An Unwelcome Opportunity to Serve Part I: Jeff's Account

We’ve been living in Shelby Park (a neighborhood in the inner city of Louisville) over a year or so. It’s been our pleasure and our privilege to be befriended by our next door neighbors. Cultivating that relationship has taken some time and care. We’ve kept our eyes open for subtle ways to serve and show love whenever we can. Tuesday night, March 24th, brought an unwelcome opportunity to serve.

Vicki and I, the girls and another neighborhood friend were in the backyard while I was getting our garden bed ready. I heard Ms. Pat calling from the side yard on the other side our gate to the privacy fence. “Jeff! Jeff! Can you do me a huge favor! I need a ride to the hospital. My grandson’s been shot!”

“Absolutely! Let’s go!” I ran into the house and snatched up my keys and my cell phone, told Vic I’d be careful and we were on our way. We needed to swing by Shelby St. a few blocks down and pick up Ms. Pat’s daughter (her grandson’s mother). I pulled up and Deedee and another woman with a baby hopped in the back seat. We were on our way headed down Broadway. Deedee had somewhat of a cool head about her. The younger woman was in hysterics. I wasn’t sure what her relationship was to the rest of the family. At this point all that I knew was that the boy had been shot. In the chaos of cell phone calls, yelling and screaming I was able to find out that the kid’s name was Norm, that he was 17 and was asked not to go down to Victory Park that night on the corner of 23rd and Kentucky.

As I’m driving down Broadway it’s as though I’m watching myself with this family in some kind of tragic documentary. Deedee is directly behind me on the phone with the young men that are with her son. As we are driving to Norton’s ER they are coming from the opposite direction. Norm is in the back seat bleeding, unresponsive. Deedee starts to yell into the cell phone at whoever is with her son (one of his friends). “Where the hell are you?! Get the f*** to the f****** emergency room! Is he breathing!? What the f*** do you mean you don’t know?! Get to the f****** emergency room!” I listen to the conversation cycle through the same content, over and over again. This mother in despair desiring nothing more than to be beside her son hoping that he is ok but knowing that he is not, fearing that he won’t be, stretched like a wire between hope and despair. I could hear her cycle through grief, hope, rage & regret just wanting to know something for sure.

Ms. Pat, stable, calm, a rock, she is the matriarch or her family and the foundation. She lights a cigarette and rolls down the window. It’s clear that she is trying to take the edge off of herself to be who she needs to be for her daughter and grandchildren in this moment. She interrupts the phone call occasionally, asking for clarification of what few details are known, telling everyone to calm down until we know something for sure.

The entire drive, brief though it was, I was just praying God’s peace on this family and to let Norm make it.

We arrived. Norton’s ER entrance comes off the street and then goes down below street level. You have to drive back up to get out. At the top of that hill was the green car Norm was driven in. EMS was parked up there along w/police who were taping off the car. They had just beaten us there. Ms. Pat and Deedee were out of the car. The young mother I did not know got out of the car and collapsed in the driveway. I found out later that this was Norm’s sister. The baby was in the car in the car seat that was unattached. An ER nurse came out. The sister was lying in the only open lane for other EMS units to use. I helped the nurse get her up off of the ground and walked her into the waiting room to sit down.

No updates on Norm. The entire family began to show up over the next 20 minutes. At one point Ms. Pat asked me if I could take the baby home with me and keep him until they got done at the hospital but before I could leave he started fussing so they kept him. I stayed for a while and offered whatever help I could back at their house. When it became clear that there was nothing left that I could do to help I made sure they had may cell number and said they could call for anything at anytime, that I was praying that Norm would pull through.

I had to back out of the ER entrance because the exit was blocked. This required that I pull around the corner where the green car was parked, where the family had now gathered near the police and the witnesses that brought Norm in to find out what information they could. By now the sister that I had helped to the waiting area was there with the rest of the family and a crowd of onlookers were on the other side of the street. As I drove by I saw the family in my rearview mirror. They seemed to respond to something… the sister collapsed on the ground… “He didn’t make it,” I thought.

I pulled over and parked, walked back to the opposite corner where the crowd was gathered. I asked a guy looking over to the other side, “What just happened?”
He confirmed what I already knew. “They just told that family that their kid was dead.”

“ That was my next door neighbor’s grandson.”

“Sorry man.”

“Yeah… me too.” I walked back to the car and called Vic with the news.

I prayed for their family all the way home. I prayed for this neighborhood. The day before I was praying in Shelby Park with our City Group and my family and left the park with them anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes before a woman was shot to death on a park bench in broad daylight with children around. I was angry with our Enemy. I sensed that whatever all of these events were that they were at least in part the forces over this neighborhood baring their teeth at those of us who feel called here to be servants of the Kingdom. I am thankful to God that my family was not intimidated by these happenings and my prayer is that other Christians in the neighborhood are not either. If we are Christians our presence makes a difference. Rev. Lincoln Bingham has said that if we are Christians when we walk into a room or a community God shows up. We need him to show up. For his people and for this city, every part of it.

This violence so close to home was not the peace for my neighbors that I have been praying for. But what I don’t know is who might have been spared that might not have been… What I did know is that my family had an opportunity to be what peace there could be even in the face of such violence and sinfulness. We would spend the coming days loving this family in whatever ways they would allow us. And what God opened up for us was amazing ways to come alongside of this family in their grief. We were given opportunity after opportunity to care for them deeply, we were able to call upon our brothers and sisters at Sojourn and Southeast to come alongside too and they did. And we were able to witness some amazing ways in which God was already at work in this situation in a variety of powerful ways. Vicki will comment on some of that in the next post.

I do not pretend to know what God is up to in the face of such tragedy or through it. What I do know is that if we claim Christ as Lord we must train our eyes to view tragedy and suffering redemptively. We serve a God that turns death into life. Where ever we see death we should look for ways in which life might take root, embrace it and encourage it in Jesus’ name for the sake of the Kingdom, may it come.