Every year students who go on Spring Service Projects have experiences they never could have anticipated. The students who went to Jacksonville, Fla., on an SSP had one such experience.
During the groups time in Jacksonville, they worked in the community garden of Brentwood, an inner-city neighborhood. At the end of the second day of working in the garden, the group was sitting and listening to stories from Mr. Ron, an elderly African-American man who oversees the community garden.
In the midst of their conversation with Mr. Ron, the students suddenly heard two loud pops.
“Our first thought was, ‘Fireworks!’” said team member Keegan Mulder.
A few seconds later the group heard four to six more pops. That’s when everyone realized something was wrong. The gunshots came from a few houses down the block. Mulder said they saw two men run from the house’s porch. He and a couple other students saw a gun in one of the men’s hands as he ran.
One of the team members told everyone in the group to “get down,” unsure of what the men in the house would do as they left. Meanwhile, Mr. Ron walked out into the street and asked one of the young men exiting the house and running by if someone had been shot. The man replied that no one had.
A car full of other people pulled up behind them, and the men jumped in and sped away.
After the men left, “Mr. Ron came back and just started telling another story,” Mulder said. The police came and taped off the entrance to the house where the shooting took place, but did not come and talk to the team about what they had seen happen. Mulder said the group just returned to normal.
“We just went on with the rest of our day,” Mulder said. “We planted some more peppers.”
Kyle Cleveringa, another team member, said many neighbors on the block came out to see what had happened.
“It was cool to see that people were nosy about what was going on and cared about their neighborhood,” Cleveringa said.
Eventually, the team found out that the victim of the shooting survived and was able to identify whoever had shot him.
Although the situation had the potential to be very frightening, Mulder said the group was not really shaken. He said it helped that Mr. Ron remained so calm throughout it all.
“Of course there was a little fear because there was a gun, but we knew that most violence in the inner city is not random,” Mulder said. “I just thought that this person doesn’t care about me. He was out to hurt someone else.”
The group continued to return to the community garden throughout the rest of their trip. Through this situation, Cleveringa said he grew to appreciate the presence of the community garden in a new way.
“The shooting almost put more of an emphasis on how awesome the community garden was,” Cleveringa said. “It made me see the garden as a really unique place to bring peace to the community. God is working through Mr. Ron and the community garden.”