With the mistreatment he suffered as a teenager growing up in Camden, N.J.’s inner city, Kevin Williams could have become embittered against police. Instead, he became a law enforcement officer.
He could have stayed on the force until retirement age. Instead, he followed God’s call into vocational ministry.
Today, Williams’ diverse life, career and ministry experiences have him uniquely prepared to serve with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) on the front lines of the cultural and racial divides permeating the nation. He can directly relate to community members who don’t trust law enforcement, to police who feel hated by the people they are trying to serve and to a church grappling with how to be a bridge of hope amid chaos.
Williams is convinced it’s all part of a divine plan, sovereignly and graciously scripted by God.
“It’s not about human knowledge or wisdom,” he says. “It’s something God knew before the foundation of the world and that He allowed me to live through. Over the years, I’ve tried not to hold onto what He’s given me so tightly that I couldn’t let it go to experience the next thing He had for me.”
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Williams, 58, helped lead RRT’s ministry of presence during intense times of civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo.; Baltimore, Md.; Milwaukee, Wis.; and Charlotte, N.C. Amid burning buildings, looting, angry protests and National Guard reinforcements, Williams has seen gang members come to Christ and people from all across the spectrum of the conflicts find hope in Jesus.
“My heart is to see the division broken and unity come through,” Williams says. “There’s a responsibility in every area. The community has responsibility. Law enforcement—government—has responsibility, and the church has responsibility. They need to be walking together.”
But, ultimately, there is no human solution.
“All the money the United States can print is not going to fix this,” Williams says. “The government can play a role, but there’s no political solution. It all comes down to Christ Jesus. It’s the supernatural power of God changing the heart of a man or a woman or a boy or a girl. Where there’s an injustice or whatever, we must look past it to the One who can change it. That’s where I found my refuge.”
A Dream Survives
As a young boy, Williams sometimes sat on his bedroom floor playing with toy police cars, fire trucks and military soldier figurines—dreaming of someday becoming a public servant in the fight against crime and injustice.
But that vision was severely tested by three traumatic events in his teens.
First, at age 16, he was on his way home to try to meet Camden’s 9 p.m. curfew—prompted by prior race riots—when he was picked up by police, driven to the other end of town, beaten and left on the side of the road.
“Growing up in the projects, I had seen many things take place by police, who we called the storm troopers,” Williams says. “It made me wonder if it was going to happen to me someday. Then, that day, I got a taste of it.”
He was upset, but it didn’t soil his idealistic view of law enforcement—that most cops had integrity.
Second, about a year later, he became uncomfortable with the neighborhood “club” of boys that he was part of and decided to leave it because it was feeling increasingly like a gang.
When he announced to the others that he was departing and might even become a cop someday, one of the boys put a gun to his head, pressed it into his temple and attempted to fire.
“He was going to kill me,” Williams says.
Somehow, the trigger got stuck, and Williams escaped.
Third, in 1977, after Williams graduated from high school, a stranger with a dog broke into the apartment where he was living. Williams, 18 at the time, defended himself and felt that he was well within legal bounds.
However, the intruder pressed charges against Williams, who was arrested and spent a month and a half in jail. Williams objected—to no avail—but eventually the charges were dropped and any record of his arrest was expunged.
As difficult as the experience was, Williams’ desire to wear the blue didn’t die.
“I could’ve become one of the most radical protesters, but it never happened that way,” he says. “I truly believe God was wooing me to Himself to need Him.”
A Multi-Faceted Calling
Williams received Jesus as his Lord and Savior in August 1985 and entered law enforcement shortly thereafter, joining the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
During his 19-year career, he was a member of the juvenile crime prevention program and served as a chaplain to inmates, officers and civilian staff. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he served at Ground Zero in New York City.
Upon retiring from law enforcement, Williams and his family moved to Matthews, N.C., where he eventually enrolled at Southern Evangelical Seminary and went on to serve as interim senior pastor for a church the seminary had started.
He joined BGEA as a security officer in 2007 and moved to the Rapid Response Team in 2015, where he now serves as emergency response logistics manager.
Williams looks back at his life and sees a tapestry woven by God. He’s thankful for even the most difficult things he’s faced.
“There is no animosity, no hurt and no pain in my heart because true forgiveness has taken place through Jesus Christ, through the grace of God,” he says.
The joy of the Lord bursts forth from Williams consistently, whether he’s working with citizens wounded by years of racial injustice, police officers who are hurting and sometimes fear for their lives, church leaders searching for the Lord’s direction, or staff members at BGEA who’ve become accustomed to his enthusiastic exhortation that “God … loves … you!”
“Those words are absolute truth,” Williams says. “They’re not just ordinary words. We need to hear them. My passion comes from realizing that God loves me. Christ cut through my mess and saved me. People can say anything they want about other people and other groups, but I know the Gospel can cut through all of that, too.
“When I look back, I don’t become sad, and it doesn’t bring up anything in me that would put me on a negative path. It gives me more joy, because He’s faithful.”