, calling for a partnership between law enforcement and the community to fight crime.

“We want them to know we’re going to be here today and not gone tomorrow,” said Assistant Police Chief Tracy Arnold, who walked with the Eastdale group but not in uniform. “We’re a part of the community as well. Once we establish those relationships, we will get more collaborative efforts toward stopping this violence.”

The Eastdale congregation believes that praying and walking lets perpetrators and victims know that the church cares about the pain they have endured and that the church wants to help.

Some of the group walked this month carrying Bibles.

As they walked, they quoted scripture. Their walk was interspersed with specific prayer at crime hot spots and day care centers.

The group had gone only a block when deacons and parishioners from New St. Mary Primitive Baptist Church heard the group singing “Do Lord Remember Me,” and left their service to join in.

Passing a group of homes, Eastdale pastor Williams chanted: “There is power in the blood of Jesus to break every chain.”

The group stopped near Jordan Grocery, once the site of a number of shootings, Williams said.

“Not for name, show or fashion,” prayed Charles Smelley, pastor of Randolph United Methodist Church in South Pittsburg. “We’re doing it to make a difference. Heal this community. Bring peace into this place.”

Drivers honked their horns and flashed lights as they passed the walkers.

“Thank y’all,” called out one driver. Another driver pulled over and joined the walk.

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