What happened just a few hours ago is unlike anything I have seen in 35 years of ministry.
Thursday morning, a man was found brutally murdered in a neighborhood park. He was a young man of just 27 short years. His brief life was somewhat checkered, but he was dearly loved by his family and friends. He was the life of the party, a real jokester, always offered a smile and was a real hugger. This was Jarvis.
But late Wednesday night or Thursday morning he entered eternity from a dark and shadowy little baseball diamond in Peter Pan Park, in the midst of a rough neighborhood.
I received a call late Thursday evening from his cousin, a lady I had the joy of leading to the Lord many years ago. She and I met in a hospital corridor. She was crying her eyes out as I passed her on the way to the elevator. The voice of the Holy Spirit prompted me to return from the elevator and I asked her if we could pray for her. Her mother lay dying in ICU. Later, in her apartment, this young single mom trusted Jesus as her personal Savior.
She attended our church off and on for several years. We watched her kids grow up and move on in life. Now, she was calling on me as her pastor again to be there for her and her family. Jarvis, the young man whose life was snuffed out, was her cousin. She asked if we could meet with them at the scene of the crime and have a prayer with the family. It was the least I could do. I felt as if we might offer some comfort and hope to this grieving group of people who had just suffered the sudden and tragic loss of a loved one. I guessed we would be ministering to about 18 people.
My wife and I drove close to the park and began to realize, there was nowhere to park the car. The parking lot was full, there were no spots to park on the streets for blocks around, cars were trolling for a spot. So we parked in the next neighborhood over and walked to the unlit park.
The only lights were vigil candles held by several of the attendees. The temp was hovering around 32 degrees. The crowd numbered between 250 and 300. Milling around the crowd, I could see that there were quite a few gang bangers. A majority of the group were American Indian, Omaha and Sioux, several African-Americans, a couple of people I took as local news people and a smattering of others.
They had made a circle around the crime scene, basically between pitcher’s mound and home plate of a baseball diamond. The same diamond I had played on dozens of times when I was 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 years old in Little Chiefs Baseball. I wish I could count how many times I had struck out on this very spot.
There was nothing organized, just people intermittently placing memorial items behind home plate and near the backstop. But there was this empty spot in the middle of the circle a few feet in front of home plate and I decided that would be the pulpit. These people were looking for something and I supposed that God was what they needed more than anything.
So, I cleared my throat, introduced myself as a pastor and a chaplain for the police and fire departments, and that I was there to try to offer them some comfort from the Lord. I thanked them for their outpouring of love for Jarvis and his family.
I led them in the first verse of Amazing Grace. Some of the folks started praising Jesus and I knew there would be some spiritual support for what we were trying to do. Before singing the next verse, we mentioned how special it was because it spoke of eternity. As we sang, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years…” folks with some “churchin’” realized this was about to turn into something special, and they began to really “get their praise on.” A prayer was offered up for comfort, grace, strength, understanding, justice, love and forgiveness. Several hearty “Amens” accompanied the prayer.
And then, the Spirit of the Lord came upon this preacher, in a very inexplicable way, to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Seldom have I felt the liberty and power that God gave on this special occasion. There were no interruptions, nobody stirring, all eyes, as far as I could tell in that darkness punctuated by candlelight, were on the preacher. Tattooed gangsters were nodding their heads, women with children on their hips were weeping, children were wide-eyed with interest. If only Sunday morning Christians could be so enthralled with God’s message! But, death can do that. Sudden death is a real attention getter. Murder… well, God was speaking to them and they were tuned in.
The message was about the reality of eternity, the certainty of death for all of us, the uncertainty of life, the value of living for Christ and the need of Christ as Savior if a person is ever going to have hope for eternity.
With every head bowed, the crowd expressed their desire to trust Christ as Savior and a prayer was offered that the crowd heartily repeated a prayer of sorrow for sins, the belief in the death burial and resurrection of Christ and opening the heart and life and inviting Jesus to be Savior and Lord.
At the close of the prayer, we reminded them that if we were ashamed of Jesus, He would be ashamed of us before His Father. With this in mind, I asked all who prayed to make Jesus Lord and Savior to publicly lift their hands high so all could witness their trust in Jesus. Every hand shot up, I mean, as if they were trying to touch heaven, and stayed up. Shouts began to ring out. People were praising Jesus, others giving thanks for Jarvis, the boy who lost his life, so that they could hear how to receive eternal life.
I noticed a couple of ladies were there who were girls that lived across the street from me when we were in junior high. Wow! That was 42 years ago. I sure hope they got saved too!
Jarvis gave his life not knowing that it would mean hundreds receiving everlasting life. I hope somehow he knows this.
Me, I struck out once again on that little old diamond of my childhood, only this time, I was striking out in an attempt for something unimaginable for Christ. Thank God for an opportunity that started in a hospital hallway several years ago. I trust the recording angel was burning up some pens writing new names down in glory tonight.