Zoey & the Lost Boys of Chattanooga
"A 1-year-old baby girl is in critical condition after she was shot once…"My heart is broken right now," said neighbor Cassandra Robinson. 'This little girl just had her first birthday in September. She's just starting to find out all the things she can do. But now she's laying up there [in the hospital] clinging for her life.’"
"Last weekend was full of chaos, with back-and-forth shootings across the city. Tuesday morning, as kids gathered for school in Alton Park, the needle screeched off the record, and violence reached a new low. A bus stop drive-by."
Amidst a week of celebration over the continued growth and development of Chattanooga as the “new Silicon Valley” - a coveted destination for start-ups and entrepreneurs - some headlines were forgotten and overlooked. Not for us. Instead, we faced down this question: how can a city that now boasts 10gb internet speeds still struggle with staggering statistics of gang violence?
It is ignored. Pushed aside much like the residents of the neighborhoods where it is most prevalent. Except for a few, the issue of violence is one to hide from, ignore, or suppress so that potential residents, businesses, and developers aren’t scared away. But for those who live with violent trauma as a regular occurrence it is impossible to hide from, ignore, or suppress. For those who are working to stop the violence in our community the task seems more daunting than ascending Everest… and perhaps it is. Shame on us that we celebrate innovation and progress yet leave our neighbors behind to fend for themselves! Want innovation? How about boasting that even urban families have internet access? Want progress? How about touting a city where peace overcame a violent past.
There were unexpected tears yesterday during worship due to a surprise guest. In a church full of the lost, forgotten, and overlooked no was batted an eye at the little girl wheeled around in her wheelchair by a full-time caretaker. That is, until we discovered who she was. You see, we expect the broken, hurting, and lost to wander into our community. What we did not expect was a miracle from God to honor us with her presence. Zoey was a victim of a gang-related shooting last January (article). At the ripe old age of one year old Zoey was in an apartment with her mother, her mothers friend, and a young man turned target. As seventeen year old Cortez Sims approached the front door locked and loaded I’d like to think that he wasn’t planning on paralyzing a toddler. Regardless of intent, the result was catastrophic for Zoey. Tears flowed yesterday much as they did almost one year ago as we prayed for violence to cease and for God to grant mercy to our newest sister.
Zoey was almost lost in that shooting.
Ironically, as I settled into the couch after church I came across a commentary entitled, “The Lost Boys of Chattanooga.” Huh. Halfway through the column the article read, "The U.N. defines a child soldier as anyone under 18 who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group. International law prohibits children under 15 from being used as soldiers; doing so is a war crime… In the gangland of Chattanooga, that's everyday practice. Recruitment often includes coercion, propaganda and the threat of violence. It happens against a backdrop of dire poverty and hopelessness. This is true from Chattanooga to Uganda."
Ironic, these boys aren’t lost - they’re ignored. But not by us. We can’t overlook the victimization of our neighbors, which is why we are struggling with them to stop the violence. It is not a simple task but a necessary one that require commitment and consistency, patience, understanding, and a boatload of prayer. Stories like Zoey’s and commentaries like this one is exactly why we do what we do at Bridge City. No one is lost to us. Jesus said,
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
May God fulfill this promise in our midst and may we be faithful to proclaiming this hope to all who are lost.