Ellen Marie Laitinen teaches and preaches, but not necessarily in that order. She teaches at Frost Elementary/Indigo Program, and she serves as a geographic elder/pastor at Gateway City Church in San Jose.
In Hollister, she is launching the local version of a national prayer initiative called Adopt-A-Cop to address the “divide between law enforcement and the people of the communities they are meant to serve.”
“Adopt-A-Cop is a way to combat the wave of violence that’s been going on nationwide,” she said. “It actually comes from an older concept that used to be more of a focus on ‘lighthouses of prayer,’ back in the 90s that consisted of people willing to pray for their neighborhoods. What I’m doing is taking the point for the Adopt-A-Cop ministry in this area.”
The program, Laitinen said, is spreading nationwide through Harvest Evangelism. Dr. Ed Silvoso, president and founder of Harvest Evangelism and the International Transformation Network, launched the program that focuses on faith. According to a Sept. 5 Fox News report, the program has already been adopted by the San Jose Police Department. Dr. Silvoso said the program’s goal is to have every police officer and neighborhood adopted in prayer in order to “change the spiritual climate over the whole region.”
When asked if such a program would work in other cities, like Ferguson, Missouri, Silvoso responded: “Absolutely, because right now when you say police it’s faceless. It’s nameless. When you adopt a block now there’s a name. There is a face there. You’re not dealing with the police. You’re dealing with the officers that are there. It will not only narrow the gap, it will, hopefully, eliminate the gap.”
“We’re specifically targeting not only praying for your neighborhood, but also for our law enforcement,” Laitinen said. “That’s a very strong felt need in our nation as we see an increase in violence. We’re hearing about shootings all the time. It’s on people’s hearts.”
The mission of the program, according to the Transform Our World pamphlet, is, “for Christian congregations and individuals to Adopt-A-Cop in prayer to create a climate of peace and honor toward God and man.”
“It’s the faith-based stepping up and having an influence within the city and bringing the message of the Gospel,” Laitinen said.
She said that while some may be skeptical, opinions are changing as people hear testimonials from places the program has worked. She said Ciudad Juárez, Mexico is an example of where she believes prayer brought significant change.
“Ciudad Juárez was the murder capital of the world,” she said. “I was there on a prayer journey in 2011. We were praying on the El Paso side because Juárez was just too dangerous to go into. There was a man named, Pancho Murguia, who is connected with Harvest Evangelism. He wanted to make a difference in what was happening in the city. He was the pastor of one of the largest churches in Juárez.”
According to Laitinen, Murguia asked God what he was supposed to do. He said God spoke to him and told him to give up his church and congregation and pitch a tent in the middle of town and to pray. He fasted and prayed for 21 days.
“Then he felt they needed to go to El Cereso Prison,” she said. “He had a very simple strategy. He found out the birthdays of every man in the prison and basically celebrated their birthdays. The men broke down crying and received the Lord. They saw a revival break out in the prison.”
Laitinen said the movement continued as the city was blanketed with prayers.
“As they did that they began to see a tangible change,” she said. “The mayor and other city officials got involved and through that whole process they have seen crime in that city drop 90 percent. It has become the third safest city in Mexico."
Whether it was through prayers or a clean-up of law enforcement or a combination of the two, her observation appears to bear out through recent reports, including an April 21 CNN story that stated: “More than 3,000 people were killed in the city just four years ago, but so far this year there have been 89 killings.”
In Hollister, Laitinen approached Sheriff Darren Thompson and Police Chief David Westrick about Adopt-A-Cop. She said both were receptive to the idea.
“Dave Westrick has actually assigned an officer to work with me on a regular basis,” she said. “I find out what’s going on in the city that we can pray about and how we can pray for the officers. I’m also watching the police advisories and encouraging those who sign up for Adopt-A-Cop to pray along similar lines. For example, we’re praying for things to be exposed before they happen.”
She said she passes along to those who have signed up for the program to pray for the schools and the community, as well as the police. Approximately 35 people have signed up so far, she said.
“Churches are just starting to hear about this and are starting to promote it,” Laitinen said. “With the police department, the officer I was assigned to work with went to the officers from within and asked how many of them would feel comfortable being prayed for. I think all but one said they would.”
She said that because the program is just beginning in Hollister she is doing what she refers to as building in layers.
“Right now, I’m being concerned making sure that they’re all get covered,” Laitinen said. “If I assigned any particular one right now, we’d get one or two, but we wouldn’t have the broad base. So, what I’m asking people to do right now is to simply sign up, commit to covering a street, and let’s just pray for all of them right now, and as we get more onboard we begin to assign them individually.”
She said she walks up and down her neighborhood streets and prays for the families that live there.
“As a teacher I see a lot going on with kids relating to what’s happening in the homes,” Laitinen said. “That’s something I focus on with our neighbors, as well.”
She said as people contact her by email at [email protected] She gives those who request it regular updates about the community.
“They can sign up specifically for an officer or street,” Laitinen said. “Also, what I can do, because I am connected with our law enforcement, I can give some specific updates on what’s going on in the area, like officer’s wives who have had babies. I have permission to give their names, but I’ve held out giving them out for the time being.”
She said she wouldn’t necessarily share an officer’s problem.
“What you do with this kind of ministry is you hear what the need is and instead of exposing it you pray for the solution,” she said. “Like if you have a bunch of officers who are exhausted I don’t get on there and say ‘all of our officers are exhausted.’ I’d just say ‘pray for strength,’ to cover them and not expose them.”