December 11, 2011
On the Lord’s Day following the events recorded in my previous article, we were, understandably, in a different frame of mind than usual as we headed back down Georgia 400 to the Bluff. In the early days of our ministry, which had begun twenty months ago, we had gone into the area with an older black lady whose husband had been a previous drug kingpin. She was well-known and beloved, and therefore we were immediately accepted because of our association with her. She was, as it were, our “ticket” in. Since then we had felt comfortable being in the area, even though this lady had stopped attending. Now we were uncertain again, vexed by the thought that by encouraging people to come, especially the children, we might be causing them to be put in danger. During the week, as we reflected on the events of December 4th, we wondered what lessons the Lord was teaching us. Does he want us to make changes to the ministry? Is he telling us that we need to change our location by moving a block or two away from the “hotspot” intersection? Have we taken our safety for granted and not relied sufficiently on the Lord for his protection or thanked him sufficiently for his watch-care over us? As we prayed during the week, we begged, Show us, O Lord God of Armies, Show us what your will is.
Before leaving for Atlanta, Frank always calls several of our “regulars” to remind them of the study, and this week, one such person, who had not been there last week, turned out to be very encouraging. Fairly early in the conversation, this man mentioned that he’d heard about the shooting. Apparently, around 11 o’clock last Sunday night, he was on the platform at the MARTA train station and he overheard folks talking about the incident, including the fact that the preacher had to be yelled at to take cover! It would appear that news of our ministry is beginning to spread.
He said that even though there is occasional gunfire, it is not often that someone is killed. As an example, he told Frank about what happened five weeks ago, around 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon, when a man had been shot to death around Brawley and North. This was a fellow who, the previous Friday, had robbed six people. He was chased by some folks, went to his car, got a gun and frightened them away. For some reason, he came back two days later, and five bullets were pumped into his chest. He did admit, however, that there have been incidents where people were accidentally shot, and he specifically mentioned a girl having been injured in her foot.
When Frank asked him if he knew of any animosity toward us, he said that he’s never heard anything negative said about us, only positive things. Frank mentioned that it was his understanding that the drug kingpin likes and appreciates us, and he confirmed that. He said that no one thinks that we’re taking pictures for the police; he said, “We trust you.” He also said that we are accepted as part of the neighbourhood – that we don’t disturb whatever deals are going down, and that we’re there just like the rest of them: it’s just that we happen to be preaching. He also told Frank that by being so faithful in our ministry we are giving people hope.
With this encouragement we headed south on a bleak, cold and windy afternoon. As we entered the Bluff we drove through an area that normally has a lot of children playing, but, probably because of the chilly weather and the fact that it was beginning to get dark, there was no-one outside. As we drove into the heart of the Bluff we passed a couple of intersections where more men than usual had congregated on the street corners and I found this a little unnerving. Everything looked a little more menacing than it normally does, and I needed to recall memorized Bible verses to restore my strength. After Frank parked by the steps of the burned-out church building I went round to the back of the car to take the easel and cooler out of the trunk, and I heard a gunshot coming from behind me. My heart sank, and I thought, “O Lord, not again!” I stopped what I was doing and went up to Amy and Linda, who had arrived ahead of us. They had big smiles on their faces, and eagerly told Frank and me that when they arrived there had been a couple of men on the church steps and a large group gathered outside the convenience store. But the nephew of the kingpin was one of those on the steps, and he and the other man left and shoo’d the group away from the store. The steps were now empty and the sidewalk across the street only had a few people left. In answer to my concern about the gunshot, Linda said that was OK – nothing to worry about!
The Bible study went well. No unusual incidents. Frank started the study by saying that we’d carry on where we’d left off so abruptly last week! This brought a round of laughter. We had eleven people in attendance, and everyone seemed to appreciate the opportunity to express reasons for thankfulness. One young man who attends regularly gave eloquent expressions of gratitude to the Lord for protection last week.
It was dark by the time we left the Bluff and drove home. We knew that there were folk down there who had wondered if we would return, and we have been able to put their minds at rest. We affirmed that, by God’s grace, we will continue to bring the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ into an area that truly needs that light.