Praying for healing amid virus surge, churchgoers drive around courthouse in ‘Jericho March’

EDINBURG — A crying out for God’s grace to sweep the region came both by car horns and trumpet blasts from ram shofars here on Sunday.

Congregates of the River of Life Fellowship Church in McAllen gathered at the church’s parking lot Sunday, filling the air with the sounds of declarations of hope and healing for the Rio Grande Valley, as the region continues to face a COVID-19 surge.

While remaining inside their cars, the church’s congregates declared that the faith of residents across the Valley would not be shaken by the pandemic — that God’s peace and love would wrap around the region and that healing would wash over the community.

After prayer at the parking lot, the group of about a dozen motorists then commuted to the Hidalgo County Courthouse in Edinburg for a Jericho March, and around the building seven times — a prophetic gesture to the story in the Bible of the Battle of Jericho, in which a victory was claimed when faith was cast out by doubt.

In the story of the Battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua, an army of Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for six days, a battle strategy instructed by God to disciple and war leader Joshua.

On the seventh day of marching, after making seven rounds, they blew their trumpets. Priests blew their ram’s horns. The army let out great shouts, and the city’s walls fell: a victory for the faithful.

“The same power that the Israelites had on the seventh day, that is what we are declaring over the Valley’s battle against fear of the coronavirus,” Lalain Gonzalez, the church’s prayer pastor, said.

Speakers were placed near the entrance of the church, so attendees could hear from their cars.

Bobby Dizon, the church’s lead pastor, said he wanted to facilitate that same victory for the Valley.

“The purpose of what we are doing, and the purpose of prayer, is to put God at the center of this place,” he said. “We want God to be the center, and in full control of the RIo Grande Valley… Prayer is needed in the Valley right now. When you pray, you are pulling God’s kingdom from heaven down to earth.”

Dizon dropped to his knees as he led the group in a prayer of tongues, attendees honked their cars’ horns, as a way to agree and say “Amen.” Car windows were rolled down and hands were stretched out. Some children were extending their hands, too.

While members drove around the Hidalgo County Courthouse, they were given a list of specific “walls” to declare to fall for each round.

During the first round, they declared that the “wall of greed” be taken down, and declared generosity over the Valley. The next walls included envy, wrath, complacency, gluttony, lust and pride.

Cars had passages from the Bible written on the windows, declaring and praying for healing and faith.

“We chose to drive around the courthouse because we believe that the government is the heart of our city, and we need to pray for them first,” Carmel Dizon, Bobby’s wife and the church’s lead worship leader, said.

She added that although she does pray the pandemic ends, praying for residents of the Valley to lean on faith is a means of attacking the source of the problem.

“Praying for the virus to go away is like putting a Band-Aid on a really bad wound; praying that the souls of the Valley accept God and believe that he is good is healing the whole body’s system,” Carmel said, who is also the risk management coordinator at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg.

Before heading to the courthouse, Carmel, Gonzalez and College Pastor Bethany Tyson blew shofar horns, which Bobby said was used during biblical times to signify that a battle has been won.

“We are declaring victory for the kingdom of the Lord, a victory for the region, a victory for all the healthcare systems in the Valley,” he shouted.

After the vehicle march, they returned back to the church for communion, to “seal” everything that was declared that day, Bobby, who also works at Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic, explained.

First, congregates raised the small wafers that signified the body of Christ outside of their car windows, then small cups of grape juice, representing Jesus’ blood, followed.

After the service, College Pastor Boon Tyson said that as the region continues to face the fear that the pandemic has brought to the region, this is the beginning of the church’s efforts to actively instill hope in the community.

“This is the start of people being more proactive instead of reactive,” he said. “The Bible is clear… we have not been given the spirit of fear, but of love and power and a sound mind. Those are things that people have been living out. We have not been living out in power and love and of a sound mind. But my hope is that it starts today.”

His wife, Bethany Tyson, said for her, the shouts of people and blares of the shofar signified that the Valley is waking up.

“The shofar was used to communicate during war in the Bible, and today, it was more of a ‘Hey, we are awake,’” she said. “I think that we have been in a bit of a slumber in the Valley, but today was the awakening. We are going to be aggressive, and we are going to be world changers.”

It’s been months since the church has been able to hold a regular service in their sanctuary; as social distancing protocols have discouraged large gatherings, the church has been hosting services on Facebook Live since March.

A season has passed since that parking lot has been full, but on Sunday, the air was filled with calls for God to enter the hearts of people, and for faith and restoration to manifest in the region.

The church has plans to make several more “Jericho Marches” at different institutions in the Valley, aiming for local hospitals for the coming weeks.