Bringing Prayer To A Knife Fight

This blog post comes from  Bart Campolo, an inner-city missionary in Cincinnati, and its title caught my attention. The article reminds me that, as a suburban pastor to the predominantly middle- and upper-middle class, I live a highly sanitized life, far from the grit and grime of what others face every day.  In perusing Bart’s posts, I can say I don’t see everything the way he sees it, but it is clear he has some words for the Body of Christ.  And I cannot fault him for that, especially while sipping latte from my ivory tower. 


I Hate It When All You Can Do Is Pray 

I’m not friendly with the white-shirted drug dealers who work the corners near my house yet, but at least they acknowledge me as a neighbor now, instead of looking me over as a prospective buyer or an undercover cop. It’s not fear that keeps me away from them, I think, but rather cold, hard realism. Until they fall, those hardcore guys simply are not “get-able” for anything less viscerally exciting than street life. I hate to break it to all those Christian rappers out there, but loving God and loving people does not qualify in that category. 

The fact that I don’t walk up to those guys doesn’t mean that I don’t keep them in mind or pray for them when I walk by. On the contrary, I am fascinated by what goes on, and careful to notice if and when the kids we know start hanging around with the wrong people. And I am always on the lookout for Shareef. 

I first saw him on a drug corner two years ago, when we moved here. Shareef is 16 now, but back then he was 14 and looked even younger. He always seemed more like the dealers’ mascot than one of them, but he was a hard-looking mascot at that, and he was out there all the time. 

Everybody told me Shareef was a bad kid, so it wasn’t surprising that I only got to know him when he tried to sneak into one of our by-invitation-only dinner parties. I turned him away from that one, but, against my better judgment, I invited him for the following week and, to my great surprise, he turned up again, right on time. 

As soon as I greeted him, he handed me his cell phone and told me his grandmother wanted to talk to me, to make sure he was welcome. We’d never met, but as soon as I confirmed his invitation, she spoke directly. “You can feed him if you want, but don’t turn your back on him for a minute, or he’ll steal from you,” she said wearily. “I don’t care if it’s a church, he’ll steal or he’ll get in a fight if you don’t watch out. Understand, I love the boy … but I’ve got to warn you. He’s not right. He’s never been right.” 

It was a strange beginning to what continues to be a strange relationship, with a woman who’s had her heart broken again and again, and with a kid who’s had every card stacked against him from the beginning, save one. Shareef may be a streetwise, bi-polar, learning-isabled orphan with A.D.D., a drug habit, and a well-deserved criminal record, but he is so vulnerable and so oddly charming that his grandmother and lots of other good people keep trying to help him.

Unfortunately, at this point, it seems we’re overmatched. Sometimes, when we meet on the street or when he stops by our house, Shareef is energetic and funny, and he talks about getting a job, staying clear of his dealer friends, and doing positive things with his life. Other days, when I see him hanging with the older boys, his eyes are glassy and he barely acknowledges me. 

A few weeks ago, after going to the church where his grandmother serves as treasurer, he stole the offering before she could deposit it at the bank and disappeared. Knowing betrayal comes cheap on the street, she and his social worker posted signs around the neighborhood offering $50 to whoever brought him home. 

A few hours later, there he was, literally kicking and screaming as three of his “friends” carried him around the corner and threw him onto her front yard in front of a laughing crowd of bystanders. At that point Shareef’s uncle, a muscular ex-con just home from prison, pinned him against a fence and scared away the crowd. I was there, too, doing what I could to help, trying to talk sense to the boy while his grandmother called the police. They locked him up for his own good, but it was ugly. 

I hate it when all you can do is pray. I don’t understand prayer very well, and around here it often feels like a waste of time. I know that’s wrong, or at least wrong to say, so you don’t have to write back to me about it. Better that you should pray for me, eh? 

Anyway, yesterday I was sitting at the dining room table searching for a way to start this letter when I heard someone knocking at the side door. When I opened it, there was Shareef, grinning from ear to ear. 

“Hey Bart!” he exclaimed, “Can you come over to my grandmother’s house with me? I’ve got a new foster family, and I’m back on my medication, and I’m doing real good, and the man I’m living with is named Charles Smithson, and he wrote a book about overcoming drugs and police brutality, and in two weeks I’m going to a real high school, and I’m only visiting home for a little while so … can you come right now?” So I went, and got the whole story and more.

We sat on Shareef’s grandmother’s front porch, me and him and her, along with his uncle and his social worker, talking about Shareef’s good news and about Michael Vick (trust me, animal lovers, folks in the ‘hood see that one way differently than you and me) and about a bunch of other stuff that I never dreamed I’d be talking about a few years ago. I think I even got a relational “in” with the ex-con uncle. It was beautiful. 

Before I left, I asked everyone for a favor. We put our hands on the boy, and I prayed out loud, thanking God for what was happening and asking for more. At the end of the day, I may not understand or often enjoy prayer, and I may hate it when it’s all you can do, but I’m definitely not above it and I never hope to be.


10 thoughts on “Bringing Prayer To A Knife Fight

  1. timbob says:

    Good Morning. Thanks first of all, for sharing this account. Few realize the societal collapse that’s taking place all around us and this acount testifies of the fruits thereof. Second, sometimes that’s all we can do is to pray. We may desire to get ionvolved in a situation; take matters into our own hands so to speak, but sometimes it’s just not possible. But when we take it to the Lord and the issue is made mention of before the God who created all that is, things happen. Thanks again for making mention.

    Have a blessed day in Jesus



  2. pasturescott says:

    I receive your kind blessing, Timbob, and hear you loud and clear. Don’t you wish you could get a sneak peek into the heavenly realms and see the effects of a person on their knees before the Lord? Talk about scurrying demons and huge wrecking balls against the Babylon towers of evil! May we get on our knees and fight like a man and never waver in unbelief! He is mighty! He is our Overcomer!

    You rest well tonight, brother, and hit the ground running tomorrow!


  3. April says:

    This was very touching.

    Pray is right.

    I must agree and love the last line “I may not understand or often enjoy prayer, and I may hate it when it’s all you can do….” I feel this way lots as many do I am sure.

    Must keep on keeping on in the prayer that is.


  4. faithwalk says:

    Thank you for sharing this story and your heart here; I do understand the feeling, having family members bound in addiction. They cry out to God and try so hard, only to fall again and again, and all the while we pray. But, I know that I know our prayers are still making a difference, even when we don’t see the fruit of it right away!

    Intercession has become an ever increasing part of my life that I now cherish so dearly, for it is so much more than merely bringing our requests to the Lord…
    And I have seen mountains moved and lived miracles, so be blessed and encouraged brother!
    Our Mighty, Holy AWESOME GOD still reigns and is forever Faithful and True!!!

    Jesus love, grace and blessings to you!



  5. faithwalk says:

    Oops! I just realized you didn’t write this post but were sharing anothers testimony; my apologies. Guess I should pay better attention to the intros BEFORE I comment! 😦



  6. marie says:

    Susan, you are so funny. It is WONDERFUL seeing you here! All of you guys that read Pasture Scott, you will be so blessed if you check out Faithwalk’s blog.

    Well, Pastor, I think I have finally had to give up e-mailing the atheist. It was becoming too hard to be something I’m not. She totally rejects God and anything having to do with Him. So, I will continue to pray for her that the LORD will grant her salvation. I think that relates to this post somehow?

    See ya tomorrow! Many blessings!


  7. Shark Girl says:

    I hate it when all you can do is pray, too. I hate it even worse when you know all you can do is pray, but you don’t want to anymore, and so you don’t.


  8. pasturescott says:

    Susan (Faithwalk), you are so funny. I was delighted (in my flesh) at first when you thought I had written that piece but quickly had to give it to the Lord…and He reciprocated by setting you straight! What fun! And for the rest, I agree with Marie that Faithwalk is a great site to glean inspiration and encouragement. Be well in Him, sister! God’s blessings…


  9. pasturescott says:

    I detest that posture of prayerlessness right there with you, Sharkgirl. I’m kicking myself for that very thing this week…


  10. Kristina says:

    1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

    2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of power,
    the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD –

    3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
    He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;

    4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
    He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

    5 Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

    6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
    the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.

    7 The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

    8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
    and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.

    9 They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
    for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
    as the waters cover the sea.
    Merry Christmas!


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