October 27, 2010
This is an update on some subtle and not-so-subtle changes in our Atlanta ministry. It all began back in early October when a minister was visiting and went down to the Bluff with Frank. I stayed at home as I was hosting the minister’s wife and children. Our guest is an expert in self defence and an instructor on the subject. Later that evening he told us he had spotted two men carrying firearms and he could tell that he was marked with suspicion by dealers. He gave us some valuable pointers about trying to ensure our safety. He also remarked that it was dangerous for us to allow people we didn’t know into the back seat of our car in order to take them home. He did agree with us, however, that because we are well-known there now, and are disarming, given our honesty and street innocence, dealers are not going to bother us. The trouble that would bring would not be worth it to them. Now, however, I can’t help but wonder who, among all the people that we see in the bluff is armed. On the evening that our guest was there they had 10 in attendance, which was below our average. It included Willie Brown, a first-time attender, who lives in the area and whose wife is legally blind. They have two children aged 9 and 13. He was very interested in coming on a regular basis.
The following Sunday we had 17 in attendance including Willie from last week with his daughter Miyani, first-time visitor Greg and his wife Kim, and previous attender Erica – all of whom were there when we arrived. Willie Dyck showed up very proud that he had finally had all his teeth pulled – he opened his mouth wide so as to prove the point! They had been causing him considerable pain and he had been unable to eat solid food. Amy also arrived before we did because we were held up in serious traffic problems. When we arrived we found that black ash had been spread on the steps making it difficult to find a place to sit. We wondered if this was tied in to the pentagram that had been drawn on the wall a few weeks ago. For “Sunday school”, Amy and Miyani sat on the other set of steps which, thankfully, was relatively clean. The study (during which at least four different police vehicles went by) went well, but while Elder Bob prayed the closing prayer Kim, Greg’s wife, took out her compact and spent the time putting on mascara. Then things went downhill in a hurry. A man who obviously had mental health problems wandered over towards the end of study picking up garbage, cursing and blaspheming as he went. Afterwards he demanded money for picking up the trash. He seemed to pick on me. Then Mary asked for money for something from the store. We have an arrangement with Mary that we will occasionally loan her money on the understanding that she will repay it. I regret it now, but I did hand over $5 to her and the demented man saw this and kept after me even more. He was small of stature, thin with pointy features and bent over, as becoming a character from a Tolkien novel. He kept after me, pointing his finger at me, and eventually he started to frighten me. Willie was soliciting money to pay his rent. Frank was explaining to him that we don’t hand out money, but he was trying to come up with suggestions to help him. Bob, in that same group, had taken notice of my difficulty, so I elected to go and put myself under his protection. But now, with this weird little man on one side of Bob’s body and me on the other, and with that thin hand and sinewy finger pointing round Bob’s body to where I was, still demanding money from me, I told Bob that I was going to retreat to the car. He said that he thought that was a good idea and that Amy should also head out, seeing as the situation seemed to be deteriorating rapidly. I was relieved to see Amy get in her car and depart safely. I got in our car and sat very still, hoping that I would not be noticed. The little man sat on the curb and waited for Frank, Willie and Bob to finish their conversation. He continued to seek money from them, was repulsed and ambled across the street away from the area grumbling and mumbling who knows what. As Frank came to the car he was followed by the first-time visitor, Greg. Because of my own troubles I had not been aware of the situation regarding Greg. Apparently he had been after Bob to drive him and his wife to Lithonia. He came to our car window wanting money. This was something our guest from last week had warned us about. We were somewhat frightened so Frank gave him $5 to catch a bus, in order to get out of there as quickly as he could. It seemed interesting to me that his wife could afford mascara but apparently they did not have “bus money”. All the while this was going on Mary became very loud in telling us that we shouldn’t be giving money to Willie or Greg. She didn’t know them and, being street-wise, she was afraid they were up to no good. Bob offered to drive Mary home – he also took Willie Dyck. Frank thought I’d retreated to the car because I wasn’t feeling well – he hadn’t been aware that I’d just been afraid of the demented man (who resembled my idea of a demon) and was also very uncomfortable at the requests for money and the loud disputing. That was the first time that I had felt that folk who came to the study were there for a hand-out, and also the first time that I had felt somewhat threatened physically. On the way home we decided that we would no longer carry cash on us and that we would take a sign to put up on the church door saying something along the lines of: “Silver and gold have we none. We are here to study the bible. We carry no cash.”
During the week I struggled with disappointment, and it was a real spiritual battle for me to overcome my fear and discouragement as we headed out to Atlanta the following Sunday. We put up our sign and, thankfully, nothing untoward happened and no one asked us for money. It did, however, seem as though we were under some form of attack – this time with yelling. It was the noisiest experience we’d ever had there, with many more people than usual hanging around the corner engaging in intense, sometimes vehement conversation, also more cars – many with roaring, souped-up engines and loud rap music blaring forth from open windows.
Last Sunday we had serious traffic problems for the third week in a row. Downtown Atlanta got totally snarled in horrendous traffic. We finally got to the church steps an hour and a half after we left home! We had a total of 16 in attendance including Willie Brown, Myoshi and their two children, and a grandfather, father and son from the same family. The father, who was obviously a believer, was very encouraging and Frank invited him to close the study in prayer. Amy was delighted to have five children in her Sunday School class. Again there was an inordinate amount of noise, but no untoward events. We had three police cars across the street with police milling around for no apparent reason. After we took Mary’s grandsons home, we took Mary to the hospital to see her friend Leona who, while running for a bus, had been hit by a car driven by an elderly lady earlier in the week. Thankfully it looks as though Leona will survive.
On Reformation Sunday, AKA Halloween, we had a party atmosphere in the street with a lot of well-behaved but noisy “trick or treat” groups going by, one of which stopped nearby and continued in loud conversation with a bit of dancing thrown in. None-the-less, we still had a good study with 11 in attendance. Afterwards, as we stood around talking, we heard a couple of gunshots and shortly thereafter we saw a bunch of folk materialize at the intersection coming from Kennedy Street. An anonymous person told us it would be a good idea for us to leave but that gunshots were normal for Halloween!
We do trust that the Lord is doing a good work through the ministry. We have not seen Mike or Nakisha in many weeks, and our hope and prayer is that both of them have done what they had been thinking of doing, and that is moving out of the Bluff. Nakisha’s mother and Mike’s friend had been encouraging them to go and live with them. Hopefully, that is where they are.
The spiritual battle continues. Over the last couple of weeks I have regained much of my confidence because I have been reminded where my confidence lay. We do indeed need to be sensible in terms of self-protection but we also need to hear, with the ears of faith, the rustling in the treetops as the Lord and his host go into battle ahead of us. II Samuel 5:24.