>You would think a drive-by shooting would put a damper on a cookout, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Last Tuesday night, I hung out with some friends of mine in what some people would call a rough part of town. To be honest, it wasn’t my idea. I live in the suburbs and am fairly content to stay there, but my buddy, Dal, thought maybe we should get off our tails and go see if we could help some folks.
Our church started a free medical clinic in the inner city, and last year a group of college students had the idea to adopt the street where the clinic sits. So, they just started walking the neighborhood, introducing themselves and asking if anybody needed anything. Since then, they’ve brought people food, furniture, clothes and prayer, lots of prayer. That night, we decided to help.
When we pulled up to the clinic, a friend of mine told us about a new street they’d adopted. It was a few blocks away and was considered one of the more dangerous streets in the city. Tonight, we would be going there to host a cookout.
“Great,” I said, feeling butterflies creep up in my stomach.
You need to remember that I’m from Crawford County. I haven’t exactly spent a lot of time in the ‘hood. Heck, driving to Corydon was urban enough for me. It’s not that we didn’t have poverty, guns or drugs in the country. We were just so spread out you didn’t notice them. It’s hard to have a bad neighborhood when your closest neighbor is two miles away.
We pulled up at our adopted block and set up camp in a lady’s driveway, hauling in grills, tables, chairs, food, drinks, desserts, the whole nine yards. Before we knew it, the block was hopping. The aroma of burgers and hot dogs frying up on the grill lured people out of their houses up and down the street.
I have to admit that it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t meet any drug dealers or gang members that night, just normal hard-working people like anyone else. It felt like Mayberry with everyone hanging out on porches and circled up in folding chairs, eating burgers and shooting the breeze.
At the end of the night, I met a sweet lady named LaEunice. She came cruising up the sidewalk on her motorized wheel chair, her great-great-granddaughter perched on her lap. The little girl, adorable in pigtails and pink hair bows, was 2, the same age as my own daughter, and I hooked them up with some ice cream sandwiches and lots of napkins. LaEunice’s 95-year-old mother had just passed away. She told me how our group had prayed with her a few weeks ago and what a difference it had made in her life.
LaEunice entertained me with story after story about her family, whetting my appetite for more. At one point, her granddaughter panicked because she’d lost a flip-flop and she had no hope of finding it in the dark. Fortunately for her, I’m an expert flip-flop finder, having logged hours of experience searching for my own girls’ shoes, and I managed to track it down with the flashlight on my keychain.
I saw the guys were at the car waiting on me, but I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to hear more stories and stick around in case this little Cinderella lost her shoe again. But it was getting late, so I prayed with them and left, once again amazed at how good it feels to think about someone other than myself for a few hours.
About 45 minutes after we’d gone, a car cruised down our adopted street and someone fired a couple of gunshots out the window. It was a few blocks north of the cookout, and no one was hit, but still, the attempted drive-by shooting left me with a bleak reminder that LaEunice and Cinderella face a different reality than mine.
But thanks to some selfless college students who’ve been invading that street every Tuesday night, that reality is beginning to change, one cookout at a time.
See, the Bible promises that love never fails. Government programs can come and go. Social institutions rise and fall, but the love of God for people? You just can’t stop it. It’s bullet-proof, recession-proof and ready to be delivered by anyone with the guts to reach out to someone who’s different than them and offer a little help and a little hope.
I want to go back, not so much because LaEunice and Cinderella need me, but because I need them to become the person God made me to be.