It was hot and humid Sunday afternoon here in “North City”. So even though it is not supposed to happen we understood. You see there is not that much money available to the kids in this part of town;nor is there much transportation to take you to a place like a mall or park; so everyone makes the best of it the best they can. With not that much to do and temperatures and humidity both probably reaching the mid to high 80’s it was a little “hot.” So when the kids took the cap off the fire-hydrant and somehow managed to get what looked like hundreds of gallons of water flowing powerfully out of the metal standpipe and into the street…well, I must admit given the kind of day it was, I had to laugh inside and almost wish I were a kid again.
As I approached the joyful group they all stopped and looked at me and wondered. As I came nearer one of them, a young girl about twelve asked if I was going to turn them into the police? I assured her that I did not intend to “turn her into the police.” But, I did share with the children that we needed to consider what damage or injury we may be doing to those around us. I could not help but to wonder how much water might be filling up in the basement of the house across the street since the yard there was now flooded. But there was little I could do at the moment since I did not have the tool to turn the water off. So I called the city and informed them of the situation and they responded by sending out two of our fine city employees. They were very pleasant and cooperative and even seemed as though they were glad to get away from whatever else they had been hard a work on to come and see all the smiling children’s faces. There seemed to be a mutual respect from the city employees to the children and back again. It is probably because these strong men knew what it was like to grow up here in this part of the town.
What had begun as a walk for me that evening, as usual, turned into another ministry experience. That is pretty much the common routine here within a couple blocks of our little church in the city. What was a simple walk for me would become what will surely prove to be one of my fondest memories of God at work. You see, that is because there is a story after the story.
Actually, the young man who had turned on the water had somehow re-located his illegal wrench and turned off the water prior to the city workers coming on the scene. All the workers had to do was to recap the pipe, secure the valve and kindly address the children and of course have a word with me briefly to discuss what to do should this happen again. I must say that in all this the children could have all thrown a tantrum, but they did not. We treated them with respect and patience and they returned it in kind with a few questions as to why or why not they could or could not play in the water. I say we, because brother Robert showed up by now, and the two of us spent time helping the kids understand what it means to be community (something we spend a great deal of time doing).
Well, all was ending nicely. Robert and I were once again getting ready to part one another’s company like we do a couple of times a day. The children found themselves back on their bicycles, scooters, just sitting on the curb or walking down the sidewalk. Then suddenly a car approached our block and drove up alongside the kids and discharged several live rounds near the children. It was if all the world froze solid for me. I heard the shots ring out and can still see the children running, diving and contorting their young bodies (as if in slow motion) to dodge the bullets, with most of them running to take cover behind Robert and myself. Just as suddenly as it had begun, it ended with the car squealing its tires and going around the corner never to be seen of again (I hope). It was not but a few minutes and everything was back to normal with the kids playing on the sidewalk and streets again.
I don’t think either Robert or I jumped, blinked, ducked or were even afraid. I don’t know if it was because we hear shots every day and night around here, or if for me it had something to do with my Marine Corps training that kept me from being discombobulated? Anyway, both of us seem very calm and peaceful folloing the event. We visited briefly and then finally did part for the evening with each of us retiring in our own homes and the children eventually quieted down and found rest in their respective homes.
The next morning as I returned from dropping my children off from school I noticed one of the older teenage boys sitting on the curb in front of the church not far from where the shooting had taken place. I walked over to him and quietly sat down next to him not saying anything for a couple of minutes (a hard thing for me to do — not talking). Anyway, after a few moments I asked my young friend why he was not in school this moring and he responded by saying that school was over for the year. I, however, in all my wisdom, since I had just dropped off my children challenged the idea. To which the young man held his ground saying “school is over for the year.” To which I concluded and said to him, you mean you were “kicked out for the remainder of the year.” To which he replied, “Yes!”
At this point I had asked him as to why he had been kicked out and he told me it was for fighting. Ironic, isn’t it. A young man kicked out of school last week for fighting; but yesterday taking cover from gunshots behind myself and Robert. Hmm! I need to think about this for a few moments…
Anyway, I asked our fine young man if he had eaten any breakfast yet this morning to which he replied that he could not remember in recent history eating breakfast. OK! “How about I take you to McDonald’s in order that you might have something to eat?” To which he replied with a hearty “Yes!, that sounds great!”
Here is the cool part about this long drawn out affair: The young man who had been kicked out of school, who hid behind Robert and myself when the bullets were flying said something to me that indicated he had witnessed something far greater than bullets. What was it? The young man noticed that neither Robert nor myself flinched. The young man witnessed most of the children taking cover in the people they trusted, their missionary/ministers. And the young man (whose name is with held for good reason) made the comment that he had been searching for peace, strength and real courage but it had always elluded him. He wanted to know how we could “stand”? I told him what the Scriptures have been telling all of God’s people for a thousand years. We can stand because of the One who is in us…we can stand because of Jesus! We can in the midst of difficult situations, frightening situations, challenging situation, we can stand and have peace because Jesus is with us. I know no other answer…but Jesus.
Now get a load of this. Just the day before all this took place, Robert had asked the young man to step up and be a man in Christ and take on the kind and quality of leadership that would be fitting for one living in the kingdom of God. He did not show much interest. However! Today! Following this incident the young man came to me and asked, “When does the training begin?”
I don’t know quite what to say, but several scriptures come to mind, and one of them is from James. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, NIV). I think Robert and I saw the Lord take us through a couple of difficult things that night. We could have spoken to the children in a manner that was harsh and received their wrath and disrespect concerning the water-hydrant. But everyone remained calm and courteous when it could have easily went the wrong way. So, the Lord saw us though that. The Lord saw the city workers through their relationship with the children as well. And the Lord saw the children and us through what could have been a very tragic situation and in spite of it all the glory of the Lord was revealed by his own power and presence in the whole situation; and a young man who had been expelled from school just days before, witnessed something that may have been life changing for him. God is leading his people to maturity. God is leading those who are not his people to become his people as they witness his marching up and down the streets of North City. God is in the business of drama! The drama that dramatically “transforms” lives to be “conformed” to the very image of Jesus Christ himself. What Satan meant as an act of intimidation has been, by the power of Christ turned into the seeds of Salvation. Praise be to the name of the Lord.
Would you with me, be transformed?
Still on the street,