Chris recently had to undergo a rather delicate surgery and it caused me to reflect on our life together. Because of the nature of our life and work, most often we are the only people who see and know what the other is doing. We are the only ones who fully know incidents and efforts that comprise the story of our lives: trying to be the love and heart of Jesus wherever we are.
As I was thinking about Chris and all the stories that I know about him, most of which even our children have never heard, I started to remember so many things and I thought of this story, which is so emblematic of our life and what it means to be in the same place for such a long time. It speaks to the way that being somewhere, investing your life and love, gives you a credibility and authority that carries a special kind of significance, a special kind of weight, even with young people you have only known casually, tangentially.
So, after the surgery, I said to Chris, “Remember that story, from all those years ago…it made me sad to think I will be the only one besides God who has ever heard it. I want our boys to know it.” So, here is one of our many stories, a precious one, that I asked Chris to write down for our children.
The diversity of our south Minneapolis community is one of the unique characteristics which makes it a place I love to call home. We have friends and neighbors here of Black, east African, Mexican, Latin American, southeast Asian, native American descent and communities. Usually we all get along… sometimes not. The boys I work with are sometimes in conflict with young Somali teenagers and espouse prejudicial attitudes. I take every opportunity to teach and educate them out of those prejudices.
One day I passed down a street near my house in front of a local Muslim mosque and drove into a huge conflagration. The street was full of about two dozen dark skinned boys squaring off to fight each other. I put my car into reverse, meaning to turn around and find another way home when I recognized a few of the boys. On closer inspection I saw that some Black kids were going to war against some Somali kids. I stopped my car in the middle of the street and got out. “James!” I called, “What’s going on here?” “Coach Chris!” he cried. “Man, we’ve had enough from them! We’re about to have it out right now!” I said, “Well not you, you’re gonna go home! You don’t need to be caught up in something like this!”
I spoke to a couple of the other boys I knew and succeeded in pausing the imminent fight, at least for a moment. On the other side of the street the Somali boys were shouting and waiting. I went over to them and basically told them what I had told the others, asking one of them to go into the mosque and get one of their elders to come out. When the Somali elder came out, we worked together to pacify the group. I got the boys on my side of the street to go home and he got the Somali teenagers to go into the mosque. Before I took James and a few of the other boys home in my car, I went over to the elder to thank him for coming outside. He gave me his thanks as well and we shook hands and parted.
Chris’s surgery went well and he’s well on his way in his 4-6 week recovery. God has seen us through so very many scary, dangerous, challenging and painful times. It has not been an easy life, but it has been a beautiful life. Thanks for being one of the people who cares about our stories and about God’s presence here in the city.
Speaking of stories… I want to give a shout out to Marcus Hunter II. His op ed piece published in the Star Tribune about his experiences growing up Black in north Minneapolis preface my new book, Not Forsaken. He’s had another piece published along with a go fund me link to raise money for college. https://bringmethenews.com/minnesota-news/donations-flood-in-for-north-minneapolis-teen-who-penned-star-tribune-column