Why We Can’t Wait

Last night Doug was working on planning the worship service for today while I finished cleaning up the day’s play in the living room when suddenly our apartment was filled with the sound of a helicopter circling overhead. Our living room was shaking, we could hardly hear each other speak, and I went to the front window to see where they were searching. I couldn’t see the helicopter or the light until I was bathed in it.

“What are they looking at?” Doug asked.

“Us.” I answered.

The helicopter continued to hover over our apartment, and the light was shining through our windows when all of a sudden I heard people running right below the window I was looking out, down our driveway to the back of our house. They were shouting and swearing and running very fast. Moments later I could see guys on foot behind them with flashlights: “Drop the gun!” I heard someone screaming, and I realized our apartment was now surrounded by police. I hit the ground, and yelled at Doug to do the same.

“They’re right outside our windows!” I shouted. I crawled closer to Doug and we sat there, huddled in the middle of the living room floor, paralyzed. “Did you lock the back door?” Doug asked me. I had just been finishing laundry and was sure that I had. Our third barrier, a kitchen door that locks between the kitchen and dining room, was open and I told Doug to go and lock it. And then we sat, holding hands, on our floor. I started to cry.

I don’t know how long we sat there. Eventually we could hear mostly police radios and the voices of officers, and we could see their flashlights sweeping all parts of our property. Deciding that the danger had passed, we looked out the front window and saw that they did have a guy in cuffs up against the cruiser, and there were officers walking up and down our driveway, and searching our front and back yards. They took the guy to a different cruiser, and there was a call over the radio and someone said something about “around the corner” and everyone took off.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, there was knocking on our door, and we went, together, to talk to the officer at our door. He wanted to know what we had seen and heard, and he informed us that they had been chasing a gang member with a gun. They had been able to apprehend the guy and it turned out he had dumped the gun around the corner from our house on Raymond.

When he was questioning us, he asked how long we had lived in this apartment. “Six years,” I answered. “Ever had any problems?” he asked? Doug and I both just stood there, looking at him: “Um…yeah. Lots.” I said, wondering if he was ignorant or checking to see if I was. “I mean, here on your property specifically,” he clarified.” “No, not right here.” I answered. He told us he might have to get back in touch later, we thanked him and said goodnight. At some point during our exchange, our landlord drove up into the driveway and stopped when he saw us in the doorway with an officer. He got out of his car to find out what was going on, and I felt better knowing that he was home.

We went back inside and Doug resumed work on his powerpoint and I finished cleaning, but with a distinct heaviness in both our spirits. It was hard to go to bed last night: that tension between wanting to listen for every sound and wanting to stop hearing noise outside long enough at least to fall asleep. Lots of sirens continued throughout the night, and I dreaded my middle of the night feeding with Elijah that would put me out in the living room alone.

Today we are honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in our worship service. I am at home with the kids, all of us sick, while Doug is there leading. Before all of this happened last night he had asked me: “what should I do for my invocation?” I am wondering what he chose to say to invite our community to enter God’s presence this morning. The words that haven’t left my brain this morning are the title to one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s books: “Why We Can’t Wait”, a theme so poignantly addressed by King in his famous Letter From the Birmingham Jail.

As I think about Doug and me last night, overwhelmed and overcome by fear of gunfire outside our windows, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of the young man, armed, running through the streets, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of my kids, sleeping gently in their bedroom while police officers scurry beneath their windows, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of our church, a church in and for this community, gathered in Jesus name a few blocks from here this morning, I think of those words: why we can’t wait.


  1. hey erika. it’s funny, reading your past few blogs, about feeling so much fear, and having so much to really be scared of, potentially fatally for you or your kids, i couldn’t help but wonder what makes you stay. clearly, there is an eternal value, but practically as a mother, what gives you the guts? in reading this blog, i realized that those fears are the reason you stay. it’s the reason you need to be there. even if you leave, everyone else who lives there still has to deal with those things unless someone tries to do something different. i’d love to hear more about your thoughts about this struggle. or is it a struggle? i’d love to hear.

    by the way, my friends and i were talking the other night about the “real OC housewives” and i was caught to wonder which community was really safer for raising our kids. bless you girl.
    thank you so much for your blogs. i love reading them.

  2. Why we can’t wait … because what we’re currently doing is such a colossal failure as you experience firsthand every, every, every day.

  3. Patty,

    Oh yes, it is certainly at times a struggle. And I hope my blog is a good attempt at not spiritualizing that struggle away but acknowledging it, describing it, confronting it, and ultimately sharing it. Though I have to confess, the terrain of the OC would probably be more terrifying for me 🙂

  4. When Donna and I read these posts, we wonder, “why do they stay – why do they continue to put their babies in harms way?” It is difficult to understand, and we care so much. I have often said to people that I am proud of your commitment to the community and to the church, but this post really brought it home to me – you have been there for six years. You have added three beautiful children to your family in the last three years.

    You have a choice – they don’t. You have given six years to that community in an effort to make some difference, and I don’t doubt for a moment that you have made some difference. But I don’t think God or any one else would expect you to keep on working on this problem forever. Pastors move on after a few years, even in the best of circumstances, in order to allow a new pastor to move in and speak in new ways to a congregation.

    In your case, you aren’t in the best of circumstances. There is real danger there, which leaves you in tears, which adds enormous stress to your lives. If someone else will move into the community and take up your cause, someone who can make the choice for only themselves and not also their children, it seems to me that you have ministered well, but that it is time to find a new place to minister – one where the danger to your children is less.

    You say that the OC (or any other suburb where materialism is the order of the day) would be terrifying to you, but there is real ministry required in a place like that. The dangers there are ones of jadedness, psychological disconnect, emotional and relational isolation rather than flying bullets. Both contain their own measure of despair, and I think that perhaps the OC is in more need of redemption than the ‘hood.

    Perhaps you should consider your statement of fear of the OC as a challenge to you for a ministry of a new kind.

  5. Erica, seeing the comments before this, I had to write. I’m a missionary kid, and I’ve lived with my bag packed for evacuation at all times. Our car has been burned in a riot, with my mom and two kids guided out of the car and through the riot. This past month my family again watched a country degenerate into violence around them.

    I know why you stay. You stay because you believe God equally loves the people in the safe places and the dangerous places. And since the love of God is most often shown by the lives of His people, the dangerous, “godforsaken” neighborhoods are just where His people are needed most.

    “Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?” is just as much a call to the cities of the US as it is to the overseas mission field.

    So I’m so thankful for people like you and your husband, who live your daily life in a place where daily life isn’t necessarily easy!

    “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” Psalm 3:5-6

  6. I haven’t commented but maybe once on this blog but I read it often. I was really stuck by what was said by the commenter named Grandpa.
    I too have had people ask me questions like “why are you doing what your doing” and have often just to make them leave me alone say because I love it!

    What I want to tell them (even though I think with most people it is a lost cause) is the idea that God doesn’t call people to minister in places where it isn’t safe is such a ridiculous idea.

    I really have no idea where people get this in scripture. If this is the case then who will minister/abide/come along side/live life with the folks in communities that are labeled dangerous?

    I see the complete opposite in scripture. I see Jesus commanding us to “the least of these” and telling us to forsake all for the cause of Christ.

    If this is your actual grandfather (or father) I certainly understand his concern and want to be respectful of that but at the same time for him to make statements like “God wouldn’t expect you to work there” and it is time to find a “new place where there is less danger” is really not good biblical counsel in my eyes.

    I long for the day when my sons (I have three kids; two boys who are 3 & 4 and a little girl that is 7 months)come to me and say “Dad I am going to a place where no one else wants to go and I am going to give my life for the gospel.” This is my prayer for my sons whom I love dearly.That their lives would be marked by sacrifice, giving, and minister to “the least of these.”

    I think it is great what you are doing and as an urban pastor in a “under resourced” community I will be in prayer for you. I will pray that the God of the “hood” and the “OC” will protect you and keep you.

    Forgive me if I have overstepped my boundaries here on this blog but I am saddened by others view of the “hood” and the belief that God only calls to safe places to minister.

    I will leave you with one of my favorite passages that I visit often (especially in times of great fear)…

    1 Pet.5:6-10
    “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you… Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all Grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will HIMSELF restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”

    May the God of peace be with you this day as you live sacrificially for the One who gave His life for you!

    I have nothing but respect for you and your family and hope that your Grandpa understands my comment.

    Grace and Peace,
    Pastor Aaron

  7. I generally lurk too without commenting these days, but maybe this will help someone tonight … I’ve been called to go and called to stay in different seasons of my life (and, Grandpa, you have a point — for me personally, yes, it was in fact much harder to have to leave the city than first to enter the gates).

    I truly understand having to answer a call that makes no sense to anyone else and feeling that call with such compelling force that it’s not even really a choice whether to answer. To me, the nature of the calling at any given moment of time is an entirely personal matter between the believer and his God, though I do think it possible that sometimes loved ones or even strangers can be used as His instrument to suggest the direction of His leading.

    I think we court trouble by discussing any of these decisions too much in the abstract or by even inadvertently implying that one way is automatically holier than the other. I do not mean to suggest that Pastor Aaron implied such … I found his particular words to be respectful, discerning, well-disciplined, and no doubt intended to comfort, but other tongues in my own experience have been less measured, and those wounds are yet fresh.

    I am convinced that the two types of ministry to the city can be equally valid and can yield very different fruit — all of it needed. The pity to me is when we fellow believers undercut the faithful soul who is trying hard to do precisely what the Lord asked. It is utterly possible that Erika and Doug are just exactly where they are asked to stay – I trust them to know. It is also possible that poor Grandpa prayed hard and summoned all his courage, at great risk, to say what he felt led. I have no idea the answer. All I know is that I hope no one goes to bed tonight feeling forsaken or misunderstood, but rather affirmed by others who desire to edify each other and speak the truth in love … such a hard imperative to live, I often think.

  8. Aaron, I must respond to your comment. I AM the grandpa of Doug and Erika’s children. I stated clearly my pride in their service in the community in which they have been led to serve. I in no way discount that service, or the calling. I am, however, responding to the sense of terror that Erika has expressed in recent posts, a sense that has grown and has left her in tears. I am also responding to the very real danger to the children, who have not chosen to be in that danger and who themselves will someday be offered the opportunity to serve. Service comes in many flavors, and in many places. Doug and Erika have served that community for 6 years. They have done wonderful things there, including the birthing of a brand new congregation of believers. I have personal fears for their safety; I have had them for many years. I have expressed those on occasion, as any parent might. It is only now that Erika has so openly acknowledged her own fear and misgivings that I made this statement so openly in her blog. It certainly is difficult to separate my own fears for my children and grandchildren from the needs of service and calling, and have therefore restrained comments in the past. A person in service to God has to listen for when God wants that service to change. God’s words may come through an armed man running from the police in the backyard and it may come from a concerned grandfather. It also may come from readers of the blog, such as yourself. I can’t answer that. Erika and Doug are the final decision makers. My comments are my own, as yours are. I am not asking them to stop serving God. I am asking them to ask themselves if the call to service has changed at this time in the life of their family.

  9. Grandpa, as someone who has agonized over the decisions God required of me that caused my beloved parents distress, my heart is so with you tonight. I would also like to say that, for reasons of my own that fall well beyond the scope of a blog, I am grateful that you spoke up. I have been wrestling with issues related to this same neighborhood for months, and your words somehow helped me to see a little ray of light. May we all rest at peace in His tremendously tender loving care.

  10. Reply to Grandpa:
    I certainly understand where you are coming from, It is clear that I have 1% of the whole story and I am well aware of that. As a parent myself I know the deep love a father has for his children so in that I think we are in the same boat. I will say this again I have nothing but respect for you you as a man of faith and for your family. I only know them through this blog.

    All I am trying to say is that “fear” does not determine whether or not we minister. If that is the case then no one would be in ministry in the “hood.”

    I would also say that the unfortunate perception is that those who come from the “outside” into a community to minister often have the mindset that if things get hard or tough then “we can always just leave.” Urban ministry sadly has become a “phase” for some and not a life calling.

    I am with you that God does at times call us to different places after we have been somewhere for a time. Please know that I don’t argue that but “staying” isn’t even an option in the urban community.

    Missionary transiency has plagued the urban church.

    Sir I just want you to know that I am not suggesting that I know more than you or arguing just for the sake of arguing.

    I am just saying that it really pains my heart to see good people leave. I have been in urban ministry for a decade and I have seen so many folks come and go and it really does set us urban folk back.

    I will not use any more of this blog’s space because I think this is about Doug and the family and not my ramblings. Forgive me sir if I have offended you for this was my not my intent.

    Blessings to you and your whole family!

    Grace and Peace,

    Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this more!

    Pastor Aaron,

  11. I don’t want to oversimplify or downplay the wise advice you’ve gotten through the thread.

    Everybody has an ideological or personal ax to grind.

    But maybe you just have too much on your plate :^)

    Sometimes stress makes us say things and make decisions we regret in the future.

  12. We want y’all to move, but for totally selfish reasons. We just love to be with you and it’s a little hard from here. So, if it’s makes it any easier, I’ll cruise down, help you pack, drive with Doug back up here, help you unpack, and enjoy a pleasant Haubitfull life making music and playing with the kiddos.
    But, since i aint in charge around here and these posts are more serious than I usually care to be, I’ll just say that we love ya’ll and wish to be alongside you no matter where you are.

    preferably at McMennemins :^)>

  13. Grandpa,

    Of course you know that I receive your words with the love and concern and care that we so deeply appreciate from you guys. Thank you for speaking your own heart as I have likewise sought to do here in this space.

  14. Thanks, Erik. We miss you guys tons and Mercy still goes around singing the Shrek theme song…

  15. Aaron, Kacie and Catherine,

    Thank you for your own vulnerability in sharing here as well. I am always grateful for the sharing of thoughts and experiences and understanding that can take place here, even if in a limited form. It is a good thing to have different voices weighing in on what is complicated at best, which must certainly be true of our callings from God.

    Catherine, your words ring true concerning seasons and the incomprehensibility of calling at times…thanks too for your gracious response to our beloved Grandpa.

  16. The phrase “everybody has an ideological or personal ax to grind” feels too pejorative to me, in this context. I personally didn’t feel that about anybody’s remarks here. I perceived that everybody was responding with genuine love and concern, hopeful that maybe personal experience could be helpful to friends who have a hard calling, whatever the specifics. I know that’s what motivated me to speak about issues I often keep guarded (thank you, Erika, for that recognition), and I sensed exactly the same even from those who were offering a slightly different emphasis.

    Kacie and Pastor Aaron are both added to my prayers — those of us who have been there do pray with special ferocity for people in the firing line. Intercession is one way our ministry goes on.

  17. thanks Erika for your kind words and for understanding my intent and to you Catherine as well. Thanks for the prayers!

    Grace and Peace,

  18. Yep, just to respond, fear is legitimate and I think Grampa responds with the sensitivity that is much needed in times like this! I think he’s looking out for his family, which is beautiful.

  19. Sorry Erika and Catherine.

    Got caught up in a public blog that–at least in this instance–turned out to be a private family conversation without clear signposts for those of us outside the family.

    I take the fact that we all have personal and ideological axes to grind as a biblical given.

    Gotta listen to family members and ideological influences and then make decisions on the basis of what we think God’s doing in our own lives.

    I just think trying to do too many really difficult things usually doesn’t turn out very well.

    Nothing pejorative intended. Just the opposite. Cool and unusual family, without a doubt :^)

  20. Aaron, don’t worry about commenting in Erika’s blog space – that is part of the power and value of this blog. Tom, also – this is a public forum. It is about Erika and her immediate family, but it is about her friends, colleagues and many others who have found it to be a source of wisdom. I enjoy reading it, partly to keep in touch with the doings of the family, and partly because Erika is a wonderful writer who finds spiritual truths in the midst of babies, diapers, princess dolls and trucks as well as the chaos of the ‘hood. This has been an important discussion, and there have been many opinions expressed. I, like Erik, have selfish reasons to want them to move. I have tried to keep those out of the discussion, probably unsuccessfully. I hear you, Aaron, when you lament the loss of good people. I have a strong sense of commitment to people and projects that I get involved with, and also lament people that leave too easily or too soon. But I also understand that sometimes it is time to go. The hard part is recognizing it and letting go. It sounds like Catherine is wrestling with that very question. I don’t know if Tom is right about doing too many hard things, but I do think that there comes a time when one’s effectiveness is gone because one’s misgivings (or fears) get in the way. That is a good time to make room for someone new. I appreciate all of the comments from all of you, and am glad that you all recognize the love that was interlaced in my comments.

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