Scotland County Christians are reaching across racial and denominational barriers to try to save their shared community.
“Laurinburg and Scotland County have a lot of challenges,” said the Rev. Michael Edds, pastor of East Laurinburg Pentecostal Holiness Church. “We have a high crime rate and the highest unemployment in the state. We have a lot of gangs, we have a lot of poverty, we have a lot of drugs. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the government’s fault, it’s not the police or the sheriff’s department’s fault - it’s the churches’ fault.”
On Wednesday, Edds led the second installment of “Prayer on the Square,” a prayer group meeting on Wednesdays at noon at the corner of Church and Main streets in Laurinburg. Both meetings have attracted some 30 people, all of whom share a common goal: to combat Laurinburg’s culture of drugs and crime through prayer.
“In the last 10 years there have been 51 murders,” said Ruthann Ammons. “In a county of 30,000, that’s a lot, and it’s young people. We want our community turned around. These kids are just going to hell with the drugs and the violence. There have been too many kids shot and the churches have got to step up and turn it around.”
The meetings address the common problems that plague Scotland County rather than religious or political differences.
“We’re committed to coming out here and praying for our community as a group of all races and all denominations,” Edds said. “We’re not going to fight any politics; we’re here to pray.”
“It’s not about what denomination, what color you are or what church you go to, it’s just a collective group of people,” Steph Smith added. “God has really been blessing us to get together to change the city, but from a prayer standpoint first. God has some work that he wants us to do, and we’ve been a little slack on it.”
Many believe that it is time for them to step outside of the familiar walls of their own churches in order to make change in the community.
“It’s time for God’s people to stop playing church and start being the church,” said Laura Sanders. “We are, no matter what denomination, the body of Christ.”
“God did not save Daniel from the lion’s den, he saved him in it,” said Robert Currie. “He did not save the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace, he saved them in the fiery furnace. We have to take action. God parted the waters and the children of Israel walked across the dry land. God didn’t pick them up and float them across it. We have to put out an effort.”
The group is open to all who wish to join in, and will meet every Wednesday at noon at the park on the James lot across from First United Methodist Church.
“If it rains, shines, or snows, we’re going to be here every Wednesday,” said Edds.
Edds hopes that a shift away from the flawed and divisive behaviors sometimes practiced within the Christian community will in turn bring improvements in Scotland County at large.
“We’ve focused on what divides us, and denominational splits, and all of these silly issues,” he said. “It’s time that stuff ends. God said that if we’ll repent and turn from our wicked ways, He would hear us from heaven and heal our land. The healing of this county and this city and these communities is us praying and calling on God to come down. We’re praying for a great awakening in this town.”
Some know firsthand the difficulties of escaping a criminal lifestyle, and wish to help others by showing them how to live a Christian lifestyle.
“Everything that I prayed for, God has given to me, and he’s going to put me to work on the streets,” said Eddie Howard. “I used to be a street rambler - I must have been on drugs for 15 years or more and God saved me. I want to let them know that they can change their lives and things can turn around for the good.”
The group embraces a “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy, and prays that the lives of criminals can be changed to the benefit of all.
“We’re taking our community back,” said Edds. “Get saved or get busted is what we’re going to tell these gangs. It’s not us, it’s God that we’ve invited to take over the town and the county. We love people. We love the gangs, we love the drug dealers, we love all of these people - we love their souls, but they’re going to stop the crime because we’ve had enough.”
Group members say that meetings will continue until the community is satisfactorily transformed, but in the short term, progress is measured one person at a time.
“If all of this was just for one person to get saved, it was all worth it,” said Matthew Sanders.