Guns, Grudges, and the Gospel
As a parent of three small children I have come to cherish the quiet moments that come after we wrestle our three children into bed. My wife and I can finally relax, talk, watch TV, and read without interruption. Moving to the inner city and getting involved with teenagers and our neighbors lives has meant that this sacred time gets interrupted quite often. Most nights there are knocks at the door for kids needing rides, neighbors with medical issues, kids wanting to talk, a schizophrenic wanting some orange juice, etc. These times of interruption often prove to be the most fruitful in terms of forming relationships and sharing about the love of Jesus. In fact I think if we only shared at convenient times we might never share.
One night a few months ago I had finally gotten my kids in bed and was sitting down to watch some TV with a teenager who was living with us at the time. We heard fifteen to twenty gunshots right outside our house. We both jumped to the ground face down till the shooting stopped. I then got up and ran to each of my children’s rooms to make sure they were okay. My oldest daughter was still awake and asked what was happening. I lied and told her it was firecrackers. As I lied I got angry because I thought the shooting might have been some gang members on our street shooting their guns in the air. I decided it was about time I confronted them about this so I ran out the front door. When I got to the porch I saw one of my neighbors on his knees in the front yard with blood all over his shirt. Another man was with him and when he saw me he shouted, “Doc, hurry he’s been shot.” I ran over to him and realized he had been shot numerous times in the chest (later I would learn it had been nine times) and was gurgling blood. I felt helpless and tried to reassure him and called 911. As I stood there I sensed some fear that whoever had done this might drive back by to finish the job. I also noticed that his friends were in the back yard throwing their own guns in the bushes in anticipation of the police arriving. After about five minutes the police and paramedics showed up and I took our five year old neighbor with me to our house since his house had been shot up and now was a crime scene.
In the six months preceding this shooting our street had become a hotbed of suspicious activity. The house across the street had become a drug house and had been the spot of several shootings. I had watched cars pull in and out of this house for months as I tossed baseball with my son outside. I had grown to resent the young men that were clearly up to no good. I was hesitant to get too involved because I had no real proof and also because I did not know whether I should be sharing the gospel with these people or trying to get them arrested. I felt that either way would turn out poorly. The night of the shooting, as I watched over our 5 year old neighbor, his uncle came and asked to use the bathroom. This was a man that had been at the center of most of the activity across the street. He then asked to hang out for a while because he was out on parole and could not be caught around this type of activity without going back to prison. As he sat there, I felt that this was probably an opportunity to share the Gospel with him, but I was so angry at him for being the cause of what could have hurt my children that I did not share with him.
In the days after this shooting I became a little fidgety sitting on my couch at night and would be jumpy whenever a car drove past while standing in my yard. I would quickly usher my kids in from the car and not let them linger outside too much. I also became convicted by the Holy Spirit that I needed to share with both the victim and the neighbor that I had harbored the night of the shooting. This was something I did not want to do out of fear or anger. I reluctantly went to the victim’s house and learned he was actually doing okay and would likely survive. The police were not allowing any visitors to his room but his family was very appreciative that I had been with him while awaiting the paramedics and I had an opportunity to share with them. The other man was arrested shortly after the shooting for multiple charges of first degree murder in a separate shooting, and part of me rejoiced in knowing things would likely calm down on my street, but still I felt I needed to share with him.
I had heard the term "201 Poplar" used for the Shelby County jail and knew it was a rough place. I dreaded going to visit a person that I had avoided while he was right next door and was not sure at all how I would be received or what I would say. I felt incredibly out of place in the holding room for visitors and as I walked to visitation I was actually shaking a little. What I encountered was a young man who was nothing like I had imagined. He was excited to see me and informed me he had been reading the Bible ever since he had been arrested. We had actually both been reading the same passage about the progressive healing of the blind man in Mark. He was open and wanted to know more and was remorseful for the life he had been living. I left the visitation that day with tears in my eyes over getting to be a part of God’s miraculous plan of reconciliation. The relationship that I have formed with the man I previously saw as my enemy has done more for my own faith than any church experience I have ever had. Both his story and my own are still unfolding in this neighborhood where shootings, drugs, and gangs are common. Most days are messy and filled with situations without clear answers and I cycle through fear, depression and hope, but as I read the Bible I realize I am in good company.