As Buffalo mourns the murder of 10 African Americans in a racially motivated supermarket massacre, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and Acting CEO Willie McLaurin leads a ministry of presence.
McLaurin traveled to Buffalo to hear the concerns and needs of area pastors, express his love and concern, and visit the memorial outside Tops Supermarket honoring those murdered.
“For years I have enjoyed the ministry of presence,” McLaurin told Baptist Press. “Being with other believers in times of crisis comforts them and reassures them that they are not alone. Ministry is complex and demanding.
“My goals were to listen to the stories of ministry leaders in Buffalo, learn how God is at work in their church and community following this tragic act of violence, and demonstrate the love of Jesus” , said McLaurin. “Put simply, people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”
Brian Robinson, senior pastor of the Fillmore Community Church about two miles from the supermarket, was among about a dozen pastors from the Frontier Baptist Association and others who hosted McLaurin.
“Dr. Willie McLaurin’s visit is greatly appreciated; due to his own experience in the tragic death of a family member, he can understand and sympathize with the grief and suffering of the victims’ family members,” Robinson said, referring to the fact that George Floyd was McLaurin’s third cousin “He also knows what it’s like to comfort others while dealing with your own feelings.”
Faithful Stones Church, a non-Southern Evangelical Baptist church located near the crime scene, hosted the pastors’ meeting. Faithful Stone’s senior pastor, Mark Hamilton, builds relationships with Southern Baptists in the area.
“What happened on Saturday, May 14, 2022 has and will bring to light the secret counsel of God’s good purpose,” Hamilton said. “We may not see it or understand why, how, what or when, but from the heap of ashes of death will rise the bounty of a good God.”
Others welcoming McLaurin included Frontier Baptist Association Fellowship Missionary Mike Flannery, North Buffalo Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Smith and Amherst Baptist Church Pastor Eric Napoli.
Frank Williams, a Bronx, New York, pastor and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, said McLaurin’s trip was significant for Southern Baptist relationships.
“It means a lot that Dr. McLaurin took the time to visit pastors, families and the community in Buffalo,” Williams said. “It shows his heart for the people whose lives are forever changed in the wake of this tragic mass shooting. His presence represented our denomination in a way that showed concern for this vulnerable community that was being targeted.
Williams did not attend the event, but previously reached out to Robinson and Smith, praying with them individually and during a Buffalo outreach on Zoom.
Southern Baptists responded to the tragedy with prayer and tangible support, with community barbecues scheduled for May 28 and June 4 in the parking lot of Faithful Stones Church. The Southern Baptist Convention of Texas is among out-of-state groups planning to respond, McLaurin said.
Flannery believes McLaurin’s visit will help cement relationships with Buffalo’s wider evangelical community and accelerate the spread of the gospel.
“Just the fact that he came, that he wanted to come, really showed that we are partners in working together. And he wants to come back, this summer maybe, and see some additional work that can be done and encourage people,” Flannery said. “I feel like even now … there’s a warmer fellowship between the evangelical community and the Frontier Association because of that and the way we work together.
“They talked about working together and spreading the gospel in difficult times, meeting their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual (community) needs, but never forgetting their spirituality, as they face to this disaster.”
Williams applauded the Southern Baptist response to the tragedy.
“Several of our SBC leaders reached out to me and others to see what they could do to help. That speaks volumes and says that the lives of those people who were killed matter to all of us,” Williams said. “Our denomination is known for disaster relief by effectively coming to devastated communities to help them recover.
“When massacres like this occur, especially when they appear to be motivated by a racist agenda, they require disaster relief of a different kind. It begins with the kind of solidarity that the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:26, ’and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.’
The Southern Baptist response will continue long after the national attention has died, Flannery said.
“In about a week or so, the TV cameras, it’s all gone, and we’ll be there with ongoing gospel ministry, whole person ministry,” Flannery said. “As we do in disaster relief, we stick around and share the gospel.”
Robinson, a bivocational pastor who works in education, spoke of the far-reaching impact of the tragedy.
“I would like other Southern Baptists to acknowledge the devastation this evil act has had on the black community of Buffalo in particular and the city as a whole,” Robinson said. “Like other cities across the country, we have our share of gun violence. But it was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a follower of white supremacy.
McLaurin condemned evil.
“Sin of any kind grieves God,” he said. “When this sin results in the death of innocent lives, we must call it evil and do all we can to rebuke and fight it. When tragedy strikes a community, it should break our hearts, but not break our determination. MLK Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”When my brothers and sisters in another town face a crisis, fellow Southern Baptists must do whatever what they can to show their concern.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.