Sanctuary

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

Now his dream was to help kids, and he took his job far beyond its stated description. He started bringing kids whose parents either wouldn't or couldn't come to Sunday services. Often they were the children of single mothers who either had to work Sundays or were so exhausted they gratefully accepted a few hours' respite, knowing their children were safe. At first some in the congregation were a little taken aback by the unruly additions, but when they saw the changes in the kids, they began volunteering to sit with them.

As Barry became a familiar figure in the schools, teachers and principals began asking him to help with some of their harder cases. He'd talk to these kids, sharing his life experiences with them, and they came to trust him. Even some parents still involved with drugs or gangs turned to Barry to save their children from similar fates.

Barry was demanding--no gang slang or dress, no cursing, no disrespect. In exchange, he gave them unconditional love and acceptance. Soon the younger kids were begging him to take them to church.

It was harder with the older kids; the words of Jesus could be a tough sell on the streets. Love your enemy? Turn the other cheek? That was sissy stuff. But Barry kept talking.

Some things still got to him. When there was an opening for a youth minister, Woolfolk passed him over, and again when there was a slot for an outreach supervisor for the elderly. The kids ran him ragged physically, and their suffering drained him emotionally.

It bothered him that there weren't more men his age at church. They were the ones who'd been there, the ones who could talk to the gangs in their own language. But most of his past associates were either dead, addicted or in prison. Sometimes Barry had to do a double-take when he saw the face of a long-gone friend on some child who came into church.

Sometimes Barry just couldn't take it anymore and would retreat to his mother's basement for days or even weeks. Woolfolk would always welcome him back, counseling him to take care of himself. It wouldn't do the kids any good if Barry burned out. He couldn't shoulder all the problems of the world, or even the neighborhood. He had to accept that he couldn't change everything--at least not all at once--and go on. Shi-kataganai.

Two weeks ago Barry was supervising the kids while they waited for their parents to pick them up from summer camp. Only three were left when he heard a commotion across the street and down the block.

A group of boys who looked about twelve or so were gathered around a man lying motionless on the sidewalk. They were kicking him. Another man, apparently the fallen man's friend, stood helpless nearby. Then apparently he said something, because one of the boys swung a shovel he was holding and dropped the second man to his knees.

"Go into the church and tell the pastor to call the police," Barry told the kids. He was scared, but he crossed the street. He walked up as the boy with the shovel began digging at the back of the first man's neck.

Seeing Barry, all but two boys--the one with the shovel and a larger boy--ran off. The men, who were high on something, picked themselves up, thanked Barry and staggered away.

The larger boy took a step toward Barry, raising his fists, ready to fight. "This is Crips, cuz," he said, issuing a challenge.

"Don't hit him, he's a minister," Barry heard the kid with the shovel say.
"Fuck a minister," the larger boy said, taking another step toward Barry. "This is Crips, cuz!"

Barry turned toward the boy with the shovel and realized he'd seen him just the day before. He and the pastor had been standing in the playground between the outreach center and the church when the boy had come running toward them from across the street. Close behind was a police cruiser, which jumped the curb. A moment later the boy was on the ground, a cop on his back.

The officer had looked up at Barry and the pastor, as well as the several kids on the playground. He let the kid up, handcuffed him and put him in the car. Barry let the cop know what he thought of his tactics. He hadn't even sounded the squad car's siren when it jumped a curb near a playground. An innocent child could have been hurt. And it had looked like the cop was ready to rough up his prisoner.

Now here was that kid, a day later, telling his homie not to attack him. He walked over to the boy with the shovel. "Am I your enemy?" he asked.

"No." The kid dropped his eyes and looked at the ground.
Barry turned to the other boy, who still had his fists up. "Am I your enemy?"

"No." His fists came down slowly.
Barry seized the moment. "I love you guys," he said. "We got a church down here. Come on down, and I'll help you get back to school or maybe get a job...Now take that shovel and put it up. The police are coming, and you need to get out of here."

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