Motor City Left Running on Faith and Prayer

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DETROIT, Mich. -- Late last year, the federal government awarded Detroit enough money to help 3,500 families who couldn't afford to pay their rent or utility bills.

But when 10 times that many people packed Cobo Hall to apply for the help, scuffles erupted inside.

The chaos was just the latest sign these are desperate times in Detroit and the desperation has government leaders turning to God for answers.

Changing Times in Motown

Next to the automobile, music and Motown are what made Detroit famous in the 1950s and 1960s. The reputation "reeled-in" new residents who often arrived from the segregated South in search of a better life.

"I was brought here from Alabama at the age of 11-months-old, raised in the public school system," said legendary Motown recording artist Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. "I am a good product because I had good teachers."

The singer is now a Detroit city councilwoman. She pays tribute to "the good old days" on the walls of her office at City Hall. The city is not like the one she remembers from her days at Hitsville USA which is celebrating its 50th anniversary all year long.

"Detroit is a city suffering from a lapse of population," Reeves said. "People left here as if it were on fire."

Motor City Stalls

Internal Revenue Service figures show 63,000 families left the Metro Detroit area in 2007. But that is not the only troubling city statistic rolling from the Motor City.

Detroit is the murder capital of the United States, with more murders in 2009 than New York City, a city with nearly 10 times its population.

Detroit's unemployment has also climbed to its highest on record, 28.9 percent - nearly three out of every 10 residents.

"There is a decline in our auto sales, but 50 percent of the cars on the street are foreign. So there is a lot of things we need to take note of," Councilwoman Reeves said.

The American automotive industry once fueled Detroit's economy. Financial analysts now point to the industry's struggles for the city's fast and furious decline.

But Reeves believes the problem runs deeper. In her heart, she feels Detroit is a city of people who lost faith when they began to lose their jobs. Still, she says the faith "is coming back."

"We know that we have gone through hard times, and the crime rate is up," she said. "But He can heal all things. And the more we spread the word, the better the city will be."

God & Government Come Together

In tough times, God and government are coming together in unique ways in metro Detroit.

Warren, Mich. is just outside the city limits. These days, inside the lobby of the Warren Town Hall, there is prayer station where Christian volunteers wait to pray with anyone in need.

"Even with all the churches that are in the city, no one wanted to hear about God until these things began to happen," said Gerald Echols, one of the Detroit area pastors who organizes the prayer stations.

Organizers and volunteers have prayed with more than a thousand people in eight months. The prayer station also has the strong support from Warren's mayor James Fouts.

The prayer station at Warren Town Hall was inspired by prayer stations that popped up in New York City, following the events of Sept. 11.

"I have had a good response," Fouts said. "Most people think a prayer station is needed, especially in stressful times."

Answered Prayer

Bob Adams, 53, is glad the station was there when he needed it. The former stand-up comedian, radio announcer, insurance salesman, and waiter lost his job more than a year ago.

He was also homeless and about to lose his unemployment benefits of $400 every two weeks when he stopped by for prayer at the Warren Town Hall.

"Literally, two days later, whatever the problem was, whatever computer it was somewhere in Lansing, my check was issued the next day. And I looked up and said that is the power of the Lord," Adams said.

Adams is still looking for work, but he is no longer homeless. Volunteers at the prayer station helped him secure an apartment he shares with two roommates.

"I keep praying that I get the strength every day I get up to say 'today is another day' because you don't know when God's miracles are going to happen," he said.

The prayer station idea is spreading. Young volunteers now staff a station in Northwest Detroit. And it's a sacrifice for them since they are also among the more than 113,000 people in the city looking for work.

But there is also someone praying for them back at Detroit City Hall - Martha Reeves.

"I have since 1977 studied and found out that anything you want, all you have to do is ask for it, if you have a one-on-one relationship with Jesus," Reeves said. "If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, he will give a you a miracle at a moment."

At 68, Reeves' term on Detroit City Council is soon to end. She will not run again, but the Motown legend will always carry a song in her heart for her city.

*Originally published October 27, 2009 

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.