It was the beginning of a record-breaking heat wave in Seattle. Warm weather shelters were being opened to keep the unhoused safe and alive. A homeless friend was stabbed to death in the park next to the courthouse. Our street ministry team was headed to the encampment, to perform a memorial service, and offer prayers for the deceased. We decided to walk a different route when we met Tammy. She was sitting in a stairwell alone, wearing purple crocks and a sundress. Her forearms were covered with open wounds that come from desperation and drug needles. Upon seeing us and our clergy collars, Tammy began to praise the Lord. She had been struggling with her addiction, resisting the urge to shoot up, and praying. “I was sitting here waiting on the Lord, and then you all showed up!” Tammy rose to her feet and began to pray. She shared about her upbringing and her family. Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, Tammy said she had some “black girl drama”. After our prayers, Tammy declared that it would probably be best if she went back home.
We arrived at the park and posted up in an out of the way corner. The block is overwhelmed with tents and structures made of plywood and pallets. While praying, my heart is moved by the reality of racism, poverty, and the justice system in America. The people living in the park by the courthouse are almost all African American. It gives me chills to think about the literal, physical proximity of the encampment, the courthouse, and the county jail. They are all within a three-block radius, forming a web of oppression for the poor and marginalized of society. Pillars of destruction for communities of color.
We drive a few blocks south towards downtown and meet Adam and Beth. They both live in tents where the stabbing occurred. I mention that we were just there praying. Adam asks me what I felt while I was praying in the park. I fumble through my answer, using words like, chaos, and tension. Adam gently tells me that there is a spiritual stronghold in the park that is keeping people in bondage to addiction. I agree and can feel the anxiety and stress in his voice. I offer to pray, and we bow our heads. After we pray, there is a lingering sense of the Lord’s presence. We remain silent, savoring the comfort of the Holy Spirit, reminded of the victory of life in the face of death. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”