In my dreams the very presence of the church in a place makes a difference in the community. I believe that is true with Compton Heights CC as we see people receive care and nurture – through the worship, prayer, and faith sharing in the congregation, the sharing of food and clothing with those in need, help with employment for those searching for jobs, and the opportunity to discover and share our gifts to extend God’s love to others. In my dreams, I see the church creating a safe space, a beautiful and nurturing space as people rest on benches in the church garden and share our lives in SOUL CARE. Lately, I see these dreams being realized.
But today I was reminded once again, that we are present in the midst of the mess of society. We do not take away, fix, or heal the anger and the violence. We are in it with the rest of the community.
Late this afternoon, I was at my desk when I heard gunfire. I ran to the window (probably not the best response to the sound of gunfire) and saw a young man fall to the street. Others were running. Some away and some toward him. As I called 911, I could see the blood begin to come through his white t-shirt … it looked like he was shot to the side of the abdomen. As I was describing what was happening, the dispatcher told me to let them know they were on the way. But then 2 of the guys running toward him, picked him up out of the street and began carrying him to a truck they had parked at the corner. They laid him in the bed of the truck (with no license plates) and sped off. When I got outside, there was one other man who had tried to intervene. He indicated that none of those involved would speak to him. He, too, had called the police. But they were intent on getting away before anyone could arrive.
As one of the officers interviewed me, I was aware of how difficult it was to describe everything I’d seen and heard. How many shots? How many people? The make of the truck. I mainly remembered colors – white shirt with blood coming through. Green truck. The light grey sweatshirt of the guy who jumped in the back of the truck with the one who’d been shot. The contrast of the young man laying shot in the street with this beautiful, blue-skied day and the flowers blooming in the boulevard planters and the bank of roses on the opposite side of the street. The dispatcher had asked me how much blood? Now this officer wanted to know. That widening circle on a white t-shirt on a human being. It was as if my mind was stuck on that image. And quiet — eerily quiet — a few shouts at first and then quiet.
The police combed the street and the planter for evidence, and then everyone was gone. A few neighbors still standing outside staring. But I looked at the street and it seemed unreal that only moments earlier, he was laying there — shot. And then whisked away by those who wanted to protect themselves. Gang activity. It’s not new here. We live just down the street and we’re familiar with the territories of the Bloods and the Crips.
We hope that our Isaiah 58 Ministries Youth Groups have a positive effect on kids, providing a place of belonging so that they do not turn to gangs. Covenant House is working in our neighborhood with youth who are on the edge. We reach out beyond the church building to interact with people on the street in our neighborhood. The reality, however, is that gang violence continues. Young black men, in particular, lose their lives and take the lives of others for no reason. They are looking for something sadly misnamed as ‘respect’ when, in fact, there is no respect in it.
Following the shooting, I needed to eat supper and then have a pastor’s cabinet meeting there at the church. I was then and still am — hours later — shaken, and running the images over and over in my mind. I’ve prayed for those young men and others like them. I’ve prayed that the Church may make a difference; that we may set the table of reconciliation with God and God’s people right out there in the street. Oh, God, let it be so.