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Gospel drives continuing outreach as Tops Market shooter pleads guilty

Mourners set up a memorial for victims of the Tops Friendly Market massacre in May of this year. Photo by Mike Flannery

BUFFALO, N.Y. (BP) – Gospel outreach remains the goal of pastors in Buffalo after gunman Payton Gendron pleaded guilty Nov.28 to domestic terrorism and murder in the killing 10 Blacks at a supermarket.

Mark Hamilton, senior pastor of Faithful Stones Church near the Tops Friendly Market where the crime occurred in May, has partnered with Send Network church planter Eric Napoli and the Frontier Baptist Association in spreading the Gospel alongside humanitarian outreaches that continued through Thanksgiving in the impacted community.

Hamilton and Napoli, who began partnering in the Gospel nearly a year before the shooting occurred, welcomed the guilty plea that reversed Gendron’s initial not guilty plea in June.

Willie McLaurin (right) speaks with Mark Hamilton, senior pastor of Faithful Stones Church, a non-Southern Baptist evangelical church near the scene of the mass shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket. File photo

“It makes a big difference that we won’t have the reopening of wounds of taking it through a long trial, wasting more tax dollars and money and mental stress,” Hamilton, a bivocational Reformed Baptist pastor, told Baptist Press. “All of those things are a contributing factor to helping with the healing, that he would take responsibility for the lives that he has directly affected, the lives that he has taken away.

“For the healing and the benefit of those directly affected and indirectly, the community at large,” Hamilton said, “praise God for the guilty plea.”

Napoli, pastor of Sheridan Parkside Community Church in Tonawanda and Amherst Baptist Church in Amherst, hopes the plea will birth Gospel reconciliation.

“I believe the church’s response needs to be one of grace and mercy, no matter what. I’m involved in prison ministry, and I look forward to seeing the grace of Christ win the day on that entire thing and win a heart over,” Napoli said. “That’s my hope. Reconciliation is the ministry that’s been given to us.”

Gendron faces life in prison without parole on the state charges in New York, which has no death penalty, but could face the death penalty on federal charges still pending. He has pleaded not guilty on 27 federal counts, including 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, and 13 counts of using, carrying or discharging a firearm.

Faithful Stones Church hosted a service of hope for the grieving in November, sponsored by North Buffalo Community Church Pastor William Smith, whose church member, Cashell Durham lost her baby brother Aaron Salter in the massacre.

Pain remains as the community recovers, Hamilton said.

“Of course, the last thing, pain of this, will not move on so quickly,” Hamilton said. “But the lives obviously are moving forward as the community surrounds itself around each other, particularly the church.”

The crimes have impacted churches especially, Napoli said.

“It hit the church community as hard as anybody, because almost all, if not every one of the people that were killed were members, longstanding, in the local churches,” Napoli said. “The fellowship of churches is stronger, and then there’s just the ongoing grieving process. We’re heading into the holiday season; that’s all very difficult.”

Food insecurity remains high in the community months after the Tops Friendly Market reopened in July. Napoli, the Frontier Baptist Association and others supported Hamilton in distributing 25 bags of food to families at Thanksgiving.

As early as May, the pastors and association worked with community groups in festivals that included resources, information, counseling, Gospel conversations and recreation. Three festivals were held in the first five weeks, followed by monthly festivals that ended in October. Food was distributed weekly to families in need during the two months the Tops Market was closed after the crimes.

“Our goal from the day this happened was to get the Gospel out in front of it all, especially in the inner city,” Hamilton said. “We know money can help and buy certain things, but it cannot buy hope, it cannot buy peace, and it cannot buy forgiveness. And so we wanted to make sure the Gospel was loud and clear, and flood the area with Gospel hope in Jesus Christ.”

The tragedy emphasized the importance of cross-cultural partnerships, Napoli said.

“The most important thing remains,” he said. “We shouldn’t be waiting for tragedy to occur. I think that was the biggest takeaway for Mark and me, is that we already had this relationship many months prior with no knowledge of the need for this. Obviously, the tragedy was not foreseen.

“I think it’s really important for the church to be networking across cultural boundaries and just reaching out to each other in the good times, not just the tragic times. To really become aware of one another. I think sometimes the local church is just so myopic.”

Hamilton appreciates the partnership of Southern Baptists and others in ministering to the community long after the national spotlight has dimmed.

“We’re looking to do even more for the holiday season, if we can do that before the year is out,” Hamilton said. “If we can expose people to the hope, the only hope, the only peace and grace that is available in Christ, we want to do that, and we want to continue that with Sheridan Parkside, Frontier Baptist, whoever will join us.”