By Tess Schoonhoven —
Wrecked by rioting and unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police, the city of Kenosha is in desperate need of rebuilding, said Rich Villarreal, discipleship and teaching pastor of Redeemer Parkside church, located near downtown Kenosha.
Villarreal said members and leaders of Redeemer Parkside are working to engage and rebuild the community in both practical and spiritual ways.
“There’s a big financial need now,” Villarreal said. “There’s a lot of people downtown whose livelihoods were wrapped up in those businesses [affected by the riots], and so I’ve been encouraging for our people to find one of these GoFundMes and support these local businesses and help build them up.”
A group of 17 churches, including Redeemer Parkside, met Thursday (Aug. 27) at Harbor Park in Kenosha to pray for the city and cry out to God for restoration, as well as to pray for Blake’s family and those directly affected by the violence. Villarreal estimated 800 people gathered from multiple denominations and surrounding areas.
“Pray for the city,” he said. “We can absolutely do our best efforts to rebuild the buildings, but if God isn’t rebuilding hearts and changing hearts then it’s sort of in vain. My heart and my concern is for the people of Kenosha to see this radical movement of the church being able to display the Gospel and what it looks like to be rebuilt, that God speaks into their hearts and shows the picture of the Gospel and how we’re rebuilt and reformed and reshaped by God’s Word, Himself and His Spirit.”
Matthew Henry, pastor of Missio Dei Fellowship Church in Kenosha, said hope is not lost if people come together in love.
“The God who made the heavens and the earth is the faithful God who cannot deny His name nor His people, so we are at rest,” Henry said. “We grieve as we watch our literal neighborhood burn. We grieve with those who suffer much loss. But we mostly grieve at the number of people who are longing for peace and wholeness but also who reject Christ as the only hope, and so we continue to preach and serve and love.”
Henry said the need for the Gospel has not changed, even in the midst of such upheaval.
“We live in a city slowly being given over to its love of darkness and the covering is being ripped off before our eyes to show how dark it is,” Henry said. “So, the answer is the same as always: rich, deep, full declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Lenard Tavernelli, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church on the city’s south side, said one of the biggest needs is for churches simply to engage their neighbors.
“Pray for me and the people of Kenosha to have Gospel conversations with others as a result of the unrest,” Tavernelli said. “And, certainly pray for true justice and that the church would serve as ministers of reconciliation and peacemakers. Even as the unrest dies down, it will continue to be there right below the surface.”
Villarreal said the city is need of a community perspective that takes into account how each individual is affected by current events.
“We’re all broken people, and because we’re all broken, broken people do broken things,” he said. “So, as a church we need to remember, not that it’s a moot subject, but that we need to pray for all people. We can’t pick a side. We need to pray for justice for those who need justice, and mercy for those who need mercy.” — Baptist Press