This morning E received a text from a probation officer asking if he knew that one of the youth committed murder. The text was short, blunt, and to the point. At first E wasn’t sure who the text was referring to or even the case, who was murdered? When was this person, mentioned in the text, picked up on the murder charges? As the conversation unfolded, E looked up the story. He and I quickly lost our previously cheerful mood. We looked through the pictures and stories of the youth who was killed aching for him as well as for the one being held for murder that both of their lives were cut short over essentially nothing more than a quest for respect and territory.
I wondered where both of their moms were, if they were also grieving the loss of their boys. The truth is, it’s hard to be on either side of the story, hard to lose anyone to gang violence, especially so when they are young and have so much ahead of them. Hard also to know the one who killed, to hear the title “murderer” placed on him, and see his name in the news. It is hard to reconcile that identity with the glimmers of another one that would sometimes shine through past the tough gangbanger shell.
Looking through and processing all of this is enough to make anyone ready to stop – to stop living in this neighborhood, to stop mentoring, to stop having hope for the youth that we interact with.
I left for work after that, my heart heavy for the situation and for E knowing that starting the day with news like that sets you at the bottom of a very steep hill. As I shut the back door, two verses came to mind, two verses from very different books in the Bible, different contexts, and given to different people. For the moment though, I felt God whisper it was okay to let the two combine and to hear the truth spoken through them. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go…The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save.” Joshua 1:9 and Zephaniah 3:17. My God is with me and E., He is with the families in this neighborhood, with the young men on the street corners, the young girls running around without much of a home to go to. This God is the One who will bring light and reconciliation to situations otherwise dark and hopeless. This God is the root of E.’s and my strength and courage, to keep walking forward and sharing the truth that He is mighty to save.