Following an uptick in gun violence in Benton Harbor, Michigan, United States, which included the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old last summer, Taurus Montgomery, pastor of the Harbor of Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church, knew he and the church could not remain on the sidelines.
June 10-13, 2021, local church members and leaders held “The Final Play,” an event that brought families together to set the tone for a positive, productive, and peaceful summer in the city of Benton Harbor.
“Instead of sitting back and complaining about the youth, we decided to do something,” Montgomery said. He has been pastor of the church for almost nine years and lives with his family in the economically depressed community. “Something that will showcase opportunities that are available to the youth set the tone towards preventing an uptick of summer violence, unite community and leaders around the shared goal of youth empowerment, and spread love and hope throughout the city.”
More than Basketball
The four-day “basketball and faith” event had several components: a basketball tournament, exhibit booths, giveaways, community service, talent show, food vendors, and community grants. Representatives from more than 20 organizations shared information on topics from health and wellness to financial literacy to education with attendees.
Each evening, an episodic stage play centered around a young man going into the summertime; he had talents and abilities but faced a challenging environment.
Teams in the charity basketball tournament competed for a US$1,000 prize and for a chance to donate US$2,500 to the charity they represented. The organization with the most social media shares received the first pick of the basketball team to represent them. The Benton Harbor mentoring organization 400 Men had the first pick of charitable organization and chose Benton Harbor All Stars, which placed second in the tournament. The 400 Men group was awarded US$1,500. Peace of Life of Benton Harbor chose the Oakwood University team, and that team placed first. Peace for Life was awarded US$2,500. The African American History Museum of Benton Harbor received a US$1,000 community grant.
The community impact portion consisted of participants going to stores and gas stations to bless community residents with free groceries, free gas, free haircuts, and, of course, free prayers.
The Harbor of Hope church was able to hold this event, which attracted more than 400 attendees, by utilizing the skills of more than 100 volunteers and a planning committee that met for nine months.
One of the volunteers, Shannon Trecartin, remarked that it was obvious God had picked very specific people with complementary skills to make the event a success. “And as an aside,” she said, “planning the final play revived my relationship with God. It reminded me of the excitement that comes when you dedicate your time and talents to God and blessing His children.”
One of the players, a young man named Napoleon, made a decision to follow Christ. He had been attending Harbor of Hope before the pandemic and said he was glad they were once again engaging with the community.
Diane Young, a local influencer, said she was impressed with the high degree of professionalism and wrote on a social media account: “Thank you, Taurus Montgomery and supporters for the grants awarded to some amazing groups working to make our community a better place to live and work. The exhibit booths, the networking, the basketball tournaments, the praise team and the stage play were such a blessing to Benton Harbor. But what touched me even more was the young man wanting something different, wanting a better life, wanting to be saved. Thank you, Jesus!”