NEWS | Kayla Rinker
The plywood nailed to the windows of homes and businesses reminded Stoney Shaw of living near the threat of hurricanes when he was younger.
“People would brace themselves for the storm that was coming,” said Shaw, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Ferguson. “That’s exactly what is happening here; a devastating storm. But praise God things seem to be winding down and there is a lot of rebuilding going on, which is what we’ve been praying for.”
Despite the rioting and arson surrounding the grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, Shaw said there are glimpses of hope among the ashes.
“On that very same plywood, artists have drawn pictures of encouragement and hope,” he said. “We are the real Ferguson people, black and white. As a whole we are not the ones marching and picketing, we are the ones getting looted and broken into. There are a lot of other narratives, but the reality is that this is a terrible tragedy and it does not have our best interest in mind.”
But because of that reality, it leaves Ferguson-area churches with a unique opportunity to minister to a broken and hurting community. Shaw said FBC is engaged with the city to promote positive changes.
For example, when the district closed a nearby school because of the impending threat of rioting, FBC opened its facilities to provide meals, tutors, and a safe place for the kids to be during the day. The City of Ferguson has also used FBC’s fellowship hall for their “Talk-Back” meetings for people to express their grievances and appeals for change to the mayor and city leaders.
“It’s exciting to be a practical part of the solution to a very complicated situation,” Shaw said. “I’ve said it before but we were at Ground Zero before it was Ground Zero. These are scary times and we are living in the shadow of that. God has called Christian people and churches in Ferguson to go and do what needs to be done together, in order to recover our fine city for Him.”
Sean Boone is pastor of New Beginning Christian Fellowship, an SBC church plant in nearby Hazelwood, Mo. “What I’m seeing and hearing is more about believers being white or black before being Christian,” Boone said. “As believers we must step back and ask are we rendering grace to both sides? Are we looking at everything through the lenses of U.S. citizens or (as) citizens of the body of Christ?”
He said only when believers answer these questions honestly can Biblical and fair solutions for all people be found.
“If we only rely on a system born out of the flesh of sinful man, we will constantly get flawed results,” Boone said. “One side or the other will always feel disenfranchised. Right not we are witnessing an expression of a group of people feeling hopeless. The church needs to address the reason for this hopelessness…which is sin.”
Shaw believes there are legitimate issues and injustices regarding the treatment and the voice of the majority of Ferguson residents. He said that more than anything, this tragedy has shined a light on those problems.
For starters, the African American subgroup in Ferguson makes up 70% of the city’s total population, but there is only one African American member of the city council. Shaw said the city needs to push for everyone to register to vote.
“We are blessed to have some neat African American ladies in our church who have started taking young adults in the 18 to 30 age range and teaching them the basics of our democratic republic,” Shaw said. “We have a nation of people who don’t know how it works. When only 10% of the majority 70% of the population is registered to vote in a city, it’s bad. People start to feel like they aren’t included and can’t change anything, which leads to looting and burning.”
And that idea of feeling included is what lays heavy on Shaw’s heart because he knows where it needs to begin: within the body of Christ. Though pastors and churches have come together to pray for one another in light of recent events, Shaw says that trend needs to continue.
“It sends a wonderful message that we are united as one body of believers,” Shaw said. “We need to get back to really associating with each other and that may require churches, whether predominately white or black, get out of their comfort zones: team up, serve together, go on mission together, fellowship together and even periodically do a pastor swap.”
“We are only racially divided if we want to be,” Shaw said. “We need to be living like Christ throughout this crisis.”
Special to the Illinois Baptist. Kayla Rinker is a reporter living in southwest Missouri.