By John Eads
We’re prone to forget what we don’t see every day. We forget those who live with daily violence and want. We forget those who live with daily disappointments and sorrows. God does not forget.
On Dec. 11, 2001, two Prichard narcotics cops pulled over a car carrying four men in the heart of Alabama Village. As the officers got out of their car, the suspect began backing toward them. The officers drew their weapons and fired at least 19 rounds toward the vehicle, wounding two men and killing a third. The remaining man fled on foot. All were unarmed.
About half a dozen men and women gathered in the Queens Court apartment complex to settle the score. The complex consisted of six buildings, perfectly situated for an ambush with only one narrow entrance to the parking lot and a building on either side — much like a narrow pass through a canyon.
They set to work, using dumpsters to block access to the parking circle so any vehicle that entered the drive would have to back out through the entrance. After moving the dumpsters, they reportedly fired guns, including at least one assault rifle, into the air. As afternoon turned to early evening, a woman accomplice was sent to call the police to report the location of shots fired and request help. The trap was set.
They readied themselves as a police cruiser turned into the parking lot. A second cruiser followed the first. Nothing happened. The officers left their cars to investigate what they concluded was a false report. Still nothing. They had just started backing their vehicles out when the shooting started. A block away from the apartment entrance, 6-year-old Kearis Bonham peered curiously out from the enclosed porch of his grandfather’s house.
Instead of returning fire, the officers retreated from the storm of bullets. Although both cruisers were riddled with bullets, amazingly, only two officers sustained minor wounds. A stray shot, however, struck Kearis in the head, killing him instantly.
“At first, we thought he was just ducking, because we always duck when there’s shooting,” his grandfather told the Mobile Register.
God Prepared the Way
The following Sunday, through Prison Fellowship Ministries, my wife, Dolores, and I delivered Angel Tree gifts to a mother and her children at Queens Court. We were aware of the police ambush days earlier. However, we felt we must deliver these specific gifts. Dolores and I were Prison Fellowship Ministries volunteers.
Professionally, I was a hospital administrator with a Mobile, Alabama, health system and Dolores served as a public school teacher. We chose early Sunday morning, knowing that most people were asleep. It would be a quick, easy in-and-out delivery to the family. It was a cold, foggy morning at Queens Court. The sun was hidden by clouds and haze. But when we arrived at 8 a.m., we found the family awaiting our arrival. Yellow police tape still surrounded the courtyard and portions of the parking lot.
We also noticed a group of men from across the complex coming toward us as we stepped out of the car.
“Do you know where you are?” The man who asked was about six feet tall and stocky. He wore a hooded jacket and looked to be in his mid-20s. Three other men his age stood with us. His confident manner suggested he was somebody important. I did not feel threatened. His stern yet quizzical expression and forthright tone suggested he was curious about us.
After explaining our purpose, the man smiled and escorted us to the children’s house. As we walked, I noticed heads peeking through windows and slightly opened doors — mostly curious children. At the door, we handed the gifts to the mother, who joyfully accepted them.
While we all stood there, I asked our escort, “What would it be like if we had a Christmas party here next week for all the kids in the complex?”
“You do know where you are, right? Black churches don’t even come in here.”
“That may be, but we can give it a try.”
He paused and looked at me for a second, then told me to take down his pager number. He said if we were crazy enough to do it, we should call the number and tell whoever answers the day and time for the party.
“I can promise you two things. One, all the kids we can find in this complex will be here waiting, and two, nothin’ crazy will happen.” He waited as we wrote the number down. Our pen was a little shaky, as were we.
As he walked away, he repeated, “Call that pager.” Then he turned around and said, “But I know you won’t do it.”
The Good That Came From Evil
We called that pager and agreed to hold the Queens Court Christmas party on Dec. 20, 2001. We were unsure of how many children would attend, their ages, or their genders, so we brought generic gifts: art sets, basketballs, and dolls. The one thing we did know was that we did not want to run out of presents.
We arrived late in the cool, crisp afternoon. Several adults helped us gather and control the children, roughly 30 in all, as we sang Christmas carols and told the Christmas story. An hour later, as the sun was setting, we lit candles and sang Silent Night. The children sat quietly and sang while anxiously anticipating their gifts. The calm of this moment contrasted sharply to the automatic gunfire resounding through these apartments a short time ago, claiming a child who would have been sitting amongst his friends.
The children lined up and the gifts were handed out. Most ran straight to their apartment with their gift in hand. One child turned around and said, “Merry Christmas, y’all!”
One month into the new year, we began going to Queens Court at least once a month. We arrived and picked up trash. Then we played games, served pizza or hot dogs to the gathered children, and held a Bible study in the courtyard.
One older lady, Shandra, had come to the Christmas party. She became a regular at the monthly Bible studies. We were curious when she did not show up at our Easter party, when we distributed Easter baskets. As we left the complex, we saw Shandra walking down an alley.
“Where the hell is my f—–g basket?” she demanded. She looked tired, disoriented, as well as furious. All of our baskets had been distributed.
“Ms. Shandra, your basket is not like the children’s baskets. It’s special and just for you. I’ll deliver it before Easter.” She calmed down, muttered to herself, and walked away.
Later that week, Dolores prepared a basket that was twice as big as the others. She included special items an older lady would treasure — bath and body items, chocolates, and other treats. I drove it to Queens Court during my lunch hour. Two older men sat outside her apartment drinking some Wild Irish Rose as I drove up.
“Is Ms. Shandra in? I have her Easter basket.”
“She’s in there, go ahead in,” one of the men barked. The other man smiled and nodded his head. I knocked even though her door was open. I knew from experience never to walk into an empty room.
A voice came from the dark hall: “Who that?”
“Ms. Shandra, I have your Easter basket.”
“What?” she snapped as she slowly came down the hall. She wore a bathrobe and looked tired. As she got closer, her eyes focused on the Easter basket. “Is that mine?” she whispered. She sat down, her eyes fixed on the gift. “Can I … can I hold it?” she asked in a cracking voice.
“Yes ma’am, it is yours.”
“God didn’t forget me.” She held the basket as if it were fragile. “He did not forget me, did He?” She began to cry. “I don’t wanna open it. Is that okay? Can you put it on the shelf for me, Mr. John?”
I carefully took the basket and placed it on the shelf. She gave me a weak hug and said goodbye but never took her eyes off the basket. Of course, I could have said something or offered a word of prayer, but I knew there was nothing to say that would add to this moment.
That afternoon, a $15 Easter basket became a timely touch from God.
John Eads is a former hospital administrator who left that career to launch a full-time urban ministry in 2001. Light of the Village bought a “crack house” and it has become God’s house. He also teaches college courses in business and social entrepreneurship at Spring Hill College at night.
More About Light of the Village
The Queens Court Christmas party was the beginning of Light of the Village, a ministry operating five days a week from a former crack house in Alabama Village, a crime-ridden neighborhood in Prichard, Alabama. The ministry, founded by John and Dolores Eads in 2001, offers Bible studies, summer camps, after-school programs, gang intervention, job preparedness training, and more. Their mission is to share Christ’s message of faith, hope, and love in the inner city, one person at a time through word and deed, in truth and love.
Light of the Village offers summer internships for those who sense God’s call to ministry. If you’d like to contact them to learn more about service opportunities or their ministry, please visit their website: lightofthevillage.org.
Please pray for their efforts as they serve Christ in this community.