In Binghamton, ministry seeks to help

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (BP)--In the aftermath of a shooting spree at an immigrant center in Binghamton, N.Y., a ministry sponsored by a local Baptist association has opened its doors to offer free counseling to people who want to talk.

"Basically we're just trying to be a listening ear for people," Rick Martin, director of the Carroll Street Ministry Center in Binghamton, told Baptist Press. "I feel like the fellow that did the shooting was far too long alone in his thoughts and pain. Maybe people weren't reaching out to him, and certainly he wasn't reaching out to others."

The gunman has been identified as Jiverly Wong, who was ethnically Chinese but was from Vietnam and was angry over losing a job and frustrated about his poor English skills, according to the Associated Press.

Wong invaded the American Civic Association April 3 during citizenship classes and killed two employees and 11 immigrants taking an English class before killing himself. The same day, Wong had mailed a letter to a Syracuse TV news station blaming his troubles on police and vowing to kill at least two people and himself, AP said.

Martin also is pastor of Freedom Fellowship Church, which meets in the ministry center owned by the Central New York Baptist Association, and he is manning the center for eight hours a day for at least a week following the shooting. If people need prayer or counseling, they are encouraged to stop by the ministry center.

"We've had a couple on Saturday, four on Sunday, three yesterday and one guy just came in today," Martin said around noon on Wednesday. "The main thing I hear people say is, 'I did not think this kind of thing would happen here.' Also the question I hear regularly is 'Why?'"

He starts by reminding them it wasn't God who pulled the trigger but the shooter, and he shares the Gospel message with them.

Martin and some other volunteers have walked the streets of Binghamton, a city of about 43,000 people about 175 miles northwest of New York City, seeking opportunities to help people process what happened.

"Some people are coming in not because of the tragedy," Martin said. "One lady came in yesterday saying, 'Is this just for people that are dealing with a tragedy or other things?' I said, 'Other things.'"

A licensed Christian counselor from another church in the association volunteered her time a couple of days, Martin said, and she was able to counsel the woman who had needs unrelated to the shooting.

"She was a Catholic lady that had a lot on her and needed to unload," Martin said. "We talked afterwards and she said she felt comforted and was appreciative."

The ministry center has been operational for about 10 years, Martin said, and he has been there for six years. The goal of the ministry has been to establish a church in the inner-city community, which Martin described as half black, half white. Freedom Fellowship Church averages 25 people a week, he said.

"Our vision is that we would be here to lift people up in the name of Christ," Martin told BP. "We believe in compassion and truth and keeping those two things together, the Word and the deed. We have ministries such as a food pantry and a weekly community meal, an after-school program. During the summer we have Vacation Bible Schools and basketball clinics."

Martin said he and the other volunteers are trying to determine what kind of ongoing ministry might stem from the week of free counseling in the wake of the shootings.

"We're wondering how to keep responding to our community that is so hurting at this time," he said. "We need more workers, of course, more volunteers. We need finances for our ministry. We need prayer that we would continue in the strength and the love and compassion and truth of Christ so we would have something to offer and give these people."

In related news, Dino Pedrone, president of Davis College in nearby Johnson City, N.Y., circulated a statement the day of the shooting to assure concerned individuals that no students or faculty were present at the civic center during the tragedy. Davis College has been affiliated with the Baptist Convention of New York for about two years.

"This is indeed the grace of God -- on Wednesdays, our Teaching English as a Second Language students are at this very location helping to teach English to people who are new to our country," Pedrone wrote. "It is a place where our students use the skills they learn in the classroom at Davis College, while helping people.

"... We are relieved to report that none of our students were scheduled to work at the Civic Center today," he added. "At the same time, our hearts are heavy and our thoughts and prayers are with those directly affected by this horrific event."

Davis students have gathered on campus to pray for those involved in the shooting, the president said.


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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