A few years ago, my wife and I slipped away from the busyness and the ringing phone for a few hours. The local ice cream restaurant seemed a perfect place to relax and indulge our sweet tooth. Just as we sat down to enjoy our sundae we noticed a crowd of young teenagers gathering in the parking lot.
We were not prepared for what happened next.
They were talking trash and cursing within a few feet of the window next to our booth. The boys sounded menacing but the expressions on their faces betrayed fear. Most of them were frantically looking all around as if they expected trouble and trouble soon arrived.
Two expensive looking automobiles screeched into the parking lot and stopped directly in front of the kids. Four tough looking young men stepped out of the cars. Two of them swaggered toward the boys with menacing looks on their faces. The other two walked behind the automobiles, opened a trunk and each of them pulled out a black bag. They closed the trunk and each man quietly placed a hand inside the bag while keeping an alert eye on everyone. It was pretty obvious to me that a gun was inside each bag.
Meanwhile, the customers in the restaurant began to gather near the window by our booth to see what was happening. One woman left to ask the manager about calling the police. The rest of us could only stare at the scene outside with mixed reactions ranging from curiosity to terror.
There seemed to be an argument between several of the boys and the young men. In the midst of the screaming and yelling, I heard the words, “turf” and “mine” frequently. The two men behind the automobiles continued their vigil. Several times during the argument it looked as if they were going to use what their hands were clutching in those ominous black bags.
Then with threats and curses still filling the air, the four men returned to their cars, backed-up slowly and drove away. The whole scene took less than two minutes and everyone resumed eating their ice cream.
A police officer later said that I witnessed a turf battle. The group of boys likely wandered into a rival gang’s territory. Warnings were given and threats made for them to stay away. “It happens all the time,” the officer too-casually stated.
I’m ashamed to admit my first reaction was not concern for the boys but fear for my wife and myself. After calming down, I began to think about how close those boys came to being shot. If these children are having confrontations with gangs now — what does the future hold for them?
How many will graduate from high school? How many can anticipate a future that includes a career and a stable lifestyle? Answer: very few.
Here is another question: “How can we help these kids change the odds and have a better future?”
- Increase their welfare benefits? “We’ve tried that.”
- Create a new government program? “Get real!”
- Increased education? “We blame too much on education already.”
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5) Sounds corny, but it is the only answer that really works. You and I and the church we represent offer an alternative to these children that can provide strength for today and hope for the future. No educational institution or government program can compare.
But how can we be a light in the midst of this kind of violence and poverty? I would rather be safe and comfortable. Wouldn’t you? Jesus knew this because he then said, “Don’t hide your light under a bowl.” In other words we are not commanded to watch or simply protect ourselves. We are challenged to get involved. Others can give money or provide education but the church uniquely offers total change.
So, what should we do?
First: we can pray. Will you join me for the month of August by praying specifically for children trapped in a life of violence and poverty? Pray for those children in your neighborhood, in our nation and our world. Pray with passion.
Second: we can share practical ideas that could work. What have you or your church done to make a difference for children in the midst of violence and poverty? Write me today and next week, I’ll share a few of your answers. During the month of August, I will devote this column to children and how we can work together to offer hope in the midst of despair.
The only answer that will ever change our violence prone world comes from our willingness to do what Jesus Christ called each of us to do. I can only pray: “Lord, please don’t let me be a helpless bystander to the next turf war, let me be a witness with an offer of hope!”
Note: If you would like to respond or offer ideas that worked for you, your church or your community please write: LarryDavies@SowingSeedsofFaith.com Some of the letters will be used in future columns.