New Orleans church member shot dead after Sunday assembly

New Orleans church member shot dead after Sunday assembly

‘He wasn’t out there ripping and running,’ minister says of the victim. ‘He was a good kid.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

After Hurricane Katrina, Charles and Angela Marsalis found their calling in New Orleans’ high-crime Hollygrove neighborhood — where both grew up.

The couple started Bible studies for boys and girls on the front porch of a relative’s flood-damaged home, serving snacks and soft drinks in return for the young people’s attention.

Gregory Hawkins was one of the first children to join the group.

“Greg had been with us since we started,” said Charles Marsalis, who baptized Hawkins. “We practically raised him up here.”

But on Sunday — after worshiping at the Hollygrove Church of Christ, the congregation the Marsalises planted after Katrina — the 19-year-old Christian was shot and killed, church leaders said.

Neighbors heard multiple shots about 2 p.m., and when officers arrived, they found a victim with at least one gunshot wound, New Orleans police told The Christian Chronicle. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Police have not made any arrests or determined a motive, a department spokesman said.

“Greg was one of the quiet kids,” Marsalis said. “He didn’t really bother anybody. He would just go on about his business. If you messed with him, he wasn’t afraid to fight with you. But he wasn’t a kid who looked for trouble.”

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First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.


After Harvey, ‘churches have done far more than the government’

After Harvey, ‘churches have done far more than the government’

Two months after the storm, Texas minister reflects on disaster relief and lessons learned.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

BEAUMONT, Texas — Tony Williams is tired.

However, he insists he’s not burned out.

Two months after Hurricane Harvey, the Westgate Church of Christ — where Williams serves as the preaching minister — remains active with disaster relief in this southeast Texas city of 120,000.

“It’s tiring, but I think it’s something we can continue to do because the need is great,” Williams said. “And I think the cause of the kingdom is blessed through being able to reach out in this way.”

Technically, Harvey was a tropical storm, not a hurricane, when it reached Beaumont. Nonetheless, the rain — 26 inches in 24 hours — proved devastating as thousands of structures flooded.

At first, the 150-member Westgate church focused on distributing food and emergency supplies, including tractor-trailer loads full of items provided by Nashville, Tenn.-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort.

Later, the congregation shifted to housing and feeding Christians who came from across the nation to help gut, clean and restore deluged homes. To coordinate the volunteer teams, the church turned to the Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team, known as DRT.

Read the full interview.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.


18 vans, 150 volunteers, 465 miles, one goal: to help Harvey victims

18 vans, 150 volunteers, 465 miles, one goal: to help Harvey victims

‘These people are amazing,’ says an Iranian immigrant grateful for the love shown after his family’s home flooded.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

HOUSTON — The homeowner was shirtless and sweating.

He was still angry — he admitted that much — over the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey two months ago.

But he was curious, too, about the strangers who showed up in white vans in his neighborhood and raked trash and debris from his barren yard.

“They came all the way down here for this?” he asked, intrigued that these Christians drove 465 miles to serve victims of a storm that dumped a record-breaking 52 inches of rain on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

A slight smile formed on the man’s face.

“I usually tell people from Oklahoma to head north,” he joked.

These days, though, southeast Texas can use the help — even it comes from across the Red River.

Emotional scenes of boats rescuing Lone Star State residents from flooded homes have faded from television screens. But for thousands who lost possessions and livelihoods, needs remain immense.

That’s why the Edmond Church of Christ — a 1,200-member congregation north of Oklahoma City — felt compelled to send help.

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First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.


Five reasons why churches should invest in security cameras

Five reasons why churches should invest in security cameras

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Church Law and Tax

A mother accused a Sunday school teacher of molesting her young daughter. But the crime never happened — video from a church security camera proved the accusation false.

A couple broke into a church intent on stealing the Sunday offering. But a camera captured their faces — and the surveillance footage was used to identify both and link them to a string of burglaries.

Both real-life scenarios point to the benefits of church security cameras in a world in which such technology is readily available and increasingly affordable.Here are five reasons all churches should consider investing in cameras, according to security and insurance experts.

1. They can deter criminals, including sexual predators.

“If I am a burglar or I am someone interested in doing some type of a sexual act with a child, I’m going to go to the path of least resistance,” said Scott Figgins, vice president of underwriting for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. “I’m going to go to the church that doesn’t have a very secure facility. . . . It’s just the common nature of those seeking to do bad things that they will go after the easiest targets.”

David White, senior risk control consultant with Church Mutual Insurance Company, echoed Figgins’s thoughts: “Cameras are great for deterring crime. Bad guys don’t want to get caught, and if there’s a chance they’re going to get caught, they’ll go to a softer target somewhere.”

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This article appears on the website of Church Law and Tax, a publication of Christianity Today.

For survivors of Tennessee church shooting, healing will take time and patience

For survivors of Tennessee church shooting, healing will take time and patience

‘You don’t ever get over those things. You just learn how to get through them,’ says a minister familiar with tragedy.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

The gunman took the love of Mavy Stoddard’s life.

She refused to let him take her hope.

“God’s been good to me,” said Stoddard, whose husband, Dorwan, 76, died when a would-be assassin opened fire on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket on Jan. 8, 2011. “My faith got me through all this without falling apart.”

But even now — nearly seven years after the Arizona attack in which six were killed and 13 others injured — Mavy Stoddard breaks down sometimes.

“Just this last Sunday, I spent 15 minutes crying and feeling sorry for myself,” said Stoddard, 82, who lived despite suffering three bullet wounds. “But 15 minutes is all I will allow myself anymore.”

For survivors of the recent mass shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., healing will take time and patience, said Stoddard and other Christians who have experienced past tragedies.

“I would tell them they need to load up on patience and mercy and grace,” said Les Ferguson Jr., a minister whose wife, Karen, 44, and son Cole, 21, were shot to deathin the family’s Gulfport, Miss., home on Oct. 11, 2011.

Melanie Crow, 38, was killed and seven other Burnette Chapel members wounded — including minister Joey Spann — when a masked gunman targeted the congregation Sept. 24.

To members’ shock, the man arrested by police — 25-year-old Emanuel K. Samson — was someone they knew.

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This story appears in the November 2017 edition of The Christian Chronicle.


‘The leprosy in my neighborhood is addiction’

‘The leprosy in my neighborhood is addiction’

Coleman Yoakum, director of Micah 6 Community, reflects on the challenges and opportunities of inner-city ministry.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

PONTIAC, Mich. — “You can’t be a Christian and do drugs. You know that, right?”

Actually, Coleman Yoakum didn’t know that.

Yoakum grew up in an unchurched household in rural Arkansas. He had this crazy dream: He’d go to film school, make movies and fund an expensive drug habit.

But in high school, he came to live with a youth minister named Mac Sandlin. Sandlin introduced the teen to Jesus, steered him right — on drugs and other matters — and encouraged him to attend Harding, the Christian university in Searcy, Ark.

“Mac seemed to have a pretty cool life, so I decided, ‘I’ll be a Bible major,’” recalled Yoakum, who had trouble passing his first theology test, which asked students to list all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.

More than a decade later, Yoakum, 30, frequently hangs out with drug addicts.

Five years ago, he and a group of friends from Harding moved to the Detroit area to launch Micah 6 Community. Through endeavors such as a fresh food store and community gardens, the inner-city ministry works to improve lives in a neighborhood hard hit by the automotive industry’s demise. The church Micah 6 Community planted meets in the back of the small food store.

“Our congregation is about 45 people who are all struggling with addiction in some way,” said Yoakum, who never did drugs despite flirting with the idea. “We’ve also recently launched a second service that doesn’t allow children to come in order to be a place that the sex offender community is allowed to attend.”

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First published online, this story appears in the November 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

First beatification Mass for U.S.-born priest and martyr draws thousands

First beatification Mass for U.S.-born priest and martyr draws thousands

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY — In the final step before sainthood, a missionary from Oklahoma slain during Guatemala’s civil war has been beatified — the first U.S.-born priest and martyr to receive such recognition by the Catholic Church.

An estimated 20,000 Catholics waited in long lines to attend the special Mass on Saturday (Sept. 23) celebrating the Rev. Stanley Francis Rother, who was shot to death by three masked assassins who entered his rectory in 1981.

“In a period of grave social and political turbulence in Guatemala, Father Rother lived as a perfect disciple of Christ, doing good and spreading peace and reconciliation among the people,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and gave the beatification homily.

“His martyrdom, if it fills us with sadness, also gives us the joy of admiring the kindness, generosity and courage of a great man of faith,” Amato told the crowd that filled the Cox Convention Center arena and several overflow rooms.

Declared by Pope Francis, Rother’s beatification means that the priest — who was 46 years old when he died — lived a holy life, is now in heaven and may be publicly venerated.

At Saturday’s ceremony, the church declared that the slain priest lives in heaven and intercedes with God on behalf of people on Earth. As a result of the beatification, Catholics now will refer to him as “Blessed Stanley Rother.”

In an apostolic letter read in Latin by Amato and English by Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Francis praised Rother as a priest and martyr “who was driven by a deeply rooted faith and a profound union with God, and by the arduous duty to spread the Word of God in missionary lands.”

For Rother to become a saint, a miracle involving his intercession must be verified, Coakley said.

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Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.