I was the preacher this morning in St Louis, at the Salvation Army’s Temple Corps on Arsenal Street, a place I’ve come to know over the past few years.  It’s the place of egg-producing hens, a missional community living incarnationally, Temple Gardens, multicultural worship, a Salvation Army brass band, a recent spate of stolen vehicles.  This morning as on every Sunday morning, men, women and young people kneeling, standing in prayer at the chapel altar; ‘help us, O Lord’.  It’s life in the city.IMG_1040

In my sermon I shared a story that really belongs to Lieutenant Antoine “AJ” Zachery, the new corps officer over the river in East St Louis IL.  Gail and I have chosen the East St Louis Corps as our church home.  We aren’t there often, maybe once a month due to ministerial responsibilities we have as part of our DHQ assignment.

Lieutenant AJ just arrived in East St Louis the beginning of July to take up his responsibilities of leading SA work in that woebegon city.  East St Louis reminds me of Gary, Benton Harbor, Detroit.  Lieutenant AJ is a Detroiter, sent to officer training from Detroit’s west side Grandale Corps, he was introduced to the SA at the Brightmoor Corps.  The Lieutenant understands something about urban life.

We visited with AJ a couple weeks ago over lunch and he told us this little story.

AJ worked one Saturday til he realized that it was dark outside.  He knew it wasn’t a good idea to be alone as he left the corps building.  But he had no choice.

Sure enough.  There was a good-sized group of young men in the front yard.  Not the kind of scenario you really want to walk into on a dark street.  What to do?  Just walk past, minding his own business, get into the vehicle, leave?  The Lieutenant decided otherwise.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe went over, and introduced himself.  It would have been so easy and understandable for AJ to be prudent, safe.  Would it be safe to go over to this group of young guys?

What he discovered was that several of the guys had come to the Army when they were kids.  What were they doing there tonight?  They were taking a break from basketball on the court next to the building.  But there are no lights.  Solution?  While some played, others stood with portable lights (cell phones too?!) so those playing could see a little something.

Just a bit of light.

AJ finished his little story and grinned.

Sometimes it’s just one person present in a very rough place.  Taking a little bit of risk.  Sometimes it’s a group of young guys in that rough place, just wanting to play basketball.  Holding their cell phones, lights to make it possible.  It’s a sweet scene, both.

I suspect that Lieutenant Zachery has established some presence in that northwest neighborhood of East St Louis.