Prayer Zone Prompts Intercession
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After all, if cars slow down for school zones, why not offer a place to stop and pray in a church parking lot?
Templo Emanuel pastor Dino Espinoza has created two-foot-by-six-foot “prayer zone” banners that invite whoever will to slow down or pull over and call on Jesus, all within the shelter-in-place of their own automobiles. The banners now hang at Templo Emanuel and other congregations in the community of Crystal City, population 8,600. Additionally, he’s shipped banners to other churches within the Texas Gulf Hispanic District.
COVID-19 has gripped the globe, even areas far from urban hotspots. In early July, Crystal City, 130 miles southwest of San Antonio, had 43 active cases and a 10 p.m. curfew aimed at stopping gatherings that may spread the coronavirus. Emanuel is this community’s largest evangelical church with a pre-COVID average attendance of 225, six of whom are quarantined. One Templo Emanuel congregant has died of the virus. Templo Emanuel held services online only between March 22 and May 17, then both in-person and online until July, when worship went back online only.
The prayer zones idea came in May when Espinoza, 71, general presbyter of the Texas Gulf Hispanic District, wrote his regular column for the town’s weekly newspaper about driving past an empty school.
“We don’t need school zones when schools are closed, but what about designating prayer zones?” he wrote. “Every sanctuary in town has a front entrance or close parking area that could be a special prayer zone.”
Within short order, giant yellow and black vinyl banners went up at Templo Emanuel’s two properties. And as Espinoza began to see cars pull over and occupants pray, he recognized residents who didn’t attend his own congregation.
He has noticed activity at all hours at the church’s prayer zone, adding that the Holy Spirit has impressed on him that Templo Emanuel must be visible and he should pray in front of the signs every morning.
In addition, he says, the church must be available — even when the cost of stopping this killer disease has, for a season, shuttered the physical sanctuary. Recently a resident told Espinoza that she thanks God for him as she knows he's praying for the community that he loves.
Espinoza shared the prayer zones idea with other ministers, who eagerly implemented it in their own communities. One who received a prayer zone banner was Nancy Rocha Sanchez, who pastors Elim Assembly of God in Brackettville, population 1,700, about 130 miles west of San Antonio. Last September, women there began Friday intercessory prayer for Brackettville. Sanchez, who also presides over her town’s interdenominational alliance, placed a sign in front of the church of 55 congregants.
The idea is catching on. Sanchez presented it to the alliance leadership, which supported placing prayer zone signs throughout Brackettville.
“We need this,” she says. “We’re going through troubled times, and the only answer is prayer. It’s easy for everybody to do. You don't have to take much time. Stop and pray.”