I DECIDED TO TAKE A TRIP TO FERGUSON, MISSOURI.
I WANTED TO TALK WITH THE PROTESTORS...LEARN ALL I COULD...
After our Sheepdog Seminar in West Virginia, I packed my bags and headed for Wichita, Kansas. I checked the map and noticed that I would be driving through St. Louis. Knowing that Ferguson, Missouri was a suburb, I thought it would be interesting to drive through - and spend some time - in the riot-torn city….
Ferguson, as I’m sure you recall, is where Officer Darren Wilson had shot and killed Michael Brown. Anytime now the Grand Jury will release its findings on the shooting...
Being a police officer, I knew the Ferguson PD had to be in perhaps its most stressful time ever. I decided I would stop by and invite them to our Sheepdog Seminar in Wichita featuring Lt Colonel Dave Grossman – and offer them all a free ticket.
It didn’t take long to figure out where the police department was. Across the street from the PD were a few protestors. Two other protestors paced the sidewalk in front of the fire department (located next door to the PD); one of them carrying a sign that read “Film the Police.” The other protestor wore a white mask over his face. I would meet these men a few minutes later and strike up a conversation. I would then learn a certain fact: everyone carried a load of anger.
I was anxious to learn all I could about the protestors, their motives, and their plans. I had plenty of time to spare, so I hopped out of the car and did what I do best – talking (first reminding myself that it would probably be best if I did NOT tell them I was a police officer).
Robert was a tall young man caught up in the drama of the entire ordeal…
“So Robert,” I asked, “Just what is it that you’re after? What is it that you hope will come from all of this?”
“We want the police to turn in their guns,” he replied – with no hesitation.
“What?” I asked, completely caught off guard by his remarks.
“Nationwide? You want all 850, 000 cops to turn in their guns?”
“Robert, there are over 300 million guns in this country. And many of them are in the hands of some very bad people.”
“Them too,” he responded.
“Robert” – I tried to explain – “the bad guys won’t turn in their guns.”
“Well then, the police can learn to do what the police in Germany do.”
“What’s that?” I asked…
“Learn to shoot people in the arms or legs and not shoot to kill.”
I didn’t know how to respond…
Still across the street from the police department, I visited with a few more protestors, asking them every question I could think of.
“They left Michael Brown’s body on the street for over 4 hours,” said a woman who appeared to be in charge of the gathering.” A reporter from the St Louis Dispatch interrupted her…
“I’ve been to thousands of crime scenes as a reporter. It’s not uncommon to leave the body there while the scene is processed.”
Another of the protestors suggested I go to the other side of town, where Michael Brown had been shot. “You’ll see a lot more of us there,” he added.
Before leaving I went inside the Ferguson Police Department. I told one of the officers I wanted to visit with the officer in charge of training. I intended to grant free passes to any officers who wanted to hear Colonel Grossman. “Wait here,” I was told…
The Ferguson Police building is being remodeled. The lobby is a rather small place, only about 7 chairs for visitors. An elderly gentleman sat a few feet from me. After about 10 minutes of silence, he spoke up. He rattled on and on about an oldies rock n’ roll song. Bored with his “presentation,” I interrupted…
“Sir, what are you doing here in the Ferguson Police Department?”
I was not prepared for his answer.
“Well, I’m going to meet with the supervisor and ask them to have one of their black officers meet with me. Then, I’m gonna take a picture with the officer and put it on my Facebook page.”
You’ve got to be kidding, I thought.
“Sir, they’re not going to do that. You’re wasting your time.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
He thanked me and went on his way.
A second later a Ferguson officer stepped out to meet with me. A nice guy, he had been there for years. I told him about our upcoming seminar with Colonel Grossman and extended a free invitation to their department.
I asked about Darren Wilson.
“I sure would like to pray with him, sir. Here’s my number if he ever wants someone to pray with.”
“Thanks,” he said.
Following the suggestion that I go to where Michael Brown had been shot, I headed that way. A few minutes later, it was obvious that I was there: burned buildings, boarded storefronts, looted properties.
To my left I saw a canopy, manned by a young guy selling t-shirts. Next to him was a second canopy. The tents were in the parking lot of a business that obviously didn’t exist anymore. Portraits of different scenes of the riots hung on easels scattered about the lot. In the back were about ten tents; temporary homes of protestor’s from across the nation.
The scene was still a little “hot,” and I didn’t know if I’d be welcome. Curfews had been lifted only a few days earlier. I would definitely be in the minority, and I certainly didn’t want to get into any kind of confrontation. These were the scenes I had witnessed on my TV screen. I was eager to learn – and this was American History.
I decided to break the ice. I parked my car, hopped out and went to the canopy where you could buy a Michael Brown t-shirt.
“Hello, my name is Jimmy. I’m from Texas. Can I buy one of your shirts?”
“Sure,” he replied. His name was Andre. He was from South Carolina.
“All the money from the sales goes to Michael Brown’s family.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I know they’re having a rough time.”
Andre was soft-spoken. He didn’t seem as angry as the rest of the crowd. He almost seemed to be like a man who had lost his way, who wasn’t sure what he was doing. A man looking for purpose.
I wondered over to the other table, where dozens of photos and drawings lay. The artist who had drawn them was sitting there.
“Hello. I’m Jimmy. I’m from Texas.”
“Thomas, can I sit here with you?
“So, Thomas, you drew these pictures?”
“Dude, you got one heck of a gift.”
Another party soon joined us, Lisa. She sat down with us, and was soon followed by Annette…
Annette was angry. Very angry. She was from New York and had been there for days. When she walked up, it was easy to detect the rage: it was embedded in her face, her tone of voice. She was wearing a shirt with the letters “LV” on the front.
After introducing myself, we began our chat…
“Annette, what does ‘LV’ stand for?
“Lost Voices,” she quipped. “We are the Lost Voices. We speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.”
“That’s interesting. I believe in that, too. So, does that include like…abortion? Those babies certainly can’t speak up for themselves. You’re pro-life?”
My comment didn’t set too well with her, and for a moment I wondered what the heck I was saying - surrounded by a group who would not agree with my politics.
“NO!” - she shot back. “Abortion is an economic thing.”
“But the babies in the womb have no one to plead their cause,” I replied.
Her face was growing red.
“So what is it that you want? What is it that you guys are after? Help me understand,” I pleaded.
She didn’t hold back…
“WE WANT THE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH…”
I was no more prepared for that than I would have been had an alien landed at my side.
Annette then went into a long dissertation about the injustice of our taxation system. She turned toward the McDonalds across the street and complained of their 8-dollar an hour salary…
She finally ran out of steam. Frustrated, she stormed off…
I was feeling a bit nervous at this point. There had been rioting a few days earlier on this very street. But I wanted to learn. I wanted to hear for myself what they wanted. They were young people, and there are millions just like them all across this land…
I turned my attention toward Lisa, who was seated at the table with me.
“My name is Jimmy. I’m from Texas.”
“I’m Lisa,” she said with a smile. She had a smile that radiated. She was a beautiful woman, but, like Annette, a rage lay dormant behind that bright smile.
“So what do you think Lisa? Our country has a history of what is happening here. We saw it in the early nineties after the Rodney King verdict. I think this will all blow over – just like all the rest of them.”
“I don’t,” she quickly retorted. “We are here for the long run. We will stay until there is a change.”
“What change do you want?”
“Lisa” - I continued – “How many police officers have stopped by and visited with you guys?”
With a semi-shocked look on her face, she turned toward me and with a raised voice, said, “None! No police have been by here.”
Her tone of voice and facial expression made it clear that she was not prepared for my question.
“Well,” she went on, “maybe one. I don’t remember.”
“Have any police from out of state come by and visited you guys?”
Her expression seemed to ask me what planet I was from – or solar system.
“HELL NO! Ain’t no cops from another state been by here.”
I leaned forward and asked her again: “Are you sure? No police from out of state have visited you guys?”
During most of our conversation, she had not looked me in the face. I think she was growing suspicious of me…
“Lisa, I’m a Texas Police Officer.”
Lisa looked away from me, toward the street. I sat there staring at her, anxious for her reply. Complete silence. It appeared that her eyes were getting watery. “She’s crying,” I thought. I wasn’t prepared for that.
As I spoke these words, I extended my hand toward her, expecting a handshake. And to my pleasant surprise (and relief), she shook my hand.
I have come to believe something: if we will simply DO what Jesus says, we will discover that “It….works!” And yes it does. Lisa hated everything that I stood for as a police officer, but I believed that if I could DEMONSTRATE the Love of the Father in some small way, it might touch her heart.
And it appeared to be doing so….
It was time for me to go.
Steven had been nearby, but had not heard our conversation. He was now back in our circle, so I introduced myself in the same manner – the cop from Texas. I hugged his neck. He wasn’t quite sure about the whole thing, but he did not resist my gesture.
I went back over to Andre. He was still under the tent, selling t-shirts, sitting in his chair.
“Andre, I have to go now.”
“Ok,” he said. I reached for his hand and he extended his. I pulled him out of his seat and hugged his neck. He smiled like a little boy.
Before I got into my car, I made something else clear to them: “I’m a Jesus cop you guys.” I mentioned the Lord several more times.
We took a picture together and I then headed off…
My heart’s desire was to the show the Love of the Father. I knew that Jesus would not go in there and try to make fools of those youngsters. I knew he would listen with deep concern. I knew He would march right into that mess, extend His hands, and embrace anyone who would receive His gentle touch.
I had – have – no opinion on the killing of Michael Brown. I will wait for the evidence and the verdict rendered by the Grand Jury. That would be the wise thing for all of us to do.
Until then, however – and afterwards – the wisest course of action would be the path of Love!
I drove a block and then turned right. A couple of blocks down the street, I saw a crowd of people on the left and the right. It was the same road that Michael Brown had walked down a month earlier.
All of a sudden I saw a shrine in the middle of the road where Michael Brown had been shot: flowers, a baseball cap, a sweatshirt, a basketball, candles, a teddy bear, even a cell phone – all served as a memorial for Michael Brown.
As I drove away, contemplating all that I had experienced in the previous 2 hours, I KNEW with certainty what the problem was. I knew what was wrong with those youngsters I had conversed with, just as I KNOW what is wrong with most of the police officers I have known in my career.
I knew the words of Jesus from the gospels: sin comes from the... heart.
In Ferguson, hearts are torn to pieces. Nobody wins in this scenario. Darren Wilson will never get his life back; Michael Brown’s parents will grieve forever.
These young people I was conversing with are lost. Their lives are meaningless, going nowhere. No rearranging of the stuff of life will fix them. Their only hope is the securing of a new heart – which is what the scripture promises.
But how? How in the world can we convey that message to those in Ferguson, or for that matter, anywhere?
And I also knew the answer to that question: INVOLVEMENT.
As Christians we are notorious for having opinions on what is wrong with the world. All Christians seem to know what is wrong with President Obama, Congress, and the Senate. And we seem to know what remedy would work for every dilemma.
But the truth is, we are mere TALKERS. We talk, talk, and talk, exposing the fact that we suffer from “diarrhea of the mouth.” We have no intentions of involving ourselves in the lives of those who are broken, oppressed, and beaten down.
Our world is in a violent season – very violent! We hear the constant threats of ISIS, Al-Queda, and others. Racial tensions continue to rise in the United States, with no hope in sight.
On top of the violence, there is the mounting problem of disease, the AIDs crisis in Africa, Ebola has arrived in America – and the list goes on.
And to think, Jesus called these disasters the “beginning of birth pains,” with the worse yet to come.
THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO DISCUSS THE RAPTURE OR THE END OF THE WORLD - IT IS THE TIME TO DO WHAT WE WERE TOLD TO DO UNTIL THOSE EVENTS TAKE PLACE!
So what are we to do? How do we respond to the human misery before us?
Now is the time for the church to invade the local community. Now!
Think of what might happen if churches invaded Ferguson, pouring their lives into those who are so beaten down.
Now is not the time to prove who is right and who is wrong.
Now is the time for invasion.
Now is the time to redo your church budget, giving priority to missions and other such causes.
“But Jimmy, those folks in Ferguson would never appreciate the investment. They loot their own properties, tear down their own buildings, and burn their own businesses. They made their bed – let them sleep in it.”
You may be right. However, are you not grateful that God did NOT think that way?
Aren’t you glad that God didn’t look at our sinful plight and say, “They got themselves in this mess – they can get themselves out?”
Your thinking reveals your ignorance of the Bible you claim to believe in.
You never know what fruit may come from your INVOLVEMENT.
What if you, like the early disciples, decided to “risk your life” for the cause of the gospel?
What if we – the church – marched full steam ahead, involved in all the messes of the world, from diseases to disasters, destruction to death.
What if we – THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD – instead of sitting back and telling the world what is wrong with it, chose instead to jump right into the middle of all the chaos and conflict - with the good news of the kingdom?!
Perhaps one day it would be said of us, as it was of the early disciples, “…these men who turned the world upside down have come here, also…”
Jesus said: “Don't you have a saying, ‘Four more months and then it's time for harvest'? Look, I tell you: open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest.” – John 4:35
I entered the ministry in 1973: and in 1980 I became a police officer. I want to reach the cops AND the crooks, the white man, the black man, the up and coming, the beaten down and oppressed - the rich and poor. There is no hope outside the gospel. Darren Wilson is my brother officer, and our Father loves him dearly. The protestors in Ferguson, be they right or wrong, are still the lost sheep the Son of man came to save...
When Jesus looked out over the city of Jerusalem, he wept. As we look out over our cities, may we do likewise.
"Father, I pray for our world. LET YOUR KINGDOM COME! I pray for Darren Wilson. I ask you to comfort this man’s heart. Help him during this awful ordeal. And comfort the family of Michael Brown - his parents and friends. And let your peace come to Ferguson. Stir Your Church! Stir us to our depths! Arm us with Your Love, fill us with Your Spirit - We desperately need You. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!"