Aaron Reyes stood in front of a table decorated with candles and photos of Ahmaud Arbery, Mike Ramos, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor—all African Americans whose violent deaths have sparked recent protests and riots. Facing a camera and a small group of people wearing face masks, Reyes led a virtual prayer vigil on June 3.
Reyes heads up the Austin, Texas, chapter of the Christian Community Development Association, whose mission includes helping Christians of different races build relationships with each other.
“We’re in a context of suffering and hardship, and the proper response for you and me is to take all that we are feeling and all the injustices we are perceiving or experiencing ourselves … and to lay them before the God who is in heaven,” he said.
As in many U.S. cities, June 3 also marked the sixth consecutive night of protests in Austin. Crowds gathered outside police department headquarters and the Texas Capitol to protest Floyd’s death. They marched, chanted, sang, and shouted, some carrying signs, some walking dogs. Most gathered peacefully, while others looted a few downtown businesses and vandalized police headquarters. In the aftermath, Christian ministries and pastors working for racial reconciliation or in urban ministries are answering tougher questions from church members and volunteers and finding more opportunities for education and ministry.
Randy Nabors coordinates the New City Network, a coalition of cross-cultural churches. He has heard from New City’s pastors who, he said, “are caught between two communities, if not more.” White church members wonder what responsibility they bear for racism in their communities, and black Christians wonder if they should attend all-black churches. “All these issues spring up almost every time we have issues like this,” Nabors said.
Churches also have asked for curriculum and resources on racial reconciliation. Nabors sees an opportunity: More Christians want help to bridge racial divides.
Advocates for Community Transformation, one of WORLD’s 2016 Hope Awards for Effective Compassion winners, doesn’t advertise itself as a racial justice organization. Its main functions are to shut down drug houses and reduce crime in poverty-stricken Dallas neighborhoods, but it has spent the last year and a half focusing on racial equity. On May 31, ACT leaders joined African American and white Dallas pastors on the steps of the city’s police headquarters to pray. ACT Chief Advancement Officer Guy Delcambre said he has struggled to know how to respond to recent events, but on that Sunday, “it was encouraging to see plenty of people who are white like me, probably asking themselves the same questions, but making a first step by just showing up … with the act of prayer together.”