Church caught in downtown shootout renews mission

Church caught in downtown shootout renews mission

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The shooting death of a trial witness outside the Montgomery Courthouse left many who witnessed the shootout rattled.

The shooting also left an impact on those at First Baptist Church, which is located feet from where the murder victim, Kelvin Cooley, fought for his life. First Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Dr. Jay Wolf, is not worried about the bullets around his church; he's more concerned about the souls of the murder victim Kelvin Cooley, and the alleged shooter, Josephus Boone.

"I was brokenhearted," stated Wolf, who witnessed Cooley fighting for his life near the church. "I saw a man hurt very deeply, and I saw the waste of human capital and potential. God has made us in His image. Here in Montgomery we continue to see a lot of people hurting, and hating, and killing each other. How many news stories do we have like this? This was on my radar, because it happened in my backyard."

Despite the bloodshed and the bullets, Wolf sees the church as a beacon of hope and light, equipped to handle this challenge.

"How do you break a generational curse?" Wolf asked. "You do it with a generational blessing. Jesus is the core of that."

For employees at First Baptist Church, confronting the death of Kelvin Cooley face-to-face has renewed their mission.

"People could say 'oh my goodness, you had a shooting at church, you need to run for the hills,'" Wolf said. "No, dig in, get your fire back like never before so you can shine the light of Christ in this place. I think this is where Jesus would be ministering. He didn't run from the need, he ran to it."

Wolf says the city can work past the violence and change lives if we approach the need of others who are living in despair the same way Christ did: meeting those in need, where they are.

"There was a man raging with evil, he was a terror to his community and Jesus extracted the evil, and he was as gentle as a lamb," Wolf said. "When your attitudes change, your actions change. It's always an inside job."

Wolf is the first to admit helping people change their lives is a difficult, messy process – but it's necessary, and it's what he believes we are called to do.

"If you saw someone drowning in a flood, would you give them instructions on how to swim, or do you tie a rope to yourself and go and get them, or get on a boat and go in and rescue them?" Wolf asked. "You have to go to them. Yelling instructions across the raging water is not going to do the job. That's what Jesus did for us. Did he yell instructions from Heaven? No, he put on human flesh and came to Earth to walk among us."

For First Baptist, it's a 30 year long tutoring program for at-risk children -- a weekly, 9 month long commitment. It's the Nehemiah Project in Chisholm, and other programs that touch countless lives.

"You can't sweep in and sweep out, and get a medal," Wolf warned. "You have to embrace people where they are – and move them where God wants them to be."

Simply put, Wolf firmly believes meeting the needs of others in the name of Jesus could be the catalyst to bring Montgomery together.

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