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Meet the Man Up Prayer Warriors

July 28, 2020 by

They’ve been meeting every Thursday at 6:00 a.m. for the past fourteen years. Before COVID, they would stand in a close circle with their arms around each other. Now, wearing masks, they stand in a wider circle, six feet apart. But the practical details are unimportant; what matters is the spirit. Prayer requires no formality.

Man Up is a focused prayer walk with nearly a dozen faithful participants, men of all ages. Every week they meet at the same crossroads, and they walk the same route: a zigzagged path through the Polo Grounds Towers housing project, a historically violent neighborhood. At specific locations, they circle up, and multiple prayers are spoken. Each spot, I’ve been told, marks a place where someone has died from street violence. Every supplication is a plea for future peace.

I’ve joined three of these walks. The experience is unforgettable. Ten men from radically different backgrounds uniting in prayer is remarkable. In the projects of Harlem in New York, it is incredible!

Tony is the man who started it. He walked up to me the first day and greeted me warmly. He’s a middle-aged man: energetic, clean shaven, solidly built; wearing a respectful flannel jacket. He is a passionate leader. He delivers his prayers at top volume, utterly unselfconsciously. I’m not exaggerating when I say “top volume.” Most people, I imagine, would lose their voices after an hour of sustained shouting. Not Tony. He seems impervious to skeptical glances from passersby. He is intent on one thing only: his prayer.

men praying

Last week I asked him for some more history. I’m still marveling at some of the information he told me. Looking at me earnestly, he repeated the same thing several times: “The police commissioner called us all together after the first year, and told us that crime has gone down eighteen percent in this area. Eighteen percent!” He said it reverently. He said it as an affirmation of prayer’s effectiveness. 

Each attendee leads one or two prayers. Every prayer ends the same way. After a traditional, “in Jesus’ name, Amen,” Tony thunders, “in whose name?” Then everyone says it again: “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

It is up to us now, to align ourselves with God, and to show him our willingness to help.Tony’s aging mother lives in an upper story in one of the projects. Each time I’ve attended, he has shared a prayer with her over speaker phone. He always introduces us the same way: “Ma,” he tells her, “the warriors for Christ is out!” Last week, he said even more: “Ma, the soldiers and the soldierettes for Christ is out on the street. We is lined up to salute God.” I couldn’t hear her responses, but I could imagine her enthusiasm. At ninety-seven years old, her time on earth is limited. Tony seems determined to make every last minute of her life worthwhile.

Pedestrians are quite reverent. Some of them slow down and place their hands on their hearts. Others stop and join us. Now especially, it seems people are more receptive to prayer. In an international pandemic like this, a supernatural force seems the only light at the end of the tunnel. Human efforts are inadequate. It is up to us now, to align ourselves with God, and to show him our willingness to help.

The guys at Man Up have already aligned themselves. They are a faithful militia for Christ, a group of warriors who will hesitate at nothing. They are ready for battle.

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Donald Boller

Donald lives in the Bruderhof house in Harlem, New York.

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