Turning tragedy into ministry opportunities

PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Crime and tragedy are inevitable in a broken world. However, Christians and churches find ways to minister to hurting communities. In a suburb of Pine Bluff, where crime is all too common, Family Church has found ways to break through the noise and minister to families struck by unfortunate events.

Stephen Harrison, the Lead Pastor at Family Church, says their ministry started about two years ago when they first opened their third campus in downtown Pine Bluff. Tragedy struck on the morning of their first official Sunday in January 2018, not too far from their church doors. He described that in the early morning hours, someone was killed on the corner of their church lot.

When they arrived at the site, after the scene had been cleared, a family member was at the corner, mourning and trying to figure out what had happened. They decided to pray with them and just be a shoulder for them to lean on at that time.

“It felt like it’s our city and our responsibility to just love people in the middle of tragedy, whether they were receptive to it or not,” Harrison said. “We were going to try to take the step towards initiating something to say, ‘we’re praying for you.’” 

Roosevelt Brown, the campus Pastor for Pine Bluff, was one of the first few people to have a pull on their heart to do something in the midst of this tragedy. “I had a conviction starting that year, 2018, to be at every murder site if there was one,” Brown said.

Harrison noted that Brown has been instrumental in this ministry. “He’s attended every murder site and has ministered to numerous families,” Harrison said. “He has recruited church members and other community pastors to go love their neighbors in these difficult times as well.”

When Pine Bluff announced their 19th homicide in 2020, Harrison and other Family Church ministers went out, as they normally do, to make contact with the family. Something they always do within their ministry is put a cross where the incident happened. Harrison posted a simple message on Facebook:

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“Just knowing that was a person. That person had value, that person was made in the image of Christ and there are people connected to that person that loved them,” Harrison said. “That was somebody’s son, brother, sister, mom, something.”

The purpose is to bring light to that person’s life and show that even given the circumstances, everyone has a purpose and is loved in the eye of the Lord. It’s not simply a Family Church ministry though. It’s more of a community outreach as they also partner with other churches of different denominations to help meet the needs of the families impacted.

Brown noted that they’ve had people in the community, local law enforcement, and several other churches respond to this ministry in positive ways, which has been a blessing.

Many times they go to a site and pray. Families will come out and ask who they are and what they’re doing, and they take the time to listen and pray for those affected. Some families have their own churches they attend but appreciate the prayers and even join them in praying. Others end up getting contact information and eventually visit Family Church.

“There’s a lot of people that the Lord definitely loves [here] and as the church, we are called to reach out to love them. So, we’ve tried to step into those areas to bring the light of the Gospel and the love of Christ instead of just running away from it,” Harrison said.

Stephen said their prayer for the families and community always echo the same message: that lives will be changed among these tragedies and that Jesus will be the center of hope and love for the city of Pine Bluff.

“My prayer is that people that love the Lord will be seen loving the Lord,” Brown said. “My prayer is that the Church would truly be the Church right where people are at and not demand that people come to a certain level to be around them.”

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