Murder is something that usually happens in someone else's neighborhood. Most of the murders in the Kansas City area are committed in one of two or three ZIP codes. The life expectancy of males in those ZIP codes is well below the national standard. We don't expect such heinous crimes to occur in our city also.
That being said, we have experienced two murders in our neighborhood in the past six months. It has been years since the last murder. It is unnerving. In the first case, a young man was killed as he was driving from a residence three blocks from our house. The car then struck a phone pole and knocked out the power in the entire neighborhood for several hours; no one has been arrested for that crime. In the second case, a young man was shot and killed in front of his mother's home during a robbery attempt; several have been arrested in that case.
My wife and I are a lot more careful now at night when we walk the dog. If misguided people are driving around under the influence of alcohol and drugs committing random crimes, we all should be more careful.
Last week, I ran into an investigator for the Jackson County Prosecutor in the Independence courthouse. I first met her when she worked for a local police department. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned to her that there had been two murders in Independence within six blocks of my house and I was somewhat worried about the safety of my neighborhood. She was familiar with both murders and indicated that both of them were random acts. She also confirmed what I already knew to be the case, that drugs and/or alcohol played a significant role in both crimes. I told her that I had heard that drugs were involved in over 90 percent of all crimes committed in Jackson County. She confirmed that drugs and alcohol played an overwhelming role in some regard in nearly every crime.
How do we address these problems? Build more prisons? Legalize marijuana or other drugs as has happened in some states and countries? Establish more treatment programs? Spend more time educating children? We have tried all of these programs, but drug and alcohol addiction seems more prevalent than ever.
Yet, there is cause for hope, and that hope increases every Sunday that I attend my church, Maywood Baptist Church. Last Sunday, Pastor Bob Spradling gave the pulpit to Josh Monk. It was a significant date for Josh as he had surrendered his life to the Lord exactly six years earlier. Before Josh's conversion, he might have been one of those people committing random crimes. Josh had a horrible addiction to drugs and frankly he was a scary individual. I have never talked to Josh about his past, but I know that he has been in prison and it is probably better that I do not know the details of his past life. What I do know is that Josh Monk's life changed forever when he gave his life to Christ.
What has transpired in the past six years at Maywood is miraculous. Josh has become a leader in our church. He is loved by everyone, even the senior adults who have fully embraced him. They, like me, have watched his transformation and have watched he has he helped lead many out of the grips of addiction.
Last Sunday, Josh had 100 people in his Sunday morning class. An overwhelming majority of the people in the class have pasts similar to his. Drug and alcohol addiction had gripped many of them and many still struggle with it daily, if not hourly. Maywood has become a place where the lost can find refuge. Even in the prisons, the word is out that if you want to change your life, you should go to Maywood. Josh calls himself and the others who follow him “knuckleheads.”
Maywood is full of knuckleheads and we love them all; of course, to some extent, we are all knuckleheads. We share the same hopes and dreams, just different kinds of struggles. There is no judging at Maywood, just loving. I am reminded that Jesus did not hang around righteous people, but sought out the company of sinners.
I wish I could tell you that everyone who enters the doors of Maywood comes out a different person. It doesn't work that way. While some of the stories are miraculous, transformation does not happen immediately and repentance is a daily struggle. Yet, those who have come have found a lot of people who experience the same struggles they do and a church full of people who will show them God's love.
Last Sunday, before Josh starting speaking, he went down into the congregation and asked some people to tell everyone why they were thankful. One who took the microphone had been living under a bridge down the street from the church two years ago, and spoke about sharing a meal with his children and his child's prayer as they blessed their meal. He has found new life and turned away from the life of addiction. He was thankful for Maywood. A number of others would say the same thing.
I am convinced that we are only going to tackle the problems of addiction through the faith-based communities. Legalistic programs have their place, but the real change is only going to happen in the churches in our communities. The first step is to open the doors, but more importantly to open our hearts. Churches are scary places for people who are hurting, so the method of entry has to be nontraditional. You have to love them for who they are and not try to judge them or change them. There is only One who can change them anyway, but they must first be introduced to God's grace and mercy.
Then, maybe our neighborhoods will be safer.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org