Whenever violence took the life of someone in an Omaha neighborhood, the Rev. Dave Gehrls showed up with a team of people ready to pray.
Over 12 years, Gehrls led more than 300 prayer gatherings, or prayer walks, in the Omaha area, helping communities heal after tragedies or come together to try to prevent them.
Gehrls died Monday evening at his home after battling neck cancer. He was 71.
“Dave meant a lot to the community, especially the north Omaha community,” said the Rev. Bruce Williams, who led prayer walks alongside Gehrls. “He really loved and tried to encourage people.”
Gehrls was born on July 29, 1947, in Minneapolis and was the eldest of five siblings. His parents were missionaries to Mexico.
He graduated in 1969 from Spring Arbor University in Michigan, where he met his wife Sheryl. The two were married on June 28, 1969, and had four children.
Gehrls worked in the ministry for 50 years, full time. In his spare time, he loved wilderness camping, at one time owning eight canoes, 30 backpacks and a large array of other camping gear.
Gehrls was an international ministry coach for Christ for the City International. He and Sheryl established the organization’s presence in Omaha in 1995. Later, the organization relocated its headquarters to Omaha, in part because of his leadership.
Duane “Chip” Anderson, CEO of Christ for the City International, said Sheryl and Dave were seen as “Grandma and Grandpa” for missionaries in the organization. They held several training sessions each year for new missionaries in addition to doing mission work themselves, not only in Omaha but across the world.
“He was an exemplary model of what Christians can do to help their communities,” Anderson said.
He had a big presence at 6-foot-4, and his contemporaries said he had a heart and love for the community that was as big as he was.
“One of the main things he would always say to us as a church is that we’re called to be the salt,” said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network. “His goal was to get the salt out of the salt shaker. We have to get outside (the church) and into the streets.”
Gehrls aimed to reduce violence throughout the community by embracing a neighborhood’s people after a tragedy and by holding prayer walks in troubled areas — even when there hadn’t been a recent violent event.
He recruited people from around the city to join him, with the goal of holding a prayer walk in the first 24 to 48 hours after a violent event. He not only led the groups in prayer, but he trained others to lead in his absence.
“Dave was just a tireless worker,” Williams said. “Dave wanted to raise up or teach other leaders in how to pray. He just had a real big heart.”
Williams said he will continue Gehrls’ legacy of prayer walks.
Gehrls was preceded in death by his parents and his daughter Renee. He is survived by his wife; four siblings; son Matthew Gehrls of Omaha; daughters Amy Lynch of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Sandra Anderson of Mason City, Iowa; and nine grandchildren.
A prayer walk in Gehrls’ honor has not yet been scheduled.
Services will be 11 a.m. Monday at Good News Church, 7415 Hickory St. Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the church.