ST. LOUIS (BP) — Having his car stolen at gunpoint will not prevent his church, Carondelet Baptist Church, from continuing its ministry in the community, said Pastor Mike Coleman.
On Friday night, Jan. 27, Coleman was at the church as it was hosting a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He decided to get a pizza for a church trustee who had been doing some work in the basement – flood repairs needed from heavy rains a year ago.
He came back shortly with a meat lover’s special from Cecil Whittaker’s Pizzeria. But when he turned to step out of his car, he was looking down the barrel of a gun.
“My first thought was, ‘That doesn’t look real,’” he told Baptist Press. “I own guns, but you can’t go by that. The police told me later it was a real gun.”
In an interview with KSDK News, Coleman explained how two “young, young, young gentlemen” he thought couldn’t be older than 13 or 14 demanded he hand over his wallet, phone and keys. Before leaving, they ordered him to remove the anti-theft device he had just placed on the steering wheel and even help them start the engine.
“I really believe these guys had never driven a real car before,” he said.
Seconds after driving away, the thieves hit two neighboring cars before abandoning the vehicle a short distance away and fleeing. Over the weekend, police reported the arrest of one 13-year-old suspect.
At the beginning of the ordeal, Coleman pointed out to the thieves the security camera that had been installed four years ago. He credits its presence with helping save his life.
“It was a dangerous situation,” he told BP. “A kid has no idea what he’s doing in that case, and I have no idea what to say to convince him from not going further.”
The town of Carondelet was founded in 1767, three years after St. Louis. The latter’s growth led to annexing Carondelet in 1870. Coleman, 63 years old, doesn’t go back that far. He is from the area, though, and even lives with his wife, Jackie, in the house where he grew up.
“I attended a Catholic church and say I’m the best Baptist preacher they’ve ever produced,” he said.
He joined Carondelet 30 years ago as a member and for the past 25 has been on staff, first as custodian for 17 years and then as pastor for the last eight.
Coleman watched as the government bought up properties and homes to build I-55, which split the neighborhood and led to change. Some folks stayed. A lot of them moved into the county. The effects can be seen when approximately 40 people gather on Sundays in an auditorium built for 450.
He never left and doesn’t plan to anytime soon, despite a surge in crime.
“I believe that if enough good people move out of the neighborhood, it turns bad,” he said. “Why go looking for a field ripe unto harvest when you have one right here?”
The church still conducts visitation to shut-ins and new parents. Its Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry is on the verge of being a year-round effort, Coleman said.
Two days after the robbery, he preached from 1 John 4:19. They are to love others, he told those in attendance, because God first loved us. Don’t hate your enemies; love them.
Coleman will press charges because there are earthly repercussions to bad decisions. It doesn’t mean the church is pulling back, though, in its efforts to better the community. In speaking with the TV news crew, his voice choked at the challenge single mothers and grandmothers face in raising boys. He pledged that Carondelet will be there to help.
“I don’t care what you have done, you can ask for forgiveness for something you did at 13 and it be ancient history. And you can use that as your witness, your testimony,” he said. “That’s when the power of God, the Holy Spirit, God’s Word becomes practical and not just spiritual.
“That’s what I’m hoping in this, that it can be a blessing.”