So it is really late but there is this memory rumbling in the back of my mind that has been plaguing me over the last few weeks. I have to get it out or I’m going to go bonkers.
It was a transformational moment for me. Even though it was over fifteen years ago, I still can recall it like it was yesterday.
It was Friday night and we had just played a great football game.
I say “we”, but I didn’t actually play much. My official position was left-bench. Honestly, it was just an honor to be on the team. It was an amazing bunch of guys. Several of them went to the NFL after college. It is neat now to see them on T.V. and think, “That guy mauled me in high school.”
Back to Friday night.
The game had run late. By the time we got back to our school and got changed it was after mid-night. A lot of the guys didn’t feel like waiting to take the bus home, so they piled into my car. When we pulled out of the school there were five guys in the front seat and six in the back. It was stuffed and stinky. I was thankful to be the driver as the responsiblity guaranteed me private leg room.
Everyone but me lived in a rough neighborhood. New Orleans was funny that way. I lived in a really nice, cozy, almost suburban sub-division. Less than a mile away were several huge high-rise projects…you know, the old kind that looked like super tall run down Motel Six’s.
Three of the guys lived in the high-rises. I took them home first because I figured there was safety in numbers.
We drove the back way out of the high-rises, taking a short cut to the next guy’s house by weaving through side streets. We weren’t really paying attention to our surroundings, so none of us noticed the cars following us.
We had won so spirits were high. Everyone was cutting up. I distinctly remember in the back seat two guys joking about whether their houses were painted “dirty pink” or “doo-doo-brown.”
Suddenly I slammed on my breaks. We were passing in front of a small strip club that was letting out for the evening. A gangly drunk elderly man had staggered out in front of the car and I had nearly run him over. My heart was beating a thousand miles a minute. The back seat erupted with mock anger.
“Who let the white boy drive?” one friend yelled.
“Just run him over next time. Don’t stop here!” another guy shouted; only to have the others respond, “this is your neighborhood!”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he said laughing. “I know. You’ve got be crazy to stop here! This ain’t safe!”
I slowly calmed my nerves and eased the car forward again. I only got about ten feet before the red and blue lights came on and the sirens blared. It may have only been two or three cop cars, but at the time it felt like a whole battalion. I put the car in park and I looked out the driver’s side window. There was a gun being pointed at me. I had never seen a gun that close before. The officer threatening me with the weapon had tears streaming down his face. He was yelling, “Get out of the car slowly.” (He wasn’t so polite…but I’ve removed all the cussing from this story seeing how this is a family blog.)
Everything got of hazy at that point. I look to my right to see two other cops reaching through the passenger side window. One had their gun drawn and the other was screaming, “Common kid! Show us your tongue!” while trying to force my friend Cory’s mouth open. Cory had his teeth clinched tight was mumbling, “I ain’t showing you crap.”
Cory, the third guy in the front seat, and I were all pulled from the car and commanded to lay down on the ground. I was terrified. I did exactly as I was told even though it meant being soaked by a disgusting mixture of poured out beer and vomit recently left on the street by one of the patrons departing the strip club minutes earlier.
We lay there for what felt like an eternity. I heard the cops opening my trunk and rummaging through our football pads. Finally one of them yelled, “It’s not them. Let’s go!” And as quickly as they had appeared, the blue and red lights vanished and the sirens sped away.
The guy next to me said, “Get up man. Let’s go. Their gone.”
I got up from the ground and took the rest of the guys home. We rode mostly in silence. Some of the guys complained about cops in general, but mostly we didn’t say anything.
I found out later the crew in the back seat had actually been treated gently. None of them had been pulled from the car. Their officers were calm and collected. They simply asked the guys a bunch of questions, checked the trunk, and then told them we could go.
When I got home my dad was hacked off. He immediately started calling local stations demanding answers. Finally he got one of the officers on the phone. Dad ranted for a few minutes about some drunk guys vomit on my shirt and then demanded an explanation. The officer simply said, “Sir, I realize you are upset; but there was a shoot out with a gang tonight. Several officers were injured. Gang members fled the scene in a car just like your son’s. What I want to know is, why was your 16-year-old kid driving through one of the worst projects in town at one in the morning?”
“Good question.” Dad answered. He then appologized and hung up the phone.
From that point on I never drove guys home after games again.
Instead, they all came to my house for a huge party. It became a Friday night ritual. My parents would order 20 plus pizzas, buy huge vats of ice cream, a ton of guys would come over to spend the night, and we would stay up super late being stupid. As the weeks passed more and more guys started showing up. It was fantastic. I have a thousand memories from those evenings.
Most of the guys went home on Saturday afternoon; but some stayed to go to church with us on Sunday. They would come of Wednesday night super and Youth Group with me in the middle of the week as well. By the end of highschool several of them had given their lives to Christ and one of them had become a permanent member of our family. (I just finished playing a game with him and my other brother at my mom’s house a few hours ago.) It was an amazing adventure.
There are a few things that come to mind as I think back on that time…
1. I missed a lot of it. I was there, but I wasn’t really plugged into what the Spirit was doing. I was too focused on my girl friend and our co-dependent relationship. I mourn that now. I would give so much to be able to go back and do it again. To fully invest in those guys. To drop the stupid distractions and just focus on what God was doing in their lives.
2. That accidental fraternity shaped my understanding of community. We fought hard on the football field as a team and it bonded us into a family. I long for the church to discover that same community. When I talk about “being a missional church,” that team is part of what comes to mind.
3. I long for God to work that way again. It was the greatest ministry I have ever been a part of. And the beautiful thing is…it wasn’t formed on some staff retreat with a white board. It wasn’t pre-planned. It wasn’t some elaborate strategy to reach inner city youth. The Holy Spirit spoke and my parents stepped up. They opened their home to rough kids from tough neighborhoods and our family was radically changed for the better.
I hope if I am ever given the opportunity by the Spirit like my parents were, I will step up and make the beautiful sacrifices necessary to love other people like they did.
It feels good to get all of that out of my head. Good night.