December 4, 2011
It was just after 5:30 in the evening when the first shots rang out. The Bible study had been going very well. It had started on time at five o’clock, and discussion on the topic of Thanksgiving had been lively. We had a total of fourteen people in attendance, only one of which was a child. I was sitting on the wall; Frank’s sister Gini, visiting from Richmond, Virginia, was standing at the end of the wall and, other than Frank, everyone else was sitting on the steps of the burned-out church building where we meet. To begin with I thought little of the sound of the gunshots, as we had heard them before from at least half a block away, and on those occasions we had not been under any threat. However, after a volley of about 8 – 10 of them, presumably coming from a semi-automatic weapon, it seemed prudent to slip off the wall and down onto the steps with the other folk. Frank, still standing on the sidewalk, having seen the shooter in the intersection, shooting north up Brawley Drive, and then fleeing west on Kennedy, called the police. When the shooting stopped I looked around and saw one person lying face down on the ground outside the convenience store, but he did not appear to have been hit. Then the second round of shooting started. Gini had not yet ducked down, and from her vantage point she saw another man running south on Brawley, in our direction, firing south down the road. At this point, discretion being the better part of valour, she, along with the rest of us hit the steps again, and at this point it dawned on me that this was for real. This time, my face was down on the concrete. I imagine we were all praying that the Lord would protect us, and Gini was doing so out loud. Frank was still standing on the sidewalk talking to the 911 operator who told him that she could hear the shots being fired, and Gini and I yelled to him to get down. Some of the details are fuzzy, but at that point Gini and Billie saw a white SUV, with its windows down, come south on Brawley past our steps, with all four occupants bearing weapons. Frank, still standing on the sidewalk, had his back to them and did not see them. At that point they were not firing, and we are not sure which of the 12 – 15 shots that we heard just prior to this came from the car and which from the runner on foot. Two cars, Amy’s and ours, were between us and the SUV as it went by, and at some point Frank sought the safety of the car. Shortly afterwards a man came over and yelled us to get out of the area. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stand up, but we all did so, and the group quickly dispersed. The local folk just “disappeared” except for Billie and her son, who have been attending for a couple of weeks. Billie, who lives in the neighbourhood, is actively involved in trying to bring about change in the Bluff, and appreciates our efforts every Lord’s Day. We threw the board and easel and the cooler into the trunk in a haphazard manner and Billie, Amy and Frank backed their cars away from the intersection to Jett and, still in reverse, along Jett and around onto Griffin. There we parked and regrouped. There were no more gunshots. Shortly after that, which was about five minutes from the time Frank dialed 911, the first police car arrived followed almost immediately by three more. Blue lights, but no sirens. The police were only mildly interested in the situation, telling us that what we had experienced was not unusual for this area. They didn’t take a statement, taking note only of the fact that the car with the four gunmen was a white SUV.
Having lived in the Bluff prior to undergoing successful drug rehabilitation, a regular member of our group, Linda, had some valuable insights which she shared with Amy as she was being driven back to her apartment. In fact, before Bible study began, Linda had indicated that she was not comfortable with so many people whom she didn’t recognise congregating at the intersection. She had previously shared with us that the drug dealers and particularly the drug “kingpin” occasionally loiter in the area while the study is going on, and that if they did not give their approval to this activity they would have made sure that we would have been run off by now. Linda also believes that if the kingpin had been there on Sunday, the gunfire would not have occurred, or that he would have made sure we were protected. Apparently he holds an elevated status which is highly respected in the drug community. Linda also said that, even though the police may not show much interest in black-on-black violence, there would be a lot of interest, and hence disruptions to the drug dealers’ business, if white workers were targeted or caught in crossfire.
Before we each went our separate ways, Billie was very encouraging to Frank, telling him that he doesn’t realise how much good he is doing. She told him that the devil is at the intersection where we meet, and he wants to disrupt our ministry.
As Frank, Gini and I drove home, we noted the irony of the Bible study earlier, which was the second of two studies on the topic of Thanksgiving. One of the things that Frank had been explaining to the group was God’s sovereignty, and that, even though we may not understand why certain things happen to us, we are to be grateful for all of God’s providences. Naturally, our hearts were full of thanksgiving for the Lord’s watch-care and protection over us that evening. We acknowledged that he had given us this experience for a reason, and that he was in complete control of every bullet.
Scripture tells us to have no anxiety about anything but to take everything to God in prayer. Never-the-less, we need to show wisdom and discretion with regard to taking sensible precautions, and Frank, Amy and I have already discussed the possibility of some changes. We don’t anticipate this being a regular problem, as it is the first time that gunfire this close has happened in twenty months of ministering here. However, one thing we will do is to make sure that anyone who volunteers to join us on the steps understands the fact that issues can arise.
The real Battle of the Bluff is being fought in the spiritual realm, even as it plays out in the streets. Nothing will happen to us that is not in accordance with the will of the real “Kingpin” of the Bluff, namely the King of kings and Lord of lords. Please continue to pray for us as we continue the battle for the hearts and minds of the men, women and children who reside in this sad and violent area. Psalm 34:7.