Taking prayer to the streets
On a warm and sunny Saturday morning in Greater Des Moines, hard-working executives find a respite from the daily grind, whether on the golf course, along the bike trails or in their back yards.
Mike Schreurs, CEO of Strategic America, finds a similar joy on Saturday mornings, though his are spent walking the streets of one of Des Moines’ most troubled neighborhoods on a “prayer patrol” to reach those in need. The hour and a half spent walking, he said, is “one of the best times of the week.”
“The context in which to view prayer patrol is a very humble context,” he said. “You don’t walk in as a white suburbanite and say, ‘You need prayer, don’t you?’ You walk in as a humble representative of the church, the body of Christ. And every Saturday, we connect with people in ways that kind of astonish us.”
Schreurs founded Strategic America, originally known as Schreurs & Associates, 25 years ago in Waterloo. He later moved the company to Greater Des Moines and has seen it grow from a four-person to 75-person staff, with a variety of large and small clients across the country. He has served on boards for community organizations, and volunteered his time to non-profit groups in the city, such as Hope Ministries.
But when his daughter shared her experiences of traveling around the world as a volunteer with Mother Teresa’s hospice organization, Schreurs was inspired to take on a more challenging role as a community volunteer. He and his wife, Linda, a minister, began prayer patrol as a way to build relationships and share their faith with those in need.
“The thought behind it was that we love this city,” he said. “And this part of the city is probably more needy than most parts, though not necessarily from a moralistic standpoint. We didn’t start with the idea that we were going to do anything other than walk, make friends and communicate. But as we communicated, we discovered that people are just really open to prayer.”
In five years, the group has prayed with gang members, homeless people and prostitutes, as well as average residents in need of encouragement. Donning purple T-shirts with “Prayer Patrol” inscribed on the back, they have become recognizable in the neighborhood they traverse, which stretches west from Sixth Avenue to 23rd Street, between Hickman Road and University Avenue.
Schreurs and others in the group have no hidden agenda in their Saturday walks – and if they were out for personal glorification, he said, the people they work with would see right through it. The story, he said, is not about the members of the prayer patrol, but about “the faith that you have to share.”
“There have been situations where we have found people who have just arrived in town with no money or help, and we’ve been able to help them,” Schreurs said. “We were there when they needed somebody. Some of it’s spiritual and some of it’s practical.”
The response neighborhood residents has been far greater than he anticipated. Roughly nine out 10 people approached by patrol members are willing to pray with them. Schreurs anticipated that more than half would reject their overtures. Beyond that, the people they have prayed with often recognize them in the neighborhood and thank them for their efforts. And he has witnessed positive change in the neighborhood over the past five years, which he hopes is partially attributable to the prayer patrol’s efforts.
“That’s kind of what we’re all about,” he said.
Schreurs was further encouraged by a comment from one man who told the group, “I have not been to church in over 35 years. This is the first time church as come to me.”
Schreurs, who also hosts a weekly Bible study in his home along with his wife, has considered increasing the prayer patrol’s presence in Greater Des Moines, having seen the positive response and the positive effect it has had on his life.
“I always take out more than I ever put in,” he said.