A tragedy took place in the Eau Claire community in September. An argument resulted in three teenagers being shot and killed and another critically injured. Several teens, including one 14-year-old, are now held on charges of murder and attempted murder. The teenagers were killed in a neighborhood close to Temple Zion Baptist Church, a member of our CMBA Family of Churches, and the entire community has been affected.
While these teenagers and their families aren’t members of Temple Zion, the congregation supports Eau Claire High School students through monthly financial support and resources. “This was close to home,” says Pastor Andre Melvin of the tragedy. “Anytime our children are senselessly killed, it’s going to affect all of us.”
According to CMBA Church Planting Catalyst JayWill Wilson, the value of a local pastor’s established community relationships become apparent when crises like this take place. The three teenagers involved in the shooting participated in Eau Claire High School’s YoungLife ministry. Several months prior to the shooting, the YoungLife leader and Wilson had met to discuss how they could meet student and family needs.
“This incident helped us to see and focus on those needs again,” Wilson says. “This is happening in our community, the kids affected were served by a ministry we both were connected to. Andre is doing a great job getting pastors together to discuss community issues and needs. He pushes them to talk about what each is doing and how can we serve each other better.”
Melvin is also active in community discussions with local leaders, elected officials, public school representatives, and others committed to the overall health and success of the Eau Claire community. He calls this being a “voice of Christ in the community,” and continues to participate in gatherings held in the wake of the teen shootings. He maintains churches should have a voice in how to improve life within the 29203 zip code and beyond.
“Crime and gun violence are not unique issues to our city; it’s happening all over the nation. But what can we do? How can we help, and affect change here? We won’t accept hopelessness and are working to find even one or two initiatives that work toward a solution,” Melvin says of his community’s resolve.
CMBA WMU Director Ralphetta Davis agrees, saying it’s “devastating to know that children can get their hands on ammunition that can take a life. How is this happening? Lives are being cut short by the evils of this world, and those that we’re losing from this generation would be our future leaders.” Davis offers the resources of missions and discipleship training available through Woman’s Missionary Union as options for churches looking to better engage all ages.
“I’m in full agreement. WMU needs to be on the radar of every church, pastor, leader, and member as we identify what we can do to circle up and address the suffering. It’s not business as usual, the evidence is showing us otherwise,” Melvin says, adding that tragedy often is the spark God uses to bring light, hope, and change. “We are trying to create an infrastructure so that, moving forward, we can prevent these things while also having resources and systems in place to help if they do.”
Melvin has been the senior pastor at Temple Zion for 15 years and officially relocated his family to Eau Claire in 2018 in order to “live in community with the people we serve.” He says that decision has opened doors, allowed him to connect with community leaders, and see first-hand the highs and lows of the neighborhood he serves. Church members have adopted a missional mindset, too.
“Temple Zion is 119 years old and, prior to my coming, had never done a mission trip,” Melvin says. “Now we are always looking to serve. Our members are outside the walls of the church and active in local and global missions. As God opens the door, we ask where we can go to serve others.”
In November 2022, Temple Zion created the nonprofit North Monticello Community Outreach to provide education and access to resources for families and individuals of all ages, from children to senior adults. The church operates other ministries from this space, including a monthly fresh produce distribution to about 70 families, annual clothing and bookbag drives, and even a community garden. Melvin’s dream is for future partnerships to allow the center to accomplish much more.
“We created this so that members of community can come to church to discover available resources. It will give faith-based groups and services access to the Eau Claire community as well,” Melvin says, adding that he’s held workshops on grief at the center and is completing anger management training in order to teach those coping skills.
For CMBA churches looking to meaningfully engage in his community, Melvin suggests that male mentors consider volunteering in the public schools. He invites churches to pray about other ways God might lead them to become involved in creating sustainable changes in Eau Claire because the issues they are facing “affect everyone, even if it’s not happening in your neighborhood.”
For his part, Wilson invites CMBA churches to adopt this “holistic” missional approach within their own contexts. As churches begin to view the community more like a village, Wilson believes they can “create a glimpse of what it could look like to have God’s Kingdom here on earth.”
“Churches need to get out in the community and serve our neighbors. We can’t climb over them to go to worship and climb back over them to go home,” Melvin says. “They aren’t coming into the church, so how do we reach people where they are, just like Jesus did?”