In the September/October 2007 issue of Today's Christian, Shirley Shaw tells the story of how the sacrifices of a successful cabinet maker named Terry Lane continue to change a drug-riddled neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida.
My business had prospered to the point my 40-man staff needed more space to produce the quality cabinets for which Mid-Lane was well known. We found an ideal location in northwest Jacksonville and in 1985 built a 25,000 square foot state-of-the-art plant that was soon humming with activity. Life was good. But my peace and comfort were short lived.
Almost immediately, problems erupted. Every night the burglar alarm sounded, and I was summoned to the plant by police officers. Broken windows, shots fired, bullet holes in the walls, stolen equipment, vandalism—even incinerated cars in the parking lot.
One night an officer asked me, "What possessed you to build a plant this close to 'The Rock'?"
"What do you mean, 'The Rock'?" I asked.
"The Cleveland Arms apartments," he responded. "More crack cocaine is sold here than anywhere in Jacksonville, so we call it 'The Rock.'" And he proceeded to enlighten me about my new neighborhood. The 200-unit subsidized housing complex was occupied by drug dealers, prostitutes, and felons, a place considered so dangerous police were hesitant to go there…
As I sat mulling over the situation, from out of nowhere came a thought so clear it was almost audible: If you'll love those who despitefully use you, I'll take care of it. Stunned and shaken by God's admonition, I wondered how I'd obey this gentle command. Then I sensed him say, "Forget about all the shooting and all the garbage. Look at the children." …
Days went by as I prayed for my neighbors and tried to figure out how to connect with this community. I bought several basketballs, wrote "Jesus loves you" and "Mr. Lane loves you" on them, and threw them over the fence into the complex. There was no immediate reaction, but at least they didn't throw them back.
Then one Saturday while working alone, I stepped outside for a break. I heard the noise of children playing beneath a tractor trailer parked on the property. When they saw me, one said, "There's the man," and they started running.
"Wait," I called. "Would you like something cold to drink?" Four or five little kids followed me into the plant where I opened the soft drink machine and gave them a cold soda pop. They went home, and I thought no more about it. Until Monday afternoon when I heard a commotion in the lobby and the receptionist ask, "Can I help you?"
As I walked down the hallway, I heard one little kid ask, "Where's the big man with the beard?" Turning the corner, I saw 16 kids in the lobby looking for me—well, for the man with the key to the drink machine.
That was the beginning. Suddenly, 35 children adopted me, coming to my office every afternoon after school instead of going home. There was nothing for them to go home to. Day after day, while I worked at my drafting table, I was surrounded by kids on the floor busily coloring or doing other crafts I had brought…
Thus began the journey that would change my world and that of many kids whose addicted parents left them to fend for themselves. Often hungry, unkempt, undisciplined, with no structure in their lives or motivation to attend school or church, these children would be the next lost generation. I felt compelled to do what I could. Years flew by, and the kids I mentored became a part of my life.
Terry Lane's journey of self-denial continued. Ten years after he first reached out to the kids of "The Rock," he sold his share of the cabinetmaking business to his partner and started Metro Inner City Sunday School. When the kids got older, they started youth groups and teen programs. It wasn't long before Terry asked the owner of Cleveland Arms to give him an apartment. In five-years' time, Lane established a community center called Metro Kids Konnection where the staff feeds over 145 children physically, academically, and spiritually.
Shaw ends her article with these final thoughts from Terry:
There is so much to do, but I'm excited and grateful for the direction God chose for me. My wife and I have gone from enjoying a six-figure annual income to subsisting on $12,000 a year, but God faithfully meets every need. And the rewards are incomparable…
Nothing can replace the joy of having a little child crawl into my lap with a hug for "Pastor Terry," or for a young man who has been rescued from a potential life of dealing drugs to look me in the eye, shake my hand with a firm grip, and say, "Thanks, P.T."
That's my reward for "looking at the children."
Condensed from our sister publication Today's Christian, © 2007 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit Todays-Christian.com
Terry Lane (as told to Shirley Shaw), "Look at the Children!" Today's Christian (September/October 2007); Brian Lowery, associate editor, PreachingToday.com