Senseless Ferguson destruction prompts Southern Baptist pastor's call for prayers

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Volunteers and workers clear soot from the site where a police vehicle was set ablaze in Ferguson, Missouri November 25, 2014. | Adrees Latif/REUTERS

FERGUSON, Mo. (Christian Examiner) – It's not the hot pizza he picked up every Wednesday night at the Little Caesars across from First Baptist Church in Ferguson, Missouri that he will miss the most -- but what it represents that makes him angry.

The morning after angry crowds looted local businesses, set fires to cars and buildings and reacted violently to an announcement that a grand jury found no probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, a Southern Baptist church planter who grew up in Ferguson said he felt a surge of emotions.

"There were two emotions I went through last night, utter heartbrokenness and anger -- a lot of anger over sinful decisions," Costephens said.

The "sinful decisions" to which Costephens refers, were the decision by some to "destroy" many of the local restaurants and businesses.

"You look at everything that was torn down and destroyed and we ask, 'Why is where we live being destroyed?' Costephens said. "The destruction of the city is breaking my heart."

Specifically, the Little Ceasars Pizza restaurant across from First Baptist Church in Ferguson that was burned to the ground "was a mainstay" for his family, Costephens said, and he knew people who worked there, and every Wednesday night purchased a pizza to take to his community group.

"Businesses will need to be rebuilt, relationships need to be restored, and the way people interact with each other as they walk past each other on the streets needs to heal," Costephens said.

All of this will only happen through the love of Jesus, he said. Costephens knows a little about reaching out. His congregation at Passage Church is known for hosting block parties and for its solid presence in the community. It is a community of believers focused on "being the light and going out and sharing Jesus," he said.

"I wholeheartedly believe the only thing that will mend the brokenness of our city is the Gospel," Costephens said. "It will be a Gospel-sized task to bring a Gospel-fix to our city."

Optimistic, the married father of four young children who has organized cleanup teams, sent daily email updates, and has walked the city with black and white pastors to ask what he can do to be a permanent part of change, Costephens is committed to being a part of the solution.

"Prayer is our biggest weapon. God has been teaching me to sit still and pray. I am a doer, but this will be a long road," he admitted. "The only one who can change hearts is Jesus. We will have a long hard road seeing revival come to believers and unbelievers being reinvigorated in what we have been called to do."


Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, in a press conference Tuesday afternoon, invited several area clergy to the platform. Over 800 individuals met with the mayor for prayer prior to the press conference.

At the news conference, Timothy Woods, pastor of First Freewill Baptist Church in St. Louis, a member of the Ferguson community, said the acts of violence give a "distorted image" of Ferguson.

"We do not condone violence," Woods said. "We condemn those acts."

Woods clarified his statement by saying: "Acts we condemn; people we love."

The pastor joined with other clergy in calling for prayer for the community, but also had strong words of support for those trying to keep the peace.

"We stand with our government and clergy ... and police officers," Woods said. "We are all in this together."