Two Doors Down

Although I would love to write about Tuesday night’s conversations, there is something far more immediate in my mind and heart — fear.

I live in a blue-collar neighborhood with the majority of my neighbors being South Asian with a few African Americans and a few token whites. My wife and I have lived here for four years now and habitually complain only of the traffic driving into and out of town, as Atlanta boasts some of worst traffic in the country, but that all changed yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday, at approximately 2pm, after the local public high school bus dropped off the neighbor hood kids, a fifteen year old Pakistani girl walked into her home to find a large black male in her kitchen in the act of robbery. She was assaulted, bound, and raped with a bag over her head and lacerated in the face with a knife. She was released out the front door as the man ran out the back where there is a small wooded area that goes to the street. By three o’clock, she had been rushed to the emergency room, several police cars had surrounded this corner of the subdivision and K9 police were tracking in the woods behind her home. The suspect has not been found.

This all occurred two doors down from my house. While the heinous crime was being committed, I was sitting in front of my computer working on a graphics project and was finally stirred by my dog growling at the commotion going on in front of my house. I stepped out to see half the neighborhood around the perimeter of yellow police tape “Do Not Cross” that began from my next door neighbor to three houses away from my house. All the details were relayed to me in gruesome, unflinching reality by high school students whom I had become acquainted with by playing driveway basketball over the four summers I had spent in the neighborhood. Her house was the one in the middle. She had come running out of her house with blood coming from her face. It took the police twenty minutes to get here and the ambulance another ten after that. The police were questioning neighbors or on their phones as women in saris watched on just outside the flimsy yellow ribbon.

Alarmingly so, this horrible crime brought out news of other recent break-ins and assaults. Just two nights earlier, two doors down on the other side of my house, a burglary had occured. In fact, when I spoke to the woman who lived there with only her high school daughter, I discovered that she had been robbed four times in the four years she lived here. Two weeks earlier, another woman had been assaulted at 8am in her home. Five incidents had happened in the neighborhood in the past two months all told. And whatever anxiety had been hopeful before was now flowing freely in the streets. “What is the management company doing?” “Why don’t we have a neighborhood watch program?” “How much is a security system?” “They should be a gate and a barbed wire fence around the front and the back!” And slowly, like dye spreading its icy fingers further into the water, the fear began to spread. I had no idea whether I should tell my wife or not.

I did. That evening as we sat nervously eating dinner, acutely aware of certain windows in our living area not being dressed, a knock came at the door. It was the police and this was a decidedly different feeling from watching a drama on TV. The suspect was a large man and was believed to have committed all the acts in the neighborhood. It is likely that he may live in a nearby apartment complex or in the neighborhood himself. Because of the escalating violence, it appears that he is becoming more bold and brash and apparently breaking in, not for theivery, as his winnings had been small, but for sport. He was out “just to hurt people”, the police warned my wife and me on our front porch.

My wife and I had recently dipped into our savings to paint the house and get it ready to sell, going even as far as to install a kickplate and a satin nickel finished front door knob. When I spoke with my manager at work, he half-joked, “Good luck selling that house. It’s all over the news.” My heart fell at the thought. We may not be able to move out now — who would want to live under this dark cloud? The phrase, “the poor are a city without walls”, slipped into my mind. The arguments that I had heard of those living in the ghetto — “they should just move out and make something of themselves” in a blink of my mind’s eye fell like cards. They can’t move because no one would want to move in.

Last night, we set the alarm and deadbolted the front and back doors, vowing to install the blinds the following day in our dining room, which for four previous years seemed to bring so much light into the house, now only made our lives a virtual television set for anyone who had the diabolical inclination to sit and watch. And then it dawned on me, this is what it’s like, to live in fear. I know how to respond to the environment, racism, and poverty but this was altogether new for me — this was senseless and yet calculating evil. This is what some people live with all the time, I thought. And suddenly, I realized what an idol security had become. Everything suddenly looked unbelievably fragile to me and a sense of worry and low-grade panic seemed to set in. Even though I could acknowledge that every day, week, month, year that we had lived there in safety was God’s providence, I couldn’t help but to be overwhelmed by fear. Forgive me, God.

I had to work from home today again. This time the police were overtly at every intersection and cul-de-sac, but still every brisk breeze that pushed the branches of the tree out a little further made me uneasy. I met another victim in the afternoon who shared with me that she had been the first to be assaulted at 3am in January and she still had trouble sleeping at night. As a man, it made me angry and upset that he would paralyze the whole neighborhood this way, and I told my wife that if someone were to break into our house, I’m not sure if I could show him mercy — that if I had a gun, I would have no regrets unloading an entire clip into him. That if I could, I would make sure he couldn’t move ever again. Work out my salvation with fear and trembling, indeed. I have nothing in my house that even resembled a gun. I couldn’t even find my pocket knife tonight as I looked around. I hated him for having ruined a young girl’s life and attacking other women and robbing from homes that were two doors down. I don’t know a Christian response for this.

I know how a Samaritan acted for the dying and the robbed, but not to the criminal. I know to reach out to the fifteen year old and her family. I know to reach out to my neighbors and work for a larger sense of community. But while I find the effects of violence something I can deal with, I don’t know how to react to violence itself without a visceral response. The only example I know of, from Jesus, is to forgive the criminal and even receive the violent act, but I don’t know how to accept this. This is a new uneasiness for me and I see that God has exposed something that I didn’t know I had so much of inside me. I have loved my life too much perhaps, but I can hardly bear to give it away to some violent lunatic who prowls these streets.

It is a new tension in me where God is showing me “the other side” and the unfamiliar, something I believe he is causing in me to stand up in with neighbors and community that I must stand up for. Prayer is different when it is so immediately invested in the people two doors down. Some of the Psalms read so differently when there are really people who would seek to consume you. I can see so clearly that we have been held in the palm of God’s hands, I have to learn to trust that is true now and tomorrow as it has been. How can I be afraid only when I have only discovered a reason to fear? Those reasons had been there all along. Sin and fear is always crouching at my door, not two doors down.

Grant me a courage and a faith oh God that would not wither in fear but stand on the rock of who you are and made me to be. May our community see that you are good and my wife and I will fear no evil because you are with us and always have been. Thank you for opening my eyes that so many people live in this fear. Let us shine for you in the midst of this.

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Comments

  1. daniel so says:

    my heart is racing as i read your article — are you and your wife doing alright? i cannot imagine how difficult this must be.

    my heart is broken for this girl, for her family, for your community. i admire your honesty in sharing what you’re going through and your heart to live for Christ through this, somehow.

    living out our faith in the face of immediate, violent, ugly reality is an overwhelming task. i think we all share your gut level, visceral response to the man who committed this disgusting, sinful atrocity, as well as your confusion about a truly christian response to such a person.

    it is almost unfathomable that there are faithful followers of Jesus around the world who live in such fear everyday. it gives a whole new meaning to the idea of walking through the valley of the shadow of death with the Shepherd.

  2. David, I feel for you. We live in a neighborhood where issues of poverty, drugs, violence and up until about 10 years ago prostitution are right in our face every day. Young people deal drugs right across the street from our house (which is also across from a school) we have had someone shot in front of our house, shootings begin at random, auto-racing, etc. My girls are growing up a little more streetwise than I may have intended…but streetwise nonetheless. Every time the police tape goes up, my wife and I also go through this struggle between giving in to the fear and “getting the hell out of Dodge” and staying to be part of a community that invests in and fights for change. The “God” moments are when there is some hope in an interaction with one of the young men who still has some respect for those not in the trade, the conversations with the matriarchs of the community, other like-minded folks moving into the community and the realization that change does NOT happen unless we invest of our very hearts, minds and souls. I think this is what Jesus wants, for us to risk feeling secure and be with the people in ways that bring about transformation…for everyone. But damn, it is hard to be like Jesus…at some point we will probably move too. Prayers from one hood to another.

  3. David Park says:

    Thanks Bruce, it is indeed it is hard to be like Jesus. So good to know that you know the knots in my stomach.

    Thanks Daniel, my wife and I are fine physically, just trying to free ourselves from this grip of nervous anticipation. To live without doubting people and their intentions and not jump at every sound in the house. Thank you for your heart and prayers.

    I found the news article this morning in the local paper.
    http://www.ajc.com/gwinnett/content/metro/gwinnett/stories/2007/03/29/0330gwxrape.html?COXnetJSessionIDbuild22=3lt4GNbPLq6VwrSM5VggTzcKhH09SsWJzskxdrwWrQCCMQNJ2S9J!981508855&UrAuth=%60NbNUO%60NTUbTTUWUXUVUZTZU\UWU_UcUZUbUZUcTYWYWZV&urcm=y

  4. elderj says:

    David, my immediate response is to want to come down there and sit with you as Job’s friends did when they heard of the calamity that had overtaken him. I understand what it is to live with a certain level of fearful anxiety and all the conflicting feelings that go with it, although I am fortunate not to have a wife to worry over. If I did, I am sure that I would have the same sentiments and desire to kill if neccessary to protect her. I want to believe that Jesus would be okay with that, but maybe I’m wrong. Even so, I would do it.

    As a person who is in the hood but not of it, you have my sympathy. I am angry also and a bit ashamed that this criminal is a black man… it hurts me to hear of someone I care about put in hear by one of “us.”

  5. David, no doubt a very difficult time for the victim, her family, the community, and for you and your wife. Your entry has shaken me.

    I do not think you ought be conflicted about the how to deal with the remote scenario of an intruder in your house. Your desire to inflict bodily harm on the perpetrator – so as to protect your wife and self – is the epitome of christian godliness. Anyone who suggests otherwise – that a true Christian would turn the other cheek and try something less violent doesn’t understand how fallen the world is, nor of how depraved a person can be. When a man has broken into the sanctity my home to inflict brute violence upon my loved ones, I will do whatever is necessary to subdue him.

    Whatever fears you have, are understandable. Whatever anger you have is righteous indignation.

  6. David,
    I wish to echo the same sentiments from previous comments. That man subjected a 15 year girl to a living hell. Her life will never be the same, and I hope that he gets his just desserts. And soon.

    I am slightly concerned at the uncertainty you shared at your response should the rapist break into your home. God forbid anything like that should happen, but if it does, I hope there is no uncertainty as to what you should do.
    If anyone were to break into my house and place my family in danger, the decision has already been made. If he has to be killed, then I will kill him, by any means possible. And sleep like a baby that night and every night thereafter.
    I am not the biggest person, but I have the resolve that anything less than complete and total victory over this intruder is unacceptable. He will not have my family, and I hope rage, anger, and murderous intent are the words that would describe my response.

  7. andre says:

    David

    Thanks for openly sharing your heart. There’s not a lot I can say – I truly respect you and your wife for making a commitment to be light in a difficult environment.

    I’ll pray for you and your family this morning. May God keep you in perfect peace as your mind is stayed on him because you trust in him.

    Grace and peace be with you

    Andre

  8. djchuang says:

    gasp. unbelievable. this is the ugly dark side of life of a fallen world, and i’m feeling overwhelmed that it’s right there.. my empathy for what you’re experiencing also exposes my own fears and lack of faith too.. how true it is that the just shall live by faith.. my prayers are with you..

  9. David Park says:

    Thank you – all of you. I really appreciate your encouragement, thoughts, and prayers.
    I know that I am not alone and this is something that many people live in constant fear of. I guess I am quite new to this fear. While my family has never been wealthy, I have never lived in a situation where going home seemed less than desirable. Even so, I realize that we have more than some of our neighbors. Many of the people attacked have been single mothers. We pray that we can connect with them and share our home and big black dog with them 🙂

    Let us all carry on the work that God has called us to, for as I am truly learning, tomorrow is not promised to any of us, nor any of our neighbors.

  10. L T says:

    Thank you for articulating your struggle so well. I just recently made the flight from suburbaia and moved into the edge of Philly for ministry. We live is a pretty decent part of the city but it’s been all over the news lately about the escalating violence in our city. Several weeks ago, friends who were visitng encountered an unfortunate (possibly racial) event involving their car vandlaized next to our home. It has definitely been a hard choice personally to expose my family to these circumstances. I want to be as close to people as possible. I’m going to these places (dense metro populations) attempting to be more missional. I’m familiar with the darkness in the city having grown up in old New York City and never thought that would struggle like I have these past few months. What I think I struggle daily with is trying to provide what’s best for my family, enjoying life and doing good all the while trusting God relentlessly for security and provision. Please keep us up to date on your personal journey here.

  11. christine says:

    Thank you for writing this. How do we counter ugliness while focusing on Jesus? Initially, it seems wrong to writhe against what is heinous while seeking out Jesus, while seeking out a way to react, a way to cope. I also wonder at how God can see our grossness and accept us, how he, being holy and amazing, can look at us without shivering. That is probably another reason he is who he is.

    Let us know what you discover about this struggle. I am curious to hear.

  12. David Park says:

    Thanks LT and Christine. There is a neighborhood meeting tonight. I will definitely keep an account of what God is doing in us and this community. My wife and I were looking to move out prior to finding out about all this crime, but we are praying about whether or not we should stay instead. Either way, it has made us acutely aware of what we are called to live for and for whom. Despite our fears, we are at a wonderful place.

  13. Melvin Bray says:

    My heart goes out to you, David, my brotha. No person should ever have to wrestle with fear of neighbor. No man should ever have to come to terms with how far he must be willing to go to protect his family. It is an awful thing. I pray for you and your wife and your neighborhood and all everywhere who live in fear for any length of time.

    I pray you do not consider us insensitive for using your distress as the impetus for conversation. If so, please accept my apology. Notwithstanding, this frightful incident in your life does raise extraordinary questions for those seeking to be God’s Shalom in the earth.

    I stuggle with the notion that under any circumstances, if someone were to assault me or my family, I should take them out. As a follower in the way of Jesus, I believe my response must be more measured than this. There is no doubt that “violence begets violence.” Nonetheless, I am not a proponant of passive non-violent resistance. Passivity seems suspect to me. Still, non-violence seems to me a worthy aspiration.

    I’ve often wondered what makes the use of force violent or not. At present I see violence as the self-interested use of force, usually at the expense of others. And the way of Jesus is one of others-interestedness: a calling to heal harms, not perpetrate them: which, profound, entails consideration of even one who means us harm. Thus, though the honest defense of others (none of this premptive business) or even self-defense does not usually fall into the catagory of violence for me, I imagine there are circumstances under which it should.

    Maybe the measuredness of a Christian response to violence lies in the questions one should ask and the sorrow one should feel regarding it, despite the answers: What degree of force is necessary to stop a particular perpetrator from doing particular harm? At what point has a perpetrator of harm become an enemy of life itself, and thus will only stop upon his death? Is there a more life-affirming way to bring an end to the harm being done? What collateral damage (even enemy’s have those who care for and rely upon them) comes out of my choice of response? What grace can I extend, and still protect the innocent? etc. I don’t imagine there are universal answers to these questions, but I believe we must ask them over and over again in every instance.

    Yes, we must value the good that is in the world enough to preserve and protect it, “by any means necessary,” but not at the expense of all else. The evil that often threatens good is ugly, no doubt, and the world is full enough of it, but I’m not so inclined to label it “fallen” just yet, as if from grace. As ambassadors of God’s kingdom, ours is the grace to know God’s hopes for redeeming all of God’s creation. In this Easter season, we are dramatically reminded of God’s desire to embrace all of humanity in God’s resurrection, and of our agency in making this dream for the world reality. So as ugly as things sometimes get, my friends, I pray we never forget our place as heralds of God’s goodwill to all–even those who scare us. For if we who have early believed do, what hope does the rest of the world have?

  14. Tim says:

    Bhaiya, I feel so awful. I am so sorry. I don’t think I understood the magnitude when you originally told me of the activity. I didn’t know about the girl and I can only imagine how greatly you & Sunita are overwhelmed. Please forgive me if I sounded flippant or made no big deal about it b/c Amy & I were broken last year….this is different. Ours was nothing like that.
    My heart goes out to you, Bhaiya…you and Sunita both.

Trackbacks

  1. […] came across an amazingly well-written, soul-touching entry by David Park over at the Next Gener.Asian Church. Writing about a recent incident involving […]

  2. […] i’ve also been thinking through what david park had to say about a situation that’s very close to home. […]

  3. […] I read David’s post the other day I’ve been reminded of a question asked by a ministry colleague while we were in […]

  4. […] Church Whipper wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt[…] I read David’s post the other day I’ve been reminded of a question asked by a ministry colleague while we were in […] […]

  5. […] few weeks ago a friend of mine shared an experience of violence in a neighborhood similar to ours.  There was great conversations about what Christians are to do in the midst of such fear and […]

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