First came the bullets, then the blessings.
At the Palms apartment complex on East Houston Street where two young boys were shot on Tuesday night, people are taking their faith out into the mean streets. They are prayer warriors who say that they're prepared for a fight.
In a simple circle, the faithful from the City of God Church gathered for a blessing by minister Jondavid De Leon.
"We ask you to lead us by your spirit. Let everyone have an open heart. Continue to lead them and speak to them, Lord," De Leon prayed.
Their plea is that a higher power will be able to accomplish what has been impossible up until now, peace in a place of continuing violence.
De Leon said that his most fervent hope is that the Palms will no longer be in the news for bad things, but transformed into a community where great things happen.
De Leon’s church group has been in the trenches in the community for four years, offering love in the face of hate. Going door-to-door and praying with anyone who agreed, De Leon encountered a young boy who has been participating in the group’s outreach activities for years.
Squealing with delight and running for a bear hug, the young boy exclaimed “Jondavid, where you been? A bullet went through my house!”
Exasperated but empowered, De Leon said that this kind of exchange after the latest violence is discouraging, but not the end of their battle.
Neighbors who live in fear say that they welcome this sign of hope.
“I'm sick. I'm old. I can't dodge no bullets. So we all need to join forces and get someone out here," said Palms resident Karen Easley, who was home during Tuesday’s gun battle and was very nearly caught in the crossfire as she attempted to take out her trash. “I live upstairs and I'm scared to come downstairs to bring my trash now. As soon as I stepped out, that's when it took place. All the bullets and the shots and everything, there must have had about 25 shots."
De Leon says that efforts like this are a force for good that is growing.
On Friday night, this small group will join with others and use music, food, fun, and faith at a rally in the gang-infested Wheatley Heights area.
They say that everyone is invited to the “Pray 4 My Hood” event at the Wheatley Heights Sports Complex at 746 Morningview from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday.
They call the gathering a night of worship and healing, bringing peace and hope to the area. The flyer for the event promises a free kids fun zone with games and activities, that will be followed with speakers delivering a message of promise.