Inner city memories. Fear. But God.

By the time I turned 10, I witnessed 2 murders take place, with the most traumatic one happening right before my eyes as I crossed the street to head over to my local convenient store for some summer snacks. I was standing on the curb that was in front of our apartment complex, waiting for a car to pass by. A random man was riding his bike on the other side and was slowing pedaling his way down the not-so-busy street. There is something about the heat in concrete jungles that makes the summer a bit more sticky with a need to consume popsicles, or large sugar laden drinks with lots of ice. That’s where I was headed. However, on this particular lazy summer afternoon, things would change for me. Phobias galore would choke out any places of security and peace that lived in my heart as a 10 year old city girl and it would take years and a Savior for those phobias to be erased. 

I do not remember much of anything in the moments that followed my foot leaving the curb. I remember somebody screaming though I don’t remember where the screaming was coming from. I remember the back wheel of the bike sticking up in the air, spinning, as it lay violently on its side. I remember blood soaked Cheetos puffs strewn all over the street and sidewalk. I remember the man’s blue and white button down shirt opened, exposing a white wife-beater tank underneath. I remember lots and lots of blood. 

Apparently, the drive-by shooters picked their target and sped away, leaving the aftermath for my 10 year old eyes to take in. I don’t remember ducking at the gunshots because I don’t even remember the gunshots. My memory picks up images right after it happened. I simply walked across the street, nonchalantly, however I did have to detour slightly to get around the violent scene and continued to walk to the corner convenience store for my sugar drink. 

My young eyes had seen and heard of too much death that year so maybe 1) I had grown accustomed to death in that short amount of time OR 2) I was in shock…more than likely I was in shock. Regardless of the reason for my lack of hysteria, upon my return to the crime scene, with Slurpy in hand, the police had already arrived and had draped the body with a black blanket of sort to cover it. The police did not think to ask me any questions regarding the shooting because they had no idea I witnessed the whole thing though I would not have been able to tell them much. To them, I was just another bystander wanting to get a glimpse of the drama. Even though the body was covered up, there was still a heck of a lot of bloody Cheetos puffs all over the street and sidewalk and if one must know, to this day, I cannot see Cheetos Puffs without recollecting that event, much less picking one up and popping it mindlessly in my mouth. Forget about it.

During that time in our family’s lives, we lived in one of the highest gang-infested areas of the south Los Angeles area. In broad daylight people were fearful of walking down the streets in the neighborhood due to a random string of side walk stabbings due to the fact that the gangs were in full initiation mode. In order for the hopeful teenagers to be fully instated in their respective gang, random people had to die. These guys and gals had to prove to their fellow gang families that they had what it took to kill at will. Or at least that’s what the rumor on the street was. 

My single parent mother had enough of the inner city life when the gangs that lived in our apartment complex turned their eyes towards my mother and her immigrant boyfriend as their next target. The local gang had just beaten up our neighbors, a husband and wife, that lived below our apartment because they believed they were the snitches that called the police the last time they had a party. The son of the apartment manager, Chaparra, (meaning short one) had a son who was released from jail for murdering his teacher in front of the classroom so naturally a party followed his release. I clearly remember the night of the party. My sister’s and I were peeking outside from our second story building and attempted to check out the happenings downstairs. Needless to say, the police arrived right smack in the middle of the party and broke it up. The very next day, the members of the gang were so upset, they broke into the apartment of our neighbors below and beat, almost to death, the husband and wife. The children, our playmates, were sent off to emergency foster care and we never saw them again. We don’t know if the family was reunited nor did we ever find out if the couple survived. However, the gang members seemed to not be satisfied with disrupting this family and there was rumor that our family was next. 

A Google screenshot of the apartment complex we lived in. Surreal to see this as an adult.

I don’t really remember how many days passed after the beating of the family downstairs but the gang seemed to be marking their territory and stalking their prey. I don’t know what provoked my mother and her boyfriend to decide to leave suddenly so when they urgently told us to pack a few changes of clothing we did so as fast as we could. After gathering what few items we could in such a rushed situation, we found ourselves running out of our apartment to the nearest bus station at the exact time the bus passed. I know simply walking to the bus stop to wait for the bus to arrive was not an option for us. The fear of being victims of a drive-by was very real, especially with eyes of gang members honed in and focused on my mother and her boyfriend. Once we ran out of our apartment and headed towards the street, a couple of gang members that seemed to pop up out of no where were right behind us. The bus driver almost did not stop after he saw the guys trailing behind us but my mother’s boyfriend, or I think it actually might have been my older sister that jumped in front of the bus and forced it to stop. The bus stopped and the driver hesitatingly and angrily I might add, let us on and drove away, leaving the gang guys behind on the street. Thinking we were out of harm’s way we relaxed a bit, however, the bus driver drove a few blocks down the street and decided to pull the bus over and have a smoke break. It became obvious that the bus driver became fearful of his own life, knowing he was going to have to go back on this route and potentially encounter the guys that were running after us. His stop was simply self-preservation. Thankfully, the gangs guys didn’t come looking for us and within minutes, the bus was back on route.

My mother eventually moved us out of the city to the southwest states of Arizona and New Mexico, but those memories of fear and flight stayed with me. I also might add, just because we no longer had to worry about preserving our own lives due to gang violence, our situation at the time was not unique and its still not unique today, 30 some odd years later.

According to an article in the L.A times written at the beginning of 2016, L.A. hit its highest point in gang violence in 2015 since 2009. Read that article HERE

When perpetrators of violence control densely populated areas within a small mile radius, there are all kinds of victims. Not only are there actual victims of the crimes themselves, but children will grow up thinking repeated violence is the norm or worse…..they eventually become immune to seeing people made in the image of God die for no reason. 

My life goal was to never move back to the city and up until recently, I was doing a really good job meeting that goal. 

But God……

should I even say more???

How many times in the Bible do we read the phrase “but God”?  

In the ESV it is used approximately 47 times. 

The term “but God” is used to denote that regardless of the facts expressed in the first part of the sentence, the second part of the sentence supremely supersedes the first part, making the first part null and void.

For example: 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand. 1 Samuel 23:14

Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also. Philippians 2:27

We can clearly see in just a few examples in scripture that God, regardless of the situation, when he intervenes, his intervention is final, complete, full. 

My favorite “but God” is in Ephesians 2:1-7

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind….  

But God.

being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

So the last couple of years, God has been peeling back the layers of my childhood and showing me things that I no longer need to fear.  

Not only that, he is also resurrecting things in my heart that I thought were never there, meaning giving me a desire to go back and serve the inner city or urban areas, or whatever the new term that is now being used to describe areas in cities where people tend to stay away from….you know….where English is not the preferred language. In these “sketchy” areas, you will find not only Spanish but various languages, cultures and ethnicities represented from around the world, meaning they are literal world centers, and it’s always been this way.

Across the nation, ripe missions fields are in our own American cities. For some reason, evangelical Christians have failed to acknowledge that and see the potential for God glorifying conversions of saved souls, changed lives and healthy families living redemptive lives. 

Last year our family took a trip to Dallas and we had to find a laundromat to wash our clothes. Since most middle class families own their own washer and dryer, most of the laundromats listed were in questionable neighborhoods. We picked a random one and while we were there we heard various languages being spoken – some African dialect, some Spanish and even some Arabic. Strangely, I felt right at home and my children were positively intrigued. A seed may have been planted.

I also find myself being rebuked by my own words in a blog I wrote awhile back on abortion. 

loving unlovable people is hard messy work but so very much worth it if you allow yourself to be an instrument, a pot used by the Potter, to help a woman see the worth of her baby and encourage her to keep her baby alive. To show her how to be a mother, show her what it looks like to love her child and then see that baby thrive under the care of her own mother, that is worth it. And if the Great Shepherd calls her and she becomes one of his sheep, then you get to call her sister”

I wrote these words to admonish and strongly encourage fellow saints to consider going into hard places to love and serve impoverished women considering abortion but these words can apply to all people in general who live deep in the heart of cities where a diverse multi ethnic demographic is evidenced by the local corner markets advertising in their native tongue. I somehow exempted myself from the “going” because I had my own issues and fears to deal with and surely God was not ever going to ask me to go back to a place that caused me so much fear, much less, ask me to take my sheltered country-living, homeschool kids. No way Jose! 

But God……

We have yet to realize the second part of that sentence but my husband has made a few statements in casual passing conversation in the last few weeks where he has stated that he would be willing to quit his job in a few years after I finish seminary and go where urban ministry is…..and whoever personally knows my husband, this is HUGE for him because he thrives on job security, retirement planning and things of that nature, things very foreign to me but comforting to him. 

Even though our family might not be ready to go into urban areas right now we have recently discovered a few church planters who are?

Check them out here: 


Please consider supporting them financially and prayerfully. I love the mission God has placed on their hearts. Oh, and they also happen to be a homeschool family….and well….I happen to have a teeny tiny affinity for fellow Hispanic homeschool families because we are a rare bunch indeed. 

A few years ago I found myself driving through southern Los Angeles and surprisingly my body broke out in a cold sweat, my heart started racing and my stomach got tied up in knots to the point of nausea. Long gone memories came flooding back and smacked me right in the face and I didn’t like it one bit. It was enough to convince me that I was meant to stay far away from cities and I was ok with that reality. 

However, something has changed. I personally don’t know what that is just yet but in that changing, there is a new longing to do life in multi-ethnic communities and have fellowship in very diverse climates and I know the only place we will find that is in cities, deeply entrenched in cities. 

I have to remind myself to keep my preferences for life and living with an open hand, not make my ideals ultimate and trust God through it all. For me, that’s easier said than done. 

As we wait for God to give our family clear direction, life continues in the country, where free range eggs abound, the smell of cow manure from our neighbors dairy across the street consumes the air we breath, homeschooling lessons are completed, seminary papers written while domestic duties are ignored and for my husband who works 10 hour days, comes home from his real job and slowly but diligently continues to work on his part time job, flipping our house to get it ready to sell. 

With patience we will wait for the second part of “but God”…….

What I am saying is…..that loving unlovable people is hard messy work but so very much worth it if you allow yourself to be an instrument, a pot used by the Potter, to help a woman see the worth of her baby and encourage her to keep her baby alive. To show her how to be a mother, show her what it looks like to love her child and then see that baby thrive under the care of her own mother, that is worth it. And if the Great Shepherd calls her and she becomes one of his sheep, then you get to call her sister.  – See more at: http://www.mindandhearttheology.org/2015/08/an-open-letter-to-right-wing-evanglical.html#sthash.lLNiDFRF.dpuf

What I am saying is…..that loving unlovable people is hard messy work but so very much worth it if you allow yourself to be an instrument, a pot used by the Potter, to help a woman see the worth of her baby and encourage her to keep her baby alive. To show her how to be a mother, show her what it looks like to love her child and then see that baby thrive under the care of her own mother, that is worth it. And if the Great Shepherd calls her and she becomes one of his sheep, then you get to call her sister.  – See more at: http://www.mindandhearttheology.org/2015/08/an-open-letter-to-right-wing-evanglical.html#sthash.lLNiDFRF

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