Sometimes there is hardly time to listen before God says, "It's time to act!" Just a few weeks after I began pastoring Messiah Presbyterian Church in Lubbock, Texas, I received a letter from nearby Iles Elementary School inviting community leaders to discuss how they and their constituencies could be more involved with the school.
The principal opened by announcing the goal of the session: to try to figure out how to protect the school population from encroaching drugs and gang leaders. Then the teachers spoke, one by one. A sixth-grade teacher told how one of his students was running drugs. The child was making $1,000 a week. He had just bought his mother a car and paid cash, and he told his teacher that in a year or two he would be able to buy her a house.
"No," his teacher told him, "I am afraid you won't live that long." The boy looked at his teacher as if he knew it were true—all the more reason to accumulate as much as possible now.
The story that haunted my memory most, though, was told by a mild-mannered white teacher who taught second grade. He had a boy in his class who was a lookout for a drug dealer. The child was from a poor family, but now he was wearing expensive athletic shoes. The kids in his classroom were suddenly impressed. The teacher was concerned.
"What can I do with this kid?" he said, half to himself and half to the rest of us. "He's only seven years old. He doesn't even completely understand what he's doing. He thinks he's making a good choice when he's really making a bad one."
That afternoon I went home and could not get out of my mind this story: a second-grader with the shoes every kid dreams of, running into a life of gangs and drugs and crime with no awareness of any other way to live. At the time, ...1