I saw a photo on Facebook today of a small girl holding a gun and I was taken back decades. Years ago I worked in Flint, Mich. in the only ELCA congregation in the city. I was Outreach/Volunteer Coordinator, a member and then president of the board of a non-profit housing corporation and a community organizer. One of the joys of my ministry was working with children. The literacy program I directed worked with children as young as 4 and as old as 15.
During the summer the literacy program operated five days a week from 8:30 arrival to 2:30 dismissal, although a few would stay a wee bit later to “help” me and my Americorps staff until a parent was able to pick them up. Each summer, I had the conversation that we all must have but so few of us actually do.
I am not talking about the birds and the bees conversation. I am talking about the “what to do if someone brings out a gun” conversation. I grew up around guns. My father was a cop. I learned how to shoot quite young—maybe 8 or 9 years. We knew how to handle guns and we knew how to respect them. I learned you never put your finger on the trigger unless you are going to discharge your weapon.
So, once a week, every week, all summer long the children and I would do a call-and-response:
What do you do when someone brings out a gun?
What if they tell you it is not loaded?
What if they call you a coward, a dummy, or some other name?
What if they ask you to just look at it?
What if you can’t leave the house?
Go to another room…get as far away as you can!
It would go like that. Sometimes they would ask me the question and I would give the response.
It is a simple conversation that saves lives. I like to think that lives were saved, but we lost two. That’s right, even after having had these conversations, two of our children were shot. One girl, named Tuwie, was killed by her cousin with an “unloaded” gun. I think of Tuwie as I write this blog. Go. Go, have this conversation with the children in your life. Have it now. You never know.
In all things, may we always commend our way to the Lord, listen for Jesus’ direction, and seek His leading. Amen.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice.