I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around.

Nothing.

I turned back to my conversation, catching up with a ministry friend.

Another tap. I turned, and seeing nothing at eye level, looked down.

There he was. Andy, not yet ten, a friend from the motel next door to the
coffee shop. No shirt, no shoes, just shorts and his impish, beautiful smile.
He pointed at the bottle of Coke my friend was drinking and asked if he
could have one. I said sure and got him one. He took it and left.

Twenty minutes later another tap, another request for a Coke. I said no and
off he went, racing on his bike. I filled my friend in on Andy.

He lives in the motel with his parents, brother and cousin. Five of them,
stuffed into a motel room, hanging on, piecing life together.

Mom and Dad, like so many here, face the temptation of substance abuse,
a way to manage pain. Drugs—crack especially—are easy to find on the
property. Andy has a lot of freedom to run around, at the motel and on the
streets. Today, he is out, an unsupervised child in the worst part of town.

Matt and Kayla—part of our JOC team—have drawn Andy into their family
circle of five kids. Often, he shows up at their door, five blocks from the
motel, a child alone. A sweet kid, he helps us with food distribution and
visiting at his motel, the youngest member of our JOC team.

We are hearing stuff—his brother hangs around drug culture, sometimes
taking little Andy along. Just a child, he sees more chaos, drug usage and
violence than most see in a lifetime. Think of the trauma to his little mind
and body. Think of the life modeled for him.

Recently, someone was shot at their motel, executed in broad daylight in
front of kids, teens and adults. Andy was fortunate—he was in his room. He
heard the shot and ran outside. His friend Allen, the same age, not so
fortunate. He—just a child—watched an execution.

Matt got their soon after, comforting and encouraging our friends. I stopped
by that evening, cops and crime scene tape finally cleared away, wanting to
show up and love folks. I talked to the manager and other
friends—listening, distributing hugs, COVID be damned. The manager
showed me the bloodstain where Larry died, talked about the pain of
watching the murder live, then watching the video with the police for what
felt like a thousand times. She and others were shaky, traumatized one and
all.

Horrific for teens and adults, but imagine being a child. No doubt Andy and
Allen hung around the edges, peering out windows, watching cops and
ambulances. Like me, they saw the bloodstain and bullet holes.

Try for a moment to be these boys, living in an East Colfax motel. See
through their eyes, feel through their bodies. They experience good—parents
who love them and a sense of motel community. But basics are missing
and chaos is constant. Mental illness, addiction, drug-dealing and
prostitution are daily realities. Violence lurks. Imagine what that does to
your little brain and body. And now, a murder burned into your young mind.

Daily life traumatizes them, this murder deepens it. Trauma impacts their
minds, bodies and spirits, triggering a near-constant fight or flight response.
They will live on edge, horrible events showing up in their dreams, haunting
their memories, torturing them. And, in a world where most of the
destructive behavior we see in adults is driven by trauma, these beautiful
boys are well on their way to their own lives of chaos and pain.

An example of that pathway: Just weeks earlier, I struck up a conversation
with a man a few doors away from Andy and Allen. We talked small talk,
but when I offered prayer, the floodgates opened. A long, hard story, but at
its center, this: At five, his mom introduced him to drug culture. He lived in
chaos and violence, saw horrific things, experienced pain and
abandonment. His own little system traumatized like Andy and Allen, from
five to forty his life has been filled with addiction, prison time, and chaos.
Now, he fights daily to stay clean and functional. His mom and brother died
recently, the brother violently. The lone remaining adult male in his family,
he wants to be strong for the rest of his family. His faith in Jesus seemed to
dwarf my own. But the trail of trauma makes healing hard.

Trauma is complex; it devastates, shocking one’s entire system, burning
horrific images into one’s mind, setting people up for constant triggering by
other painful events. Trauma follows trauma, leaving one constantly on
edge, freaking out, turning to drugs and alcohol to numb pain.

The topic is larger than I have time for today. There is hope for healing, for
these boys and for the forty-year-old man. But the work is hard, the path
long. That’s another post.

For today, I want you to think about Andy and Allen and the life-altering
trauma they experience.

Tonight, when you lay your head on your pillow, try to enter their world. See
with their eyes and feel with their bodies the trauma that devastates their
lives. Feel the damage.

Then, weep for the children. Grieve for them. Cry out to God.

And, as Jesus leads, make yourself available to help in some small way.
Research says that for children who grow up in trauma-filled worlds, the
key to getting whole is to have one solid adult who will enter their lives, love
them, and believe in them. Might you be that adult?

We at JOC are doing what we can, loving our friends, finding practical help.
But trauma’s trail seems interminable. Pray for us as we try to be Jesus on
Colfax.

Note: All names, except Matt and Kayla’s, and some details have been
changed to protect our friends. The photo is a stock photo, not an actual
picture of Andy or Allen.