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(DETROIT, March 21, 2016) – In a city with roughly three thousand churches – one every few blocks in some parts of town – too many of Detroit’s inhabitants are lost, says one prominent religious leader.

Since 1978, Bishop Andrew Merritt, founder of Straight Gate International Church, has been building a following for Christ in the city he was born in. He’s been reaching across cultures, races, generations and religious denominations. He says that it is only by joining forces that believers can offer real hope.

“We cannot become so focused on building our own congregations, investing in our own enclaves that we forget to reach beyond ourselves to the community as a whole,” Bishop Merritt said. “The enemy wants there to be divisions. Each time we allow color, culture or creed to divide us, evil wins. We are all children of God – if we are of one accord, our faith can change this city, this region, this nation, this world.”

The City of Detroit has been ready for a renaissance for some time, Bishop Merritt said. There are two streams to that renaissance – a political one that affects physical change and a spiritual stream that changes lives, he said. As its moral leaders, the clergy must pull together to propel the city and region forward, Bishop Merritt said. Ministers have unique influence in their individual communities, by banding together, that influence can cover the region, neighborhood by neighborhood, he said.

“If we unite, we can feed and clothe more of the poor, comfort more of the sick and dying, bring more people into the body of Christ, and show the world the love of true Christians,” said Bishop Merritt, whose ministry also assists the community through job fairs, financial planning workshops and health fairs.

To inspire more people with the Word of God, Bishop Merritt is hosting the ninth-annual 7 Days of Faith from April 10-16 at Straight Gate International Church, 10100 Grand River in Detroit. It is a week-long celebration that welcomes all people seeking Christ. This year’s theme is Forces of Faith. The focus of the 7-day event is love, prayer, praise and forgiveness, he said.

The list of inspirational religious leaders participating is long and diverse. It includes local luminary Bishop Marvin L. Winans, founder of Perfecting Church; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, called the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical Movement by CNN and nominated as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential leaders in the world; Bishop Tudor Bismark, “the apostolic voice to the nations”, who will be traveling to Detroit from his home in the African nation of Zimbabwe; and Dr. Bill Winston – founder and pastor of the 19,000 member Living Word Christian Center, located in Forest Park, Illinois and Tuskegee Christian Center in Tuskegee, Alabama.  A half dozen area ministers also will participate, including Pastor Dominic Russo, the Senior Pastor of Oakland Church; Pastor Bradley T. Trask, the senior pastor of Brighton Assembly of God in Brighton; Pastor Anthony S. Ramsey, founder and Pastor of Kingdom Living Church in Grand Blanc; Pastor Nehru Shumake, founder of Live Again Outreach Church in Lansing; Pastors Jonathan and David Merritt of Straight Gate International Church; and Sister Barbara M. Littles, a business attorney, masterful leadership coach, speaker, and founding member of The John Maxwell Team whose passion is to add value to both for profit and non-profit corporations.

“We’ve made a genuine effort to cross cultures and borders with our guests,” Bishop Merritt said, noting that his outreach team has been working with religious leaders throughout the region, including more than a dozen leaders of Hispanic churches. “We have African ministers, African-American ministers, Hispanic ministers and white ministers of various denominations, all representing a coalition for Christ.”

This concept didn’t just come to him.

For decades Bishop Merritt’s ministry has hosted events to draw the faithful to Christ and to make the Gospel accessible to all people. In the 90s, he hosted Holy Convocation Week and Street Jam for years. From 2004-10, he hosted the international conference One in Worship, which was broadcast around the globe and filled Ford Field with tens of thousands of faithful of every denomination.  And for the past nine years, Bishop Merritt has hosted 7 Days of Faith, bringing in religious leaders from around the country and globe to inspire Metro Detroiters in their quest to find answers and hope.

This year’s Forces of Faith theme visually plays off movie super heroes  – the “Avengers”, Star Wars”, “Batman v Superman” – but is intended to underscore that Faith is center of everything, that “without God we are powerless, everything else is a fiction. It is about the supernatural power of faith,” said Pastor Jonathan Merritt, eldest son of Bishop and Pastor Viveca Merritt. “With Him, through faith, miracles can happen, we can change the world.”

Vivid graphics on 7 Days of Faith promotional fliers show electrical energy shooting from the images of the conference speakers. The intention is to show God’s inspiration working through his ministers, not to show the power of men, Pastor Jonathan Merritt said. “As ministers we are God’s instruments. The power rests in Him.

“We had a little fun playing off of the whole Avengers-Star Wars themes,” he said, noting that the conference coincides closely with the release of the new super hero movie – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which adds to the intrigue. “The purpose of promotional materials is to capture your imagination. We think these do.”

Engaging young audiences is as important as reaching across cultural and denominational lines, he said. For those who purchase CDs or DVDs from 7 Days of Faith, there will even be Forces of Faith lunchboxes.

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