It was Tuesday, May 12—one week after the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death was released. I joined a WebEx meeting with a group of pastors and church planters pulled together by pastor David Gentino so that we could process everything that had happened. During the meeting, our emotions ranged from anger, to frustration, to bitterness, to despair.
A couple of brothers led us in prayer, and I figured the call would probably be over shortly. After all, that is the cycle, right? You see the story in the news. You feel the multitude of emotions. Then things return to “normal” in a week or two.
Instead, David began asking questions about what our churches’ next move should be. We brainstormed for a few moments. Eventually, David presented us with an idea. “Let’s go to Brunswick,” he said.
The proposal to go to Brunswick—the town where Ahmaud was killed––caught me by surprise. Honestly, I did not like the idea. First, I had no idea what we would do there. Prayer vigil at a courthouse? A peaceful protest? Would it be safe? There were so many things I envisioned going wrong.
What if the Lord used this moment to shed gospel light on a dark world?
Second, I did not yet know the composition of the group who would be going. If there were a range of perspectives represented, certain conversations could become awkward and unhelpful in such a heated time.
But most of all, I hesitated to go to Brunswick because I didn’t want to get too close to the issue. I wanted to spare myself the potential emotional trauma. The trip, then, was an invitation to empathize in a way I’d never done before.
Yet while this reason led to my initial hesitation, it is precisely what led me to accept the invitation. I remembered the words of the apostle Paul to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I remembered the life of our Savior and the way he identified with us, and I began to ponder the potential witness of Christian empathy. What if the Lord used this moment to shed gospel light on a dark world?
It is so easy for us to merely argue during these moments; I figured this would be a nice change of pace for the church. Sure, it would be uncomfortable. Sure, it would be inconvenient. Yet it was an opportunity for us to show that the church truly cares about Ahmaud and his family. It was an opportunity to go and show the love of Christ to a family who’d lost a son.
After planning for several weeks, we finally boarded the bus to Brunswick. The itinerary included a meeting with the community leaders to share our concern for justice and host a time for prayer. When we realized that Ahmaud’s dad and other family members would be there, our plans shifted slightly. Something like a worship service took place. We shared the gospel, sang songs, and fellowshiped with Ahmaud’s family, many of whom professed to be believers. Christ was exalted in the midst of tragedy.
For me, looking at Ahmaud’s father’s face, and standing on the street where his son was killed, added gravity to the moment. This wasn’t just a distant news story; ordinary people were affected and their lives changed forever.
I’m glad I decided to board that bus to Brunswick, and I believe other churches would benefit from something similar if it’s possible. Obviously, there are practical matters to consider. The leadership of your church needs to be on board. It’s wise to contact the leadership of the community you’re visiting. You need to be much in prayer. It needs to be done with a mindset to glorify Christ, not ourselves or our own agendas.
We care about Ahmaud and his family in a way that goes beyond party politics. We care because Christ cares. And so we go to them in the midst of the mess, because our Savior came to us in the midst of our mess.
Spending extended time with brothers and sisters who open up about these issues, though, can be eye-opening. Visiting the affected community reminds you that these are real people experiencing a real loss—you can lose that awareness on social media. Overall, I think the experience is something God can use to further unify, in an experiential sense, the church he’s already unified in Christ (Eph. 2:11–22). In that way, such a trip is something God can use to bring glory to his name. (Also worth considering is a Civil Rights Vision Trip similar to this one led by Mark Vroegop, pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis.)
Actions like this provide an opportunity for the church to have a unique voice in the midst of the noise. We care about Ahmaud and his family in a way that goes beyond party politics. We care because Christ cares. And so we go to them in the midst of the mess, because our Savior came to us in the midst of our mess.