I remember that early morning phone call. I was seventeen, just became a Christian and for once I lived on the “other side of the tracks.” My mom sent me to the “nice” school and I was none to happy! Street kids don’t have much, but we did have each other and that meant a lot.
My friend John was from my neighborhood. We were not best friends but he was really close to some of my new best friends that were now Christians. It gets complex because these new best friends used to be enemies, but that is another story!
Long story short I begin to hang out with my friend John a lot. I vividly remember one night we stayed up talking about Jesus. John was a gangster who had done some really bad things and really did not have much of a future. But he was a dad, so he had something to live for.
After talking about Jesus all night, my friend was trippin that I was a Christian-he simply could not comprehend this new reality. He came to youth group a few times and I desperately prayed for his salvation.
So on that evening he made a promise to me to be open to God. He also made a promise to me not to hang on the avenue-a violent place where every gang from Stockton would chill on Friday and Saturday nights. I dropped him off at football practice that morning…It was the last time I saw him alive!
He broke his promise…I’m still mad at him…I received a phone call at 4AM. My friend Jose was frantic on the phone, he asked me if I heard about John, of course I said I had not. He preceded to tell me that John was killed in a drive-by shooting on the Avenue just a few hours earlier.
Why did my friend break his promise? I’ll never know the answer to that question. I was so distraught, angry and mad. I made a promise that day to never live that kind of life again. My 11 year-old nephew was already in prison because he shot someone, both of my cousin were in prison, my brother was in prison and multiple friends were in prison.
A few months later I was speaking at a church. This little girl pulled on my pant leg, I looked down at her in complete confusion. Lucky for me, her grandmother came to my rescue. She picked-up the little girl and introduced us…It dawned on me that this was John’s daughter and this was John’s mother. These stories are common in Stockton, CA. It is what it is…But I still believe it does not have to be that way!
I remember being at a neighborhood party one evening. This dude was setting on the couch. He was in my neighborhood, but he did not belong. I was motioned to come into the back-room by some friends. They told me that the dude on the couch was the dude who killed John. WTF…serious? They asked me if we should take him out, then they remembered that I have a new life and they asked me to leave so I would not get involved.
I looked at them with a sense of desperation, these dudes had no mercy at all if they did not like you. I asked them to promise me that they would not seek revenge…I put them in a bad predicament. I went out of the room, introduced myself to the dude on the couch, John’s killer. I told him the story of John, how he was killed…This guy knew I was a preacher, I told him it would be wise to leave…He thanked me and left!!!
Rarely does a day go by without me thinking of my friend, the shooting and the images of his daughter that still haunt me to this day. I hope and pray that our conversation about Jesus-His love and mercy, made an impact on my friend…I hope it led him to pray to God, seek forgiveness and find hope. I will simply never know.
I say all that to say this: We live in a broken world that is looking for hope and love, they are looking for God’s people to live out the Kingdom in real and tangible ways. That night I spoke to my friend, I had no clue that three weeks later I would be attending his funeral. The time is now, the call is vital and action is required…People are waiting for hope!
BTW: This may be the first time I’ve ever shared this story in a public setting in 15 years. I’m trying to be better at sharing my past and allowing God to be glorified.