What about LOVE and a biker shooting on Ascension Sunday?

My little city of Waco is feeling closed in on today. Feuding biker gangs have left the local Twin Peaks restaurant in a blood bath and, though innocent civilians were not harmed, 26 years’ worth of held grudges and repressed violence spilled out upon my city. Nine have been pronounced dead, 18 were taken to local hospitals, and the entirety of the Central Texas Marketplace shopping center has been shut down. Arrests are currently being made downtown, and a local Wal-Mart has also been closed. (read more here)

This event may have Waco on her knees, but it’s also awakened hearts full of warrior cries against darkness: We will not be shaken!

What do you know about Waco?

Of course, you know, of course, about the horrific Branch Davidian raid.  Until recently, this fiery event was the only thing anyone knew about Waco. Our zip code is cited with a poverty rate double the national average and one of the highest crime rates per capita in the nation.

Do you know that it holds a rich natural and Native American history? Come visit the Mammoth Site! Do you know that from 1889-1917, Waco permitted prostitution in an area bounded by Washington Avenue, N 2nd Street, Jefferson Avenue, and the Brazos River? This district, known simply as The Reservation, was the nation’s second legal red light district, employing over 1200 legal working prostitutes (more here).

Did you know about Waco’s strategic spiritual legacy? Maybe you’ve heard of World Music, Choice Ministries, or Louie Giglio and Passion Movement? What about David Crowder or Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper? How about the thousands who are changing the world through Baylor University, global missions, thriving local churches, and nonprofits?  Maybe you recently heard about The Gathering, a city-wide event held on Palm Sunday at McLane Stadium! A synergy of unity and LOVE is growing up in this city. Walls are breaking down across political and socioeconomic lines for development in our city. These are exciting times!

And now this - another event to thrust Waco into the national spotlight for violence and bloodshed. Isn’t it obvious? Does the enemy never find new tactics? Across the globe, this is the Sunday we celebrate Christ’s Ascension into Heaven (Luke 24 and Acts 1). Christ proclaims not only his authority and sovereign position over the earth, but also our responsibility:  "YOU are my witnesses!"

And so, thousands of years later, we still carry that responsibility. For some time, Jesus Said Love has felt God’s leading to hunker down in Waco and spread out across the I35 Corridor (read more here). It’s never been more clear than today that we are EXACTLY where God wants us. If you know anything about Twin Peaks, you know its reputation (in the same vein as Hooters). Harmless, right? Not officially part of the sex industry!...and yet many of our women transition here to wait tables when they get tired of taking their clothes off. One girl even told us, “I have one old man who comes into Hooters just to touch my butt. I let him because it’s easier to deal with him than some of the jerks in the club.”  And so, the cycle of objectifying women and even sexually assaulting them goes unchecked. It’s clear on days like today that places like this can become hotbeds for violence. Where you permit injustice to one, you run the risk of permitting injustice for many...even putting an entire city at risk.

And as I write, it’s being reported that more gang members are on their way to our city on a hill, held by the “Arms of God” (Brazos River). My family lives a stone’s throw from the police station, and I am sure we will hear helicopters tonight. The hood might be bumpin' a bit, and I have been texting our contacts at clubs to make sure they’re okay. Some of the women I love are well-connected with biker gangs. Would you pray for them, for us? Would you pray with me for Paul-like conversions? Only Jesus can even come close to helping us forgive age-old debts. Nothing else works. Absolutely nothing.

Here’s what I know about my Waco: if droughts and tornadoes, cults and violence, poverty and the roots of the sex industry haven’t crushed us, it is for a DIVINE strategy. God wants us here, and we want to be a part of changing the world for the Gospel. We will continue standing together, continue loving and supporting each other. Today is confirmation that we are a threat to the kingdom of darkness.  

Waco is not a small, sleepy, lackluster town, but a main attraction along the I-35 corridor...and if you live in Waco and didn’t want to be noticed, then you might need to relocate. The enemy has always been watching, and now the world is too. We can’t fly under the radar and stick our heads in the sand, beg for revival and yet stay unwilling to engage. We have to rise up and set holy fire to all that is prideful and idolatrous toward the Gospel...and that fire is LOVE.

We love through kindness, gentleness, self control. We love through linking arms and extending mercy because it is kindness that leads to repentance - always. We support our local governments and first responders in this way. We listen first, talk second, and then move into action. We love the offender so much that we are willing to support the consequences of violence and disruption. We love them so much to then visit them behind the very bars we support...just like the Holy Spirit comforts us in our affliction (even if it’s self-inflicted). We don’t take retaliation into our own hands, but roll up our sleeves and show up to city council meetings, advocate for the poor, create jobs, write letters to the editor, and vote!

This is OUR city. WE WILL NOT BE SHAKEN.  Waco, this is our time. Get on your knees, gather together to pray and above all, LOVE.  

Emily Mills is the founder and co-CEO of Jesus Said Love. Jesus Said Love, founded in Waco, Texas, reaches women in the commercial sex industry to awaken hope and empower change. Jesus Said Love has teams operating in Waco, Dallas, Bryan/College Station, San Antonio and Killeen.