WEB EXCLUSIVE: A stranger hugged me
Pastor shares way of peace with young coupleby Marty Troyer
A stranger hugged me the other day in front of my house. This wasn't the kind of thing I'd come to expect on the streets of Houston. So I'm still soaking it all in.
After a day on the town, I was giving my 18-month-old son a snack of apples and cheese, his favorite. He was squeaking and giggling while I sliced away, and didn't notice a thing as my wife said from our front door, "There's someone screaming outside." With her standing vigil, Malakai happily nibbling away, and me relaxing in socks and glasses, the screaming continued. Not sure what was going on, I headed to the front door to see for myself.
Just outside our door, I saw a young woman trying to escape out the passenger door of her car, with a man inside violently pulling her back in, with screams and shouts loud enough to be heard up and down our street. I immediately threw open the door, and sprinted across the lawn to the car. Not knowing what I would find (guns, drugs ...?) I ran with my cell out in front of me, poised with my thumb already on the 9-button, and memorized the license plate instantly. I had no idea what I would or should do, only that something needed to be done by someone to prevent this act of violence.
I approached the car, and saw a Hispanic man wrestling with a lady who kept saying over and over, "Let me out! Let me out!" Spittle was all over his face and hair, rage in his eyes, and hate dripped from his lips. I was not a welcome presence--for him. But in her eyes my presence meant salvation, and freedom. I made it clear that I was there to help, and was prepared to call 911 if needed to protect the young lady. He focused his venom on me, shouting obscenities and making it clear I needed to get lost.
Then he came at me yelling, arms raised and chest puffed up, "I don't even care anymore ... ," ready to destroy me. Why Lord, had I taken out my contacts, only to get my glasses bashed into my face! I noticed for the first time how huge he was, 6’5, 270 lbs or so, and the thought came through my head that I might not be preaching the next morning if I get beaten by this brut. Not praying exactly, but knowing that violence towards me would too easily be transferred to beating his girlfriend, I tried calmly to talk him down. Nothing works though, when your mind is clouded by rage and fear. Nothing, at least, until I pointed out to him how much God loved his girlfriend, and how much God loved him, and how terrible it is to do violence to one of God’s beloved children.There was nothing strategic about that for me. No training equipped me to say that, or to know how to respond.
But with those words, he almost instantly calmed down, and backed down, and broke down in tears about their situation. He began even to speak rationally about the situation. I told them both I was a pastor at a local church, repeated that I was there to help them, and made it quite clear that no violence would be accepted in front of my house. All the while I wondered to myself what my neighbors were thinking to themselves as the peaked through their blinds at this scene before them.
Over the next 20 minutes or so I spent time hearing their stories, repairing their lost sense of hope, and working towards some solutions to their problems. All the while insisting to them both that violence was not acceptable, that God loved them both, and that there were people who cared deeply enough for them to want to help them. In the shadows of Houston’s flickering street lights, I shared the way of peace and relationship with two young people I came to deeply appreciate.
Before it was all over, while tears of mercy streamed down his shame and now hope stained checks, he set aside his machismo, reached over to pull me in tight, and held me for well over a minute.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you ... I love you man," was the new language falling from his lips. Funny, but while he was hugging me, I noticed for the first time that he was about my size, 5’9, 180 lbs or so.
I don't know what became of either of them. Perhaps they repeated the story again the next night on another street not far from where I live. If so her victimization falls at the feet of my pastoral naiveté. Or, perhaps it's true that out of the depths of pain and sorrow, comes new life. And if so, then there is hope for my new friends. And hope for us all. And there is hope too, that next time my neighbors will join me in working nonviolently for hugs on our streets.
May peace arise this Easter season!
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houstin Mennonite Church.
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