July 18, 2004 — Prospect Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
My summer internship at a Baptist church in Brooklyn was nearing its end. This particular Sunday evening, I picked up the metro from the Park Slope area and rode down to Bath Beach to play piano for a small Spanish church. After the service wrapped up for the evening, I proceeded into Manhattan for a walk around the city.
Although I knew the city well and had spent a number of years working in urban areas, I was still an immature 17 year-old freshly-minted high school graduate. So for some odd reason, I thought that exploring the city late at night was a prudent idea.
Around 3am, I exited the metro station at Prospect Avenue and walked West towards Prospect Park and my quarters for the summer. About a quarter of my way up the block I passed a guy and I saw another man about halfway up the block. I distinctly remember feeling that something wasn’t right, but I just kept walking. As I neared the second man, he jumped out and grabbed me by the shoulders; I shoved him back. He was back on me in a split-second and balled-up the front of my shirt in his fist. The man shouted that he had a knife and I saw the glint of a utility knife from the streetlights. I reached for my knife, but realizing that it wasn’t on me, I continued to push him back. Thankfully, I took a quick glance around and saw the man I first passed coming up behind me with a knife as well. Knowing that it was unlikely that I’d be able to handle two guys with knives on both sides of m, I threw my hands up and told him to relax and that I’d give him what he wanted.
As soon as I gave up, I was shoved backwards into a headlock by the man bringing up the rear. He held his knife to my throat as the guy who’d initially confronted me rifled through my pockets. I pulled out my wallet and extracted the cash. Covering my credit card with some papers, he moved past that. They took $40, my old watch, and my metro card, all the while complaining that I didn’t have what they considered the requisite cash or technology of a teenager of my ethnicity. Throughout the confrontation I distinctly remember the stench of body odor from the armpit that squashed against my cheek and the cold steel of the jittery knife against my jugular. But just seconds later, I was pushed away and told to keep moving. The two men continued toward the Prospect Avenue metro station and I went on my way. I saw two other men, probably lookouts, at the west end of the block scatter as well.
When I got to my room that night, I still felt like it was all a blur, or maybe my imagination. But my empty wallet (with the exception of my papers and credit card) and my missing watch spoke for themselves.
The next morning I awoke and proceeded with my Monday morning schedule. I showered and dressed to go move some furniture for an elderly woman in the church. As I was getting ready, a call came through on the land line. It was a friend of the pastor who called with a couple questions. As we were getting off the line, she mentioned that her brother had left his watch and wondered if I might need one. Stunned by this miraculous provision, I left for the furniture-moving appointment. On my way, I was about to hop the metro when I realized that I no longer had a metro card or cash to pay for one. I resolved to purchase a new one with my credit card. But when I got to the station, I fumbled with my wallet and out fell a metro card. I checked the total on this one and, to my surprise, realized that it was still loaded and that I had given the thieves my dead metro card by accident! Finally, I boarded the metro and arrived at the house where I had volunteered to assist with the furniture. Once there, a light day’s work was rewarded with an envelope. As I made my way back to the metro station at the end of the day, I opened the envelope. I could clearly see a $20 bill. Elated with the provision, I pulled the bill out of the envelope only to discover that there were two $20 bills in the envelope.
As I’ve reflected on this bizarre experience through the years, I’ve arrived at a number of conclusions:
- Life is short. A slip of a blade could have made a big difference in the intense situation that transpired. But how many times have I been spared from a driver’s misjudgment or a bird-strike on takeoff? Every day is a gift from God. I need to thank him and use each day for his glory.
- God is my Protector. Almost every day that summer, I carried a knife because most of my internship involved some sort of manual labor. Because of my ministry in the Spanish church that morning, I had left my knife behind. This little forgotten element probably saved my life. And I thank God for protecting me in this way.
- Wisdom is essential. A little bit of prudence goes a long way in keeping me from making similar mistakes again. Today I practice wisdom by avoiding dangerous places and times of night, listening to gut instincts, and learning how to protect myself and my family. I hope to pass these lessons along to the next generation when the time comes. I also aim to grow in wisdom. With 10 years behind me in the rearview mirror, I still see plenty of growth in this area ahead of me.
- God is my Provider. Even after I most of my resources due to a foolish mistake, God came through in a remarkable way. All of my losses were restored and my faith was increased.