Insight Church Pastor James E. Ward Jr. says he is on a mission to bring racial healing to the nation and “God’s blessing to black America” through 40 Days of Humility, Prayer, and Fasting. And he’s hoping America will join him.
The Skokie, Illinois, preacher recently catapulted to the national stage through his connection to Julia Jackson, one of his most devout parishioners and mother of 29-year-old Wisconsin father Jacob S. Blake, who was shot multiple times by a police officer in Kenosha on Aug. 23. Blake is currently "in a spinal injury rehabilitation center in Chicago."
His shooting was one of several primarily deadly encounters between black men and local law enforcement that sparked civil unrest over racial justice and inequality since the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis Police Department officers in May.
“The issue that we see in society surrounding race, the protest, the rioting, those things communicate to us that there is a serious problem in our nation and unfortunately in most cases we are not … equipped to solve the problem that we know needs to be solved,” Ward told The Christian Post in an interview Friday.
He is convinced that when it comes to race, America is wrestling with a deep-rooted spiritual problem that must be addressed with a spiritual response. And that’s why he launched the national spiritual prayer movement on Sept. 25 that will culminate with a livestreamed prayer for the nation on Nov. 2 from Washington, D.C.
“40 Days asks all Americans to fervently pray and fast before God for racial harmony and healing in America prior to the national presidential election,” the movement said in a statement to CP.
The group has also launched an initiative called the Zero Victim Community Development Corporation, which was “prayerfully designed to restore and strengthen black lives and families across our country.”
“Part of the expression of our prayer is prayer with action and this new Zero Victim Development Corporation is us engaging to act on behalf of what we believe, and really beginning to target how to bring God’s blessing to black America,” Ward said.
Even in a socially disruptive election year when Christians remain deeply divided on issues of race and politics, Ward is convinced that if people are able to humble themselves in prayer, America can fix its race problem.
“I’m very much aware of the disparity of folks looking at what I call a singular issue through multiple lenses. And that’s basically what you see happening in society where it’s individuals looking at the same bottle. One person is looking at the logo on the front side and the other person is looking at the nutrition label on the backside,” explained Ward.
“The exact reason we are calling ourselves to 40 days of humility, prayer and fasting, not just prayer and fasting, 40 days of humility, prayer and fasting, [is] because there’s a brokenness that we have to have. We have to check our opinions, our own sentiments, self-serving ideologies, identifying selfishness in our own life. It begins with humility and when I start with humility it means I’m willing to give up and enter into surrendering into something deeper through the avenue of prayer and fasting."
Blake was shot seven times in the back by officer Rusten Sheskey on Aug. 23. The Wisconsin Department of Justice said that a woman called 911 to report that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be at the residence. According to audio dispatch obtained by Madison365, Blake had taken the woman's keys and refused to leave.
When officers arrived at the scene, they encountered Blake, who resisted arrest. They unsuccessfully tried to subdue him with a Taser and Blake then walked around to his vehicle at the scene with armed police officers pointing their guns at his back, according to video posted on social media. Blake opened the driver’s side door of his vehicle and leaned forward. While holding onto Blake’s shirt, the Wisconsin DOJ said Sheskey fired his service weapon.
Blake's family said the shooting has left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Wisconsin DOJ officials said Blake "admitted that he had a knife in his possession." It was recovered on the floorboard of the driver's side of the vehicle.
Brendan Matthews, the attorney representing Sheskey, told CNN that the officer fired the shots because he believed Blake was trying to kidnap a child as he heard a woman say, "He's got my kid. He's got my keys."
There were three children in the back of the car at the time of the shooting.
In an op-ed for The New York Times Thursday, Jacob Blake’s uncle, Rick Blake, described the invisible toll of the shooting on his family, including his brother Jacob Blake Sr., affectionately called “Big Jake.”
“Our story is different from those of many families whose lives have been devastated by police brutality — our Li’l Jake survived. But in mostly every other way, the experience is similar. When the cameras stop rolling, the lights fade and public attention turns away, we’re left with our pain and we return to the battle against racism and for justice and reform,” Rick Blake wrote.
Rick Blake described how his brother, who suffers from diabetes, heart disease and chronic neuropathy, was forced to venture out during the pandemic from his home to support his son in the hospital and how he paid dearly for it with his health.
“The toll on my brother has gone largely unnoticed — except, of course, by members of our family. One night, he sat in the dark on a rock next to the hotel where he was staying, so sick and tired he couldn’t move, his hand swollen to the size of a catcher’s mitt from gout. By chance, the director of the hospital where Li’l Jake was being treated found him and he was taken to the emergency room for treatment,” he explained.
When asked about the Blake family’s revelation, Ward replied: “I think for those of us who have never been through something like this, there is no way to imagine what it feels like.”
Julia Jackson has been leaning on her faith while continuing to support her son’s recovery.
“I know it has to be one of the hardest things that Julia has every dealt with and she’s constantly in need, and I would say Jacob too, of prayer and I think that’s one of the roles that her church family plays for her. Having a church family, having a prayer team that she’s a part of, she has a core group of people around her that are there to encourage her spiritually, emotionally and mentally,” Ward said.
He argued that when shootings like Blake’s occur, people can sometime lose sight of the human toll they bring when they are criticized and politicized in the court of public opinion.
“There are so many negatives things spoken around these situations and publicly I don’t think we always give families the space that they need to grieve,” Ward said.
And it’s one of the reasons he believes a new prayer movement is needed now more than ever.
“It’s the people of America that need to change and when the people of America change, America will change and that’s the beginning of what we are calling for right now,” he said.