Violence Abates After Prayer
Various cities across the nation have been on edge this year because of racially sparked civil unrest, especially since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
Tensions spread anew following the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A 21-second video that went viral showed Blake surrounded by officers and shot from behind seven times. He is paralyzed from the waist down.
Protests erupted in Kenosha and elsewhere after the shooting, which prompted the NBA to postpone playoff games. The next three nights, demonstrators in Kenosha’s Uptown area burned multiple businesses, resulting in Gov. Tony Evers dispatching 250 National Guard troops to the city.
Although Kenosha remains under nightly curfew, the violence largely ceased three days after the initial clash. Kevin S. Taylor, lead pastor of Journey Church in Kenosha, says that’s no coincidence. Taylor is one of 15 pastors in the city who met to pray Aug. 27 at Harbor Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Subsequently, 300 people conducted prayer walks around the city, interceding for God’s protection, according to Taylor, 60.
“We believe the power of prayer was the catalyst for God putting a blanket of peace on the city,” says Taylor, who has been in church leadership for 16 years. “We’ve seen God come in amazing ways after the initial unrest.”
The megachurch has a reputation for good works in the community of 100,000 residents located midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. Taylor believes God prepared Journey Church, which has 3,000 attendees across four campuses, for the current crisis.
In 2017, after consultation with Convoy of Hope, Journey Church created a volunteer disaster response team (DRT) to handle potential emergencies in the area. In the ensuing months, the team has handled the aftermath of catastrophes such as structure fires, flooding, and even COVID-19. Nearly 100 volunteers — 80 percent of them adherents of Journey Church — are part of the team.
In recent days, the Journey DRT dispensed food to the hardest-hit areas of unrest, as well as to first responders. Journey’s DRT also boarded up store fronts in an effort to protect the businesses from looting.
CHURCH ON THE STREETS
As prayer teams mobilized around the city Aug. 27, Journey Church NextGen executive pastor Jon A. Brown, who has been on staff for 19 years, helped organize a prayer and worship service six blocks to the west outside the courthouse, where the initial riots occurred.
A trio of ministry leaders — Charles Karuku, Joshua Lindquist, and Ben Krey — who all spent two months leading revival meetings on the streets of Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s death, led the Kenosha service. Evangelism teams from churches in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Racine, Wisconsin, came to support the effort. A multiethnic worship team, comprised mostly of Journey Church members, led the singing, which drew crowds.
“We had church right there in Civic Center Park outside the courthouse,” says Brown, 42. “We had a lot of prayers for unity, peace, and forgiveness. We asked the African American community and people of color to forgive us for the sin of racism.”
Karuku, who is Black and leads International Outreach Church, a multiethnic congregation in Burnsville, Minnesota, preached a message of reconciliation. A dozen people responded to an invitation to accept Jesus as Savior and 10 were baptized in a mobile baptismal tank.
Those baptized included a young African American woman who had yelled through a bullhorn in an effort to disrupt the service. One of the pastors led her to faith in Jesus; Brown and Karuku subsequently baptized her through tears.
“It was one of the most powerful baptism moments I’ve ever experienced,” Brown says. “It was like the Book of Acts.”
Brown says weekly revival meetings will continue at the site for the near future.
Journey Church will continue to bring restoration through the nonprofit organization the church created called 1Hope, which is headed by executive pastor of church purposes Bob W. Griffith. Multiple churches are part of the 1Hope initiative to transform lives.
“God prepared us to respond for this moment,” Taylor says. “Our mission is to restore the Uptown area.” He says Journey groups have established a fundraising event for Uptown and gathered more than 1,000 volunteers for clean-up and restoration efforts.
Journey Church is a predominantly white congregation, reflective of Kenosha’s overall population, which is 75 percent Anglo. However, people of color are part of the church staff, deacon board, and DRT, all of which Taylor believes helped in the aftermath of recent events.
Taylor and Griffith have been asked to be on the Mayor’s Commission for Racial Reconciliation to address systemic issues in the areas of education, law enforcement, economics, and the development of future leaders.