During my early years at Vandelia, I developed a close partnership with my fellow-worker and fellow soldier Special Agent D (SAD). SAD was about the same age as me, and like me, he also took his professional training in Christian ministry. So I suppose it was only natural that we form a dynamic duo, as if Jesus had sent us out in pairs (think Mark 6:7). And I must say that SAD’s real strength was in his imaginative use and understanding of complex things like maps and statistics.
SAD was a wealth of information that proved ingenious, but which almost no one would want to research to find out. It was through SAD that I learned about the crime and poverty stats of our neighborhood. I mean it would be easy for someone such as myself living outside of the Vandelia Village to simply think that most of the headline-grabbing crimes were spread out around the city – or to think they were disproportionally associated with “The East Side” (African/American dominated) area of town. But SAD enlightened all of us at Vandelia Church about the fact that we were situated right in the most troubled district of our city.
Once you coupled that erudite information with a keen theological interest, as SAD was apt to do, we began to view the Vandelia Village as the Promised Land that God had marked out for conquering by the church! And SAD had already ventured out on those streets late at night to see first-hand what the riff-raff was doing in the wee hours. When he told me of one of his Lone Ranger/late night adventures where he confronted a pimp beating a prostitute in a dark alley, I insisted that he take me along on any future outings!
SAD and I began meeting weekly to pray and discuss the things God was doing in our imagination(s). Over the course of several weeks (months really), we formulated a plan. It just so happens that I had recently read a great little book (I highly recommend) called The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion, by Tom Wright (aka N.T. Wright). I had begun to view communion in terms of spiritual warfare, and in time I convinced SAD that we should take a communion service to the streets of the Vandelia Village at midnight and see what God would do with it.
I have several vignettes to share from those adventures, and I expect to offer at least two of them in subsequent posts. If you have been reading this blog for a few months, you know that I have repeatedly referred to (and promised to share in detail) an experience I had stopping a murder one night with a communion service. I will tell that story soon.
For now, I merely want to focus on my partnership with SAD and our initial ministerial duet. I can’t help but recall the first night we showed up on 65th Drive at about midnight with a small card table, a lantern, a few folding chairs, a couple of Bibles, and crackers and grape juice. We pulled up on an empty lot across the street from the El Cid and Spanish Flair apartments. In the parking areas of both complexes, I could plainly see a couple of groups gather like a block party. I estimated between 75 and 100 people drinking, smoking, playing loud music. As I hopped out of my truck and began setting up my table, the crowds dissipated quickly, and nearly everyone disappeared into the shadows of the night.
The empty lot we set up in was dark as night, but the parking area across the street was dimly lit. When I had my table set and the lantern lit, I immediately crossed the street looking for the crowds that had all but vanished. There was hardly a soul to invite, but I found a few there in the emptiness. I told them we were having a worship service and if anyone needed prayer, they would be most welcome to join us. Then I went back to the table and joined SAD to pray and read Scripture and meditate.
After a few minutes, our senior pastor and one of the church elders drove up and joined us. SAD had made a point to purchase a bottle of Sparkling Grape Juice and set it next to the lantern on the table. In the dim light, we all remarked about how the juice looked like a bottle of wine. Just then from out of the thickness of the dark in that empty lot, a drunk man stumbled up on our party. Immediately we all implored the man to join us, but he belligerently pointed at the bottle and announced, “I’ll give you five dollars for that bottle right there!”
The words no sooner formed on his lips than he suddenly noticed the Bibles and the sacramental nature of the table. Then he immediately back peddled and apologized, excusing himself in embarrassment and shame. And despite our strong urging, he would not join us, but rushed away into the darkness of the night from which he had emerged.
That first night out demonstrated to us that just by showing up, we could have a profound impact on the single-worst, crime-ridden, city block in all of Lubbock, Texas. We came armed only with a Bible, a lantern, and the Body of Christ broken for us! And the very people we had thought we were supposed to be afraid of, were instead terrified of us! God had in fact prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5), and our enemies fled like roaches when the lights come on!
Sure enough, inside of a month, that one city block experienced a night of bloodshed. Three people were shot there in a drive-by shooting, and a fourth almost died in another shooting just 6 blocks away – all in one night! SAD and I became determined that this street needed more of our ministry – not less! And we returned again and again to that lot.
In the early days of that ministry, we did not attract a whole lot of the people we were reaching out to. Instead, as we learned over time, those people holding those beer-bust/pot smoking parties were in fact paranoid and thought we were cops undercover! Ha! And the cops sometimes stopped to check us out too. They repeatedly warned us that this street was dangerous. The security guards at the apartment complex nearby too would warn us again and again. It was obvious that the conventional wisdom was not with us, but apparently the foolishness of God was (I Cor. 1:18, 21, & 25 … anyone???).
Meanwhile, SAD and I just kept showing up. We had a number of minor (yet notable) encounters even in those early outings, but mostly we just showed persistence in the belief that our worship in that place at those times was making a difference. I can recall praying – petitioning God – to grant his favor to that street and transform it into the jewel of Lubbock. I can recall daring to imagine people from all over Lubbock coming to that street to seek healing and fellowship from the people who lived there. And eventually, we had a few major encounters – adventures that I intend to post on next time. But SAD and I spent many of those nights developing our faith in things we could not see and no one else was even daring to imagine.
Those were good times!