No matter what Bruce Williamson and Pam and Dave Phelps are doing on Sunday afternoon, they drop everything to make sure they gather at the mailbox of Guiding Light Missionary Baptist Church.
At 3:30 p.m. the three clasp hands in a circle to pray for the community for about 10 minutes. At 9 p.m. every Friday, Williamson comes to the church and begins praying for the same reason; at 9:30 the Phelpses join him. At 10 p.m., they hit the streets of Fulton, donning yellow T-shirts with the letters "C.C.C." - which stands for Concerned Citizens Coalition. Why? All three say it is what God has called them to do, and they are just obeying that call.
"We're not heroes," Williamson explains. "We're just obeying the calling on our lives."
The coalition restarted in the wake of some violent crimes that had been committed in the neighborhood near Guiding Light, specifically a drive-by shooting. In the early morning hours of July 30, 2006, a large crowd was assembled near the intersection of West Ninth Street and Westminster Avenue when a moving vehicle fired shots into the crowd. Cortez Lee, 15, was struck by a single shot to the chest. The Fulton High School sophomore was taken to the hospital in critical condition but survived the drive-by.
Williamson said the community was grief-stricken that another violent incident had occurred and angry that it had happened, wondering who to blame.
Dave Phelps said people wanted to know, ""Who would do something?' And the coalition said, "We're going to do something.'"
"Cortez was shot on this corner (by Guiding Light), but it wasn't just a neighborhood problem," Pam Phelps said. "It was a community problem."
After a public hearing at Guiding Light where city officials and community members expressed concern over what to do about the violent crime situation, CCC was reborn, Williamson said.
Guilding Light had started the coalition years before, but it had come to a stand still until it restarted in the summer of 2006. It was decided that CCC would walk every street inside city limits praying for the community. During the first couple of walks, there were more than 20 walkers, Pam said. But regardless of how many others join them on their weekly walks, Williamson and the Phelpses continue with their mission. They said they believe God has answered their prayers by not allowing any serious violent crimes to happen in the neighborhood since their walks began.
Williamson said he knows some crime still continues, but not of the same violent nature they had been.
"We haven't had a blatant shoot down, gun down violent crime since then," he said. "This is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city now."
Dave said much of the crime seemed to be brought in from the bigger cities. Williamson said there was "unpredictable, repetitive crime" in the area. Besides the gun crimes, the coalition members said drugs and vandalism were also a problem.
All three are quick to say that it isn't them that brought about a change.
"What happened on the streets is not because of us," Dave said.
"It is not about us," Williamson agrees. "It is the Lord we trust working through us. We're just vessels. He has to have a place to work and he just chose us."
Fulton Police Chief Steve Myers said he would have to look back over the last few years to see if what the coalition says about the drop in violent crime is accurate, but he supports their efforts and has even joined them on several walks.
"I certainly whole-heartedly support what they're doing and applaud their efforts and taking time out of their busy schedules to do that," Myers said, "and help not only the police department, but also all the city of Fulton."
Myers also said that at the beginning, the walks seemed to break up some of the groups that hung out on the street in different areas of town.
"I think the citizens were glad to see them in the different areas, and I think they were able to make some impact on crime in some of those areas."
Williamson said Myers and the entire police department have been "wonderful." He said coalition members hang one of their yellow T-shirts on the review mirror of their car, so any patrol car that drives by knows why the vehicle is there. Sometimes citizens will call in to inquire why the walkers are in their neighborhoods so late at night. Myers said once the department explained who the walkers were and why they were there, "by and large" the callers were supportive.
This Christmas Eve will make the 231st week the coalition has continued its weekly prayer mission. Despite weather conditions or anything else that might hinder their meetings, Williamson and the Phelpses always make it to some part of the city to walk the streets and pray from 10-11 p.m. The three said they have encountered all kinds of interesting things on their walks. They've prayed with people, changed tires, changed batteries and come to the aid of those who asked for help.
Pam said she feels compelled by God to continue this work.
"As a mother who'd raised children on the streets in Fulton, I wanted them safe," she said. "I can't comprehend living in fear and not being able to sit on your porch at night."
"These people are at the point now that they want their streets; they want them safe," Dave said.
He also said they will continue with their mission "till God tells us to do something else."
"This is not a burden," Williamson explains. "We don't give up anything to do this; we get because we do it."
Pam put in, "We're open every Friday night to anyone who wants to join us."