Changing the Narrative
On April 10 of last year, a man walked into a special needs classroom at North Park Elementary in San Bernardino. He then opened fire. The man killed the teacher and wounded two students. One of those students would later die from his injuries. The man then took his own life. One of the students in that classroom was Serenity. Serenity and her dad, Chris, are one of the families in our church plant. As the minutes turned into hours, new information was tough to come by. The authorities had the children sequestered and not even their parents knew if their son or daughter was injured. Sam, one of our leaders, rushed to the school to try and minister to the worried parents and siblings. He passed out water and prayed with people all the while awaiting word on Serenity. A couple of other members of our plant team rushed to the school to be with Chris as he waited. By God's grace, Serenity was not wounded. She was scarred and scared but she was safe.
As a church, we had not even started to gather formally on Sundays but within hours we were gathered in the home of one of our core families to be with Chris and Serenity. We visited, we listened, we wept, we read scripture, and we prayed. We prayed for Serenity, we prayed for Chris, we prayed for the other families, and we prayed for our city. Violence has become all too familiar in our city. We had experienced a terrorist attack in December of 2015. In 2016, we experienced over 50 homicides. In 2017, we were named the most dangerous city in California. But this is home. This is where God has planted us. And He has made Chris and Serenity a part of our body. So on that night, we did what families do in the midst of tragedy: we came together. We even bought Serenity a giant stuffed bear. That may seem trivial and trite but for her (and for her dad) it was monumental.
Chris is a single parent in a city of single parents. Over half the children in San Bernardino are being raised in a single parent home. Most of those single parents are women. Men in our city are prone to cut bait and peace out when things stop being easy or stop benefiting them. Staying is not the norm. Men leave. That's what they do. That's one of the narratives in San Bernardino. But that's not Chris' story. He stood. He is not only caring for Serenity but he loves her. He sacrifices for her. And they are a part of a family that is staying. They are a part of a family that cares for them and loves them. On that night, Chris and Serenity experienced the family of God tangibly. The family of God was not an abstract concept or a marketing point but it was men, women, and children filling a home to be with them.
In San Bernardino, the statistics paint a bleak picture, but the light of Christ is bursting in. It's bursting in through his people, the church. The church tells a different narrative than the city. We tell a story of hope. We tell a story of love. A love that will never leave you. A love that will be with you in the toughest and scariest moments of life. A love that will fill a living room, bring a huge teddy bear and point you to the One who is Love. Thanks to those who give, Chris and Serenity are experiencing that love in Emmaus San Bernardino. They are experiencing the love of God through the people of God.