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‘It’s still raw.’ SBTC strategist comforts hometown after massacre

Tony Mathews, senior strategist of missional ministries with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, visits the memorial to 10 people killed May 14 at the Tops Friendly Market around the corner from where his mother lives.

BUFFALO, New York (BP) – Tony Mathews’ mother called him every few moments with updates. A white teenager was at the Tops Friendly Market around the corner from her Buffalo home, shooting people just because they were Black.

Mathews, senior strategist of missional ministries with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), listened.

“My mom called me and said, ‘Tony, there is a shooting right here in Tops around the block.’ She called me several times in a row, talking about the number of people who were killed. She heard three people, now five people. No there’s eight people, so she was calling me consistently giving me updates.”

The gunman, charged with domestic terrorism and 10 counts of murder, is accused of killing 10 Blacks and injuring three others, one of them Black.

Juanita Mathews, the 83-year-old mother of SBTC senior strategist Tony Mathews, on the porch of her home near the Tops Friendly Market where she frequently shopped before the May 14 massacre.

“She was at home and she was just devastated,” Mathews, a Buffalo native, said of his 83-year-old mother Juanita Mathews. His sister Pat Mathews lives next door to their mother. Several cousins live in the same neighborhood block. His brother Joe lives in Buffalo.

“That’s the community. I can step out of my mom’s house, get in my car, and I’m at the Tops Market in three and a half minutes. I mean it’s like super, super close,” Mathews said. “I said I have to do something because it’s home. It’s my backyard. Just knowing I had those connections, the devastation, and me being a former pastor, I said we’ve just got to do something.”

With the support of SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick, Mathews traveled to Buffalo May 27-29 to minister to the hurting.

Frontier Baptist Association Director of Missions Mike Flannery connected Mathews with North American Mission Board church planter Eric Napoli, pastor of Amherst Baptist Church in Amherst.

Napoli is organizing a series of outreaches to to help the Buffalo community mourn the killings, including a second community barbecue June 4 and subsequent monthly outreaches with food and evangelism.

About 100 volunteers fed around 600 people at the May 28 cookout, prayed with and comforted many attendees and distributed Bibles and Gospel tracts, Napoli said.

“A large number of the volunteers, their entire ministry is just to make people feel welcome, find out what their spiritual needs are (and) break into some spiritual conversations,” Napoli said. “It’s all about the Kingdom.”

Faithful Stone Senior Pastor Mark Hamilton, a non-Southern Baptist pastor Napoli met last year, is hosting the events in the parking lot of his church within eyesight of the crime scene. Frontier also supports The Peace Market, a Christian humanitarian ministry, in distributing fresh food from the church parking lot each Wednesday.

Mathews describes his family and the community as still hurting, but processing the pain.

“It’s still raw. They are still just shocked. There is also a little bit of fear there. They said that they just can’t believe that people would target them because of the color of their skin, and that we are still living in a day and age where this is happening.

“But my mom’s a great lady of faith,” Mathews said. “She’s a praying woman. There’s hope. And I think what may have exacerbated it a little bit, is I came up on a Friday, and we had just had the shooting in Texas. It almost, in a weird way, retraumatized us.”

In Texas, Mathews is surrounded by additional pain after a teenage gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“It was just a very hurtful week, but the Lord is able to heal. What the enemy means for bad, God can take some things and turn it, and bring some good things out of it,” Mathews said. “And just seeing the unity. The unity was there, and people helping each other. Folks hugging each other, sharing meals, praying together.”

His mother’s church, Mount Olive Baptist Church, hosted the final funeral May 28 for the victims of the massacre – 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, whose service was attended by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

“I would say that it really impacts people of color,” Mathews said. “To be targeted because of your skin color. We were born Black, we didn’t have a choice in that, that’s something we cannot change. And to be targeted because of the color of your skin is traumatizing. And that’s not just for us. That’s for anyone. That is really traumatizing, but Black Americans are extremely, we are a forgiving people, we are a praying people, and we are for unity, but it definitely impacts us. It impacts us.”

Mathews appreciates the multicultural response to the Buffalo shooting.

“There’s hope and there’s healing, and my entire ministry has been characterized by bringing people together. I just think on unity across racial and ethnic lines, and we just can’t let hate breed hate in us,” he said. “We have to believe in something different with the love of Christ. Be prudent, but at the same time, we can’t let this destroy our humanity.”

His mother has a solution for such frequent mass shootings and the subsequent trauma.

“This may sound over spiritual, but people need the Lord. She said people need to get back into the church, and not just physically,” he said. “My mom is like, folks need the Lord and people need to live for the Lord, because He will be the One to get all of that hatred out of us. She’s kind of blunt like that.”