By Cheryl Sacks
How my friends Hal and Cheryl Sacks are leading a prayer movement that’s transforming Arizona—from our public schools to the Mexican border
When Hal and I married and moved to Phoenix, we began to gather pastors to pray together and to call their congregations to pray for our cities. I believed the principles that I had learned about changing the spiritual climate of the high school in Texas, where I taught and prayed, would work in any situation, including an entire community.
But we struggled to get pastors to work and pray together and not everyone was thrilled we had come to town. In the end, though, God helped us. Our monthly pastors’ luncheons swelled to as many as five hundred. Hal led pastors’ prayer summits across the nation. And we rolled up our sleeves to work alongside pastors in their churches to train their congregations to pray effectively and with power.
But pastors kept telling us that the prayer ministries in their churches were either nonexistent or floundering. They needed more trained prayer leaders. In addition, prayer initiatives in our city were few and disconnected. So we started PrayerQuake to unite the churches in prayer and to train pastors, prayer leaders, and intercessors.
Still Hal and I were troubled. Every time we drove by an abortion clinic, heard about another crime, or another student overdosing on drugs, we were reminded that the ministry of intercession was needed not just inside the church but out in our community. We knew we were powerless without God’s help, and we called out to him for answers.
Our Schools in Crisis
One day in 2011 four young men showed up at our office. They were deeply concerned about the conditions of our Arizona schools.
I’m sorry to say that even though I’m a former school teacher, I had no idea about the condition of Arizona’s schools until these young men came to us. I didn’t know that, in some schools, 90 percent of students are on the free lunch program, or that teachers give out canned goods every Friday so the students will have food to eat over the weekend.
I didn’t know that teachers used their own money to take the girls out to buy underwear. I didn’t know that right across from Central High School, there is a homeless shelter where a number of students live. Some schools can’t afford to hire an adequate number of teachers and their buildings and facilities are in serious need of repair.
What I learned is that Arizona schools are in crisis. Arizona has the highest number of high school dropouts in the nation! And dropouts are eight times more likely to be imprisoned than those who graduate from high school. Statistics show that as dropout rates increase, so does crime, including violent crime and murders.
Arizona is ranked LAST on the nation’s Best Educated Index. In a competitive, hi-tech, global economy, this is a crushing handicap for Arizona. It affects our ability to attract businesses to the state that want to hire a well-educated workforce and stunts our economic growth.
The Arizona teen suicide rate is epidemic and is a leading cause of death among teens. It’s heartbreaking to know that students are taking their own lives by throwing themselves in front of trains, overdosing on drugs, or hanging themselves, just to end the pain and hopelessness of their lives.
So when these four young men, Mike, Matt, Jon, and Keith asked us if we would help them with an initiative to pray inside the schools of Arizona, I knew it was a God-assignment! These young men had all heard from the Lord the same thing I had heard many years before when I was a public high school teacher in Texas: “Invite My transforming Presence to the schools.”
So we mentored this young team and provided project management, administrative support, office space, financial oversight, and prayer covering. Together we began to implement the plan these young leaders had brought to us.
We began by meeting with the principals of targeted schools to ask them how we could pray for their schools. We sat in their office and asked them, “What is the biggest problem your school faces?” I remember how some broke down in tears. Principal after principal told us, “That’s an easy question to answer: “There’s no hope here.”
We knew God wanted to change this!So we rented eleven school auditoriums and prayed and worshipped for 26 non-stop hours in each over the course of eleven weeks. I’ll be the first to admit that this was both a stretch and a struggle, stepping out in faith to rent auditoriums and laboring in prayer all night long for eleven straight weekends!
We repented on behalf of the Christian community for turning a blind eye to needs of the schools. We lifted critical needs before the Lord: food for the students, more teachers, money for repairs of the buildings, sports equipment, test scores, dropout numbers. In the midnight hours we worshipped and contended against the spirit of suicide, depression, and despair.
And then the reports started rolling in. At Mingus High in Cottonwood, as many as three students a month were overdosing on drugs, students were struggling academically and the school ranked as one of the lowest academically in the state.
Following our twenty-six hours of prayer, the police came in and conducted a routine search for drugs. For the first time ever, they found nothing! Three months later, still no drugs. And we’re so grateful to the Lord that in two years, there have been no more overdoses! Now the school is in the top 25% academically in the state and proudly bears a banner over the front door.
The principal, who had not been enthusiastic about prayer on her campus, afterwards told our team, “I still don’t believe in prayer. But I know results when I see them. I’d write a letter to any principal in Arizona recommending that you pray in their school.”
At Central High School in Phoenix, shortly after we started praying for the school’s needs, the Arizona Cardinals responded to the needs of the school and donated cleats, jerseys, pads, and other gear.
NBA Cares heard about the school’s plight and provided $150,000 worth of furnishings, extensive landscaping, general maintenance, including refurbishing the school’s sports fields. Phoenix Suns Charities came to fix up the campus and gave the principal a check for $200,000 to hire additional teachers. At other schools where we prayed specifically about finances, they received prestigious grants, in one case a large surprise grant for which they had not even applied!
There were churches right next door to these schools, yet they had no idea what was going on inside those walls. God had to open our eyes. But stories of what God was doing in the schools opened the eyes of many Christian leaders.
Now churches are getting involved to adopt schools in prayer and practical service everywhere across the state. For example, a woman at one of our prayer meetings was touched by God to start a program to give students back packs to take home every Friday—backpacks filled with food. And a growing number of churches are providing mentors and tutors.
We’ve solicited donations directly for Peoria High School and we took the vice principal shopping to buy sweatshirts, underwear, and socks for the students. Nearby churches supplied school supplies and toiletries. Central High School recently reported no fights on campus. In another school, a teacher told us, “The entire atmosphere of our school has changed.”
One of our biggest prayer targets is for improvements in the dropout rate in our state, because this directly impacts our crime rate and our economy as I shared earlier. We know there is so much more God wants to do in Arizona’s schools!
War on the Mexican Border
One day we received a letter from the pastors of Mexicali asking for our help. Murders including mass beheadings and violent crime were increasing on our Southwest border. These pastors wanted us to partner with them to building a wall along the border, not of brick and barbed wire, but of prayer!
It can be overwhelming sometimes to watch the news, and we can often feel powerless to change things like sex and drug trafficking, kidnapping, and violence. Too often, the sheer magnitude of the problems we face paralyzes us—and we start to accept the way things are. But God wants us to always remember the overriding power of heaven and what happens when we invite him into a situation.
On July 4, 2008, we met at the border of Tijuana and San Diego. Christians from both nations joined hands at the fence to pray for an end of the violence. The prayers we prayed were simple, “Lord, we invite your presence to the border. According to Matt. 10:26, we declare there is nothing that is covered that will not be revealed—and we pray that the hidden things will be made known. Lord, bring to light all criminal activity that’s cloaked in darkness.”
God answered our simple prayers in a dramatic way! Two days later a major drug cartel leader was arrested!
We pressed on. In 2009 Hal led a prayer journey along the two thousand-mile border from Tijuana south of San Diego in the west to Brownsville, Texas, in the east. During the day we met with border patrol and government leaders. Nights we held prayer rallies in the local churches.
Soon afterwards, we launched “Arizona 10K,” an effort to raise up ten thousand intercessors, to train and equip them, and to keep Arizona Christians informed about how to pray over the critical issues facing our state, the Southwest border and the nation. As we’ve prayed, we’ve seen amazing things happen. Of the thirty-eight Most Wanted cartel leaders, twenty-six have been arrested or killed. In the last three months, three more top cartel leaders we were praying about were either killed or captured.
Perhaps most notably, after a recent 21-day prayer initiative last summer to end violence on the border, murders dropped so dramatically in Juarez and in Mexico that President Calderon invited Hal and me to Mexico City to meet with him and his cabinet, where he told us, “Please keep praying, because your prayers are working!”
What does this tell us, when the president of a nation acknowledges before his cabinet that prayer works and asks us to continue to pray? When school principals, teachers, law enforcement officers, legislators, pastors, and business executives all say the same thing—and ask for prayer to be ongoing? It shows us that prayer is making a tangible difference in their lives and that it is impacting society in ways nothing else can!
What would happen if the Church really believed change is possible–and did something about it? What if we believed that, spiritually speaking, everywhere the soles of our feet walk would be transformed by the Lordship of Christ? That everyplace we go, we carry His presence and power? What would happen if we invited the transforming presence of the Lord into every area of our daily lives, into every location we travel to and every sphere we touch?
We, the people of God, could start a movement―a movement inviting God’s power and presence to change our families, schools, businesses, government, cities and nations.
To follow Hal and Cheryl’s ministry—and to engage in nation changing prayer, visit their website: www.bridgebuilders.net.