In August of 2018, 7 adults & three kids who hail from Portland, OR; Kansas City, MO; Milwaukee, WI; & Philadelphia, PA headed to the small towns of Alton, IL & Ferguson, MO for a 24-7 Prayer missions trip. Initially, I was drawn to this trip because of the incidents that had happened just four years prior in Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer. That tragic event sparked a shift in America, as racial tensions began to erupt all over our nation. All seven of us approached our time in these two cities with a heart to listen both to people and to God, yearning to know what His heart was for this specific region and the impact it has on our country as well.
We spent much of our time in Alton, IL, exploring the deep & rich history of the area. Alton sits across the Mississippi River, & was the access point for the Underground Railroad, which allowed slaves to escape from Missouri, a slave state. We listened to the stories about Elijah Lovejoy, an journalist from Alton who eventually became a martyr for the abolitionist movement & the first known casualty of the Civil War. We traveled to the wealthiest neighborhoods & the poorest neighborhoods, learning how race impacts everything from the housing market to a young black man’s ability to go on an evening jog on certain roads.
Long before slaves inhabited these lands, it was a gathering place for Native Americans, some who settled in this area. We visited Cahokia Mounds, which currently covers 2200 acres or 3.5 square miles, but it is estimated that it extended over 6 square miles in its heyday. This archaeological site is to North America, what Chichen Itza is to Mexico or Machu Picchu in Peru. The history in this area is dense & rich and provided much fodder for prayer.
While in Ferguson, we met with Johnathan Tremaine (JT) Thomas, the founder of Civil Righteousness, a movement that pursues the healing of racial discord in America. He took us on a historical tour in six hours, that felt like a ride on the Magic School Bus. We visited the grave of Dred and Harriet Scott, two slaves who had been freed but were later re-enslaved by the Emerson family. In a case that traveled to the Supreme Court, the Scotts were ultimately denied their freedom, along with their humanity, in the court’s ruling. The impact of this decision is felt to this day across America. JT drove us to the location of Brown’s shooting & ultimate demise, as he told us the events from that day. For me, one of the most shocking things I realized as we traveled through the city, was how much Ferguson was like my hometown. The media had portrayed it as a violent ghetto, but in fact Ferguson is not that at all. There are parts of St. Louis in which drugs, crime & violence are much more prevalent than they are in Ferguson.
Thomas told us stories where God miraculously intervened amid riots during the aftermath of the Brown shooting & gave us hope for how reconciliation may take place with a foundation in prayer. At the end of the day, we went to pray in an open-air pavilion nestled right next to the St. Louis Walk of Fame. There, where we were praying, purely by coincidence, was a star honoring Dred and Harriet Scott. In the evenings, after our hearts & heads were full of historical prayer points, we connected with a beautiful community that is beginning to form in Alton, led by Hugh Halter & family.
God is divinely calling people from all walks of life to become part of the family who will be a distinct voice & tangible expression of the Kingdom of God in Alton. Their base of operations is this old post office retro fitted to be a gorgeous coffee shop called Post Commons. Their heart is to embrace the history of Alton as freedom fighters & abolitionists, & to partner with others like Johnathan Tremaine in Ferguson, for future times of worship, prayer & action that will bring healing to our land. Our team brought teaching, encouragement & personal ministry to this community as both of our groups were blessed through the newly formed relationships that will continue to build long after this summer visit is past.
In 2 Chronicles 16:9, it says, “For the eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”. I believe that He has found an amazing group in Alton, IL & in Ferguson, MO and His desire is to strengthen their hearts as they pursue unity in this season. Please continue to pray with us for our new friends & all the Lord will do here, in the heart of our nation, in the days to come.
Written by Jill Hurley