Sanctuary

For a century this inner-city church has served as a refuge. But its most important mission has always been outside the walls.

The police didn't buy Barry's story, and they arrested him for felony menacing. But after listening to Barry's version of events, then-chief deputy district attorney Craig Silverman dropped the menacing charge in exchange for Barry pleading guilty to being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Silverman seemed to understand what was going on with the gangs and that Barry was just trying to save his kid. Barry was given two years of the lightest probation possible; he didn't even have to report in.

The next year was 1993, the so-called Summer of Violence. But except for some white people getting shot, it was just the same cycle of drive-by shootings, retaliation, and then retaliation for the retaliation in the black neighborhoods.

One hot afternoon, seventeen-year-old Galen was standing with some other Bloods when a man dressed in black, with black bandannas pulled up to hide his face, walked up and started shooting. One of the bullets caught Galen in the side and lodged up against his spine.

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Barry was at work when the call came from his wife. By the time he got to Galen's room at Denver General, a police officer was questioning his son about the shooting. Some guy wanted him to sell drugs, Galen said, and shot him when he refused. Barry knew it was bullshit.

Also in the room was Galen's probation officer from an earlier robbery conviction. "Think this will do him any good?" the man asked Barry while they waited for the detective to finish his interview.

Barry thought about it. He wanted to believe that surviving a shooting would make Galen think hard about his life, but he knew it was hard to escape from a gang. "Well, he's either going to use it to build up his rep," Barry finally said, "or it will scare him straight. I don't know. It's up to him."

Galen stayed in gangs but managed to stay out of serious trouble with the law--until two years later, when he stopped by his parents' new house in Park Hill. It was in Crips territory, but Galen was fearless. When gang members saw him and his red bandanna, they began firing guns in the air.

Galen walked back to the trunk of his car, pulled out two 9mm semi-automatics, and emptied both guns into his rivals' house--eighteen shots in all. Amazingly, no one was hurt, but Galen was arrested and convicted for felony menacing.

As with his father, it was the best thing that could have happened to Galen. He was sent to a new facility that offered gang members one last chance to straighten out their lives, and he wound up on a Missouri college campus, taking classes toward his high school diploma.

Barry, too, was back in school. In the fall of 1994 he'd started studying at the Community College of Denver and working as a mentor for other young African-American students. That's when he heard that there might be an opening at a Five Points church, which had received a grant to hire someone to work with at-risk youth. The job entailed driving a van to pick up kids from local schools and take them to the church and work with them there. Was he interested?

Barry jumped at the chance. The way he saw it, this was an opportunity to give something to kids that he hadn't been able to give his own son. He could be a role model and counselor, someone who understood where they were coming from and had felt their pain.

Barry met with the pastor of the church, Reverend Robert Woolfolk. He liked him immediately; Woolfolk was obviously committed to the community, not just preaching on Sundays, and he clearly cared about the people who worked for him. "I'll be here for you," Barry promised.

There was something familiar about Woolfolk's face. Barry was still trying to figure it out while the pastor took him on a tour of Agape's facilities. They started with the buildings in back of the sanctuary, buildings once used as dormitories for another group of people seeking refuge. "Here's where we tutor the kids," he said. "Here's where we cook hot meals on Saturday for the poor."

Then Woolfolk opened a door and stepped through it. "And here," he said, "is the sanctuary. Do you have a church home?"

"No," Barry stammered. "No, I've been waiting for the Lord to show me where he wants me to go." As he followed Woolfolk into the sanctuary, he was overcome by a feeling of peace. He looked at the beautiful windows and the wooden beams reaching to the shadowed ceiling. Then he looked at Woolfolk, now up at the pulpit, and realized why he'd seemed so familiar. This was the dream he'd had in prison. He looked back and saw the empty pews.

He knew this was where he was supposed to be, saving children and helping the pastor fill those seats. He knew at last that he was home.

Barry told Woolfolk about his dream, although the pastor never did say what credence he might have put in it. But Eddie Mae, Robert's wife, took to calling Barry "The Dreamer."

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