There was a season of my life where I frequented the inner-city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It all started on one Saturday morning when I went on an inner-city outreach with a group from Healing Place Church. We handed out food and toiletries to the inhabitants of this impoverished area. That day I met a little girl named LaQuisha, and she instantly stole my heart. We came upon a small house where at least twenty kids were roaming the yard, and LaQuisha was one of them. My friend Meghan was with me. And, just like Laquisha stole my heart, a little boy named Roy, who was LaQuisha’s brother, stole hers. We decided that day that we wanted to really get to know this family. I mean really get to know them. About every other week, we would rally a few people and go buy groceries and treats at Wal-Mart, pick up a bunch of pizzas and pay a visit to our new family, the Veals.
As we got to know them, we discovered that the children all stayed with their great-grandmother, Maude Veal. She was unhealthy and getting old, and could barely care for the kids who roamed around pretty unsupervised. Yet, Maude was awesome. Over the years, we continued to visit the Veals and would take the kids on fun trips. Every Christmas we would miraculously raise so much money and support that every single kid in the family would have plenty of presents. As the years passed, the number of kids grew and it got to where we were taking care of upwards of forty kids- all from the same family!
Despite the high crime rate and complete absence of young blonde, white girls in the area, Meghan and I, along with our crew, were considered family and even felt safe there. Eventually, Maude’s health declined and sadly she passed away. I had the honor of speaking at Maude’s funeral. It was that day that I realized that the decision to have a prolonged presence and a real relationship with a family really did make a difference.
It was painful to learn the inside scoop of all that these kids endured on a regular basis. Their situation was rough, they were starved for love, which is why they latched onto us so easily. They lacked so much, yet they had such joy. Every time we were with them, our hearts were so filled up that we couldn’t wait to get back to them. It was a joy to watch them grow up, especially my LaQuisha and Meghan’s Roy. They had an extra special place in our hearts. They were our favorites and we didn’t hide it.
Eventually I moved away. Meghan got married and had like a thousand kids, and life continued on. Never has much time passed, however, that I have not thought of LaQuisha, prayed for her and wondered how she was doing. It has been the same with Meghan. She always thought of Roy and even recently tried to reconnect with him, but was unsuccessful. Then yesterday, Meghan sent me this news clip.
17-year-old shot and killed. His name was Roy Veal.
Honestly, I was hesitant to even post about this because I am still speechless. I am grieving over our precious Roy. Our young, innocent boy had grown up and become, in the eyes of the world, a statistic. It turns out that he had dropped out of school, and had recently been arrested for pointing a gun at a school bus. I keep thinking, “Did our investment count for anything? Did we make any kind of difference?” And, my biggest question, “Is he in Heaven???” So many questions continue to swirl in my mind.
The harsh reality is many people live within the painful circumstances of poverty and crime. So many families are torn apart by violence while the rest of us sit here in our suburban homes scoffing at such inner-city violence. We take a passing glance at these losses and think its just another gangster who wasted his life. But, the fact is these are all “Roys.” They all matter just as much as the people we hold dear. They were created in the image of God. They have brothers and sisters, moms and people who love them and who deeply grieve for them. Today, I’m grieving with them.
I entitled this post “Good Grief” because sometimes grief can be good. It can be our fuel to love more, give more and do more. Now, we’ve counted the cost, we know the price. If you are going to invest your heart into the dark reality of inner-city life, you are going to get burned, plain and simple. In fact, if you invest your heart into any sphere of humanity, whether it’s the poor or the wealthy, the sick or the healthy, you’ll get burned! What we gain, however, is so worth it.
I got to know a precious and innocent inner-city kid whose entire life was engulfed in unfortunate, unfair circumstances. Time and again we were able to share the Gospel with him. Perhaps it was in small ways, such as my “Why we celebrate Christmas” speech I would force all of the excited, fidgety little kids to sit through before they opened their presents. Perhaps one of those times Roy listened. Perhaps beneath the layers of a broken culture and nature lied the seed of salvation. Perhaps today, he is with Jesus.