I’ve always thought of God’s people as hardwired “first responders.” Where there is chaos, God’s people bring peace. Where this is pain, God’s people bring healing. Where this is brokenness, God’s people bring restoration. Where this is hopelessness and despair, Gods people bring hope.
It is every Pastors dream to see their people live out their faith. From connecting the intersection of faith and vocation, taking in a foster child, sharing a meal with the marginalized, or simply taking a moment to emphatically listen and pray with someone who is hurting — the journey from head to heart to hands is what it’s all about.
As word of the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting began to spread, the Church began to mobilize. Beginning with congregants of First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale who rushed to the airport to pray and distribute car loads of water bottles, a stirring in the hearts of God’s people to take shape.
Church United statement
Immediately following the breaking news of the shooting, The Pastors of Church United issued the following statement:
“As Church United, we grieve the horrific acts of violence that occurred in Fort Lauderdale today, taking the lives of five people and wounding eight others. We are in shock and mourn with those who are mourning. We cry out with the prophets of old and the voices of today, “How long, O Lord, how long?” We often find it hard to know exactly how to respond as people of faith to things like this. We are shocked and deeply saddened.
Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, is our home. We live, work, raise our families, and worship here. Its pain is our pain.
We stand with our city leaders, first responders, and fellow residents affected by this tragedy. We are praying for you. We love you, and we are here to serve you. To our Mayor and fellow city leaders, we commend you for your leadership. To our first responders, we are thankful for your bravery. To all residents and visitors to our beautiful city, we are here for you. We pledge to work shoulder-to-shoulder with you to ensure that love is greater than evil and that peace in the midst of violence is found.
We are praying for you and with you — for the victims and their families, for friends and loved ones affected.
As we grieve, may we also remember that our hope lies in the Prince of Peace. As we pray, let us ask the God of all comfort to gently remind us all that he is near, that he is present, and that his love is greater.
If there is anything more we can do to be of immediate help, please let us know.
On behalf of Church United and with our deepest sympathies, we are,
Yours in Christ,
Church United South Florida.”
An idea was born
In the hours following the issuing of that statement, an idea was born. What if the we, the Church, took a stab at answering the question: How we could be of more immediate help to those affected by this tragedy? Having learned that the majority of those affected were visitors to South Florida, we wanted to tangibly convey a message that our community was far better than what they’d experienced — a message of faith, hope and love. We decided that we would pay the medial bills of those hospitalized as a result of the shooting.
After a few phone calls, we were put in touch with Broward Health and the FBI Victims Assistance liaisons. We learned that there were 54 people treated as a direct result of the shooting, and many others found themselves temporarily displaced. A short 24 hours later, we had collected over $3000 worth of gift cards for victims and families who were in hotels. We had over 25 churches commit to taking a special offering towards a newly created “Church United Mercy Fund” — the account from with the medial bills would eventually be paid.
Robey Barnes, lead pastor at West Pines Community church explained his church’s participation this way: “When we announced that we had the privilege of being a part of this effort, clapping and cheering swept across the room. Our people are not only motivated to reach out to the hurting, but especially eager to partner with other churches across the city to do it.”
When asked “why medical bills,” Barns continued, “Jesus described loving our neighbor with the story of the Good Samaritan. A man, the victim of a violent attack, was nursed back to health by this Samaritan. In fact, he left money with the Inn Keeper to cover all the man’s medical bills. For us, the churches of Broward county, when an opportunity like this comes along to financially help the hurting in our midst, we will not cross to the other side of the road.”
Praise God that not only did Church United raise enough to cover the out-of-pocket medical expenses of all 54 patients, we were able to do it in the name of Jesus — together, as one unified Church.
As Brian Burkholder, Sr. Pastor of Hollywood Community put it, “For us it is a huge blessing to see local churches uniting together to make a Kingdom impact. We have ministered independently far too long.”
And this story is far from over. Just this week we were informed that Broward Health will be sending a letter to all 54 patients informing them that their bill was paid in the name of a group called Church United — by the Churches of the community in which their unfortunate tragedy took place.
History shows us that periods of unprecedented Church growth and revival took place when the Church stepped into the places no one else wanted to go, did things others were unwilling to do, and dreamt dreams for their communities that their communities hadn’t yet dreamt for themselves.
For Darren Davis, senior pastor of the Harbour Church, “This was a moment where the churches of South Florida leveraged the power of unity to turn what was meant for harm ultimately for the good of those affected by this tragedy.”
Leave it to God to use something as terrible as mass shooting as an opportunity to send His people in as “first-responders.” God is clearly on the move.
This display of unity reminds us that we are indeed stronger together. The Church’s voice, its presence and its power are all best displayed in unity. As the presenting sponsor of this year’s Fort Lauderdale Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate all that God has done to bring our community together for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom. The Church’s response to the Fort Lauderdale shooting is only a taste of what God has been doing through his people. Mark your calendars for the morning of April 26th and visit FTLpray.org to learn more. We’d love to celebrate with you.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida.