Shots rang out as Stephen ran down the street. Where were they? Stephen needed a place to hide. If he didn't find something soon, they'd catch up to him. He knew he was close to his uncles' house. What was the name of the street? Briar something? Birch? Something wood? He glanced at the street names as he ran past. Birchwood! He ran to the house and knocked on the door.
"Jennifer, do you..." John's words were cut short by a knock on the door. "Stephen? What are you doing here?"
"I... running..." Stephen couldn't speak.
"Come in, Stephen. Calm down and tell me what's going on. You came at the perfect time. I host a small group at my house every Wednesday night, and we were just sharing prayer requests." John made introductions as Stephen sat down.
John turned to his nephew. "If you want, you can share at the end, but you don't have to. Jennifer, I believe it was your turn to share. Do you have any prayer requests?"
"Pray for my mom. She was just diagnosed with breast cancer. We don't know much else at this point."
"We'll certainly keep her and your family in our prayers. If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to call me. Any time, day or night. I'm here for you." The others shared, and John turned to Stephen. "Is there anything you'd like to share?"
Stephen wasn't used to talking to people, let alone baring his soul to a group of strangers. But somehow, he felt safe. "Uncle John," he began, "I should have listened to my mom. She told me I was getting in with the wrong crowd, but I didn't believe it. I thought they were my friends. I don't remember exactly when they started getting into trouble. I just went along at first. It was the cool thing to do. Stealing a pack of cigarettes here, a can of beer there. It seemed pretty harmless, as long as we didn't get caught. But tonight... Tonight...." A tense silence hung in the air as hung his head in shame. "Tonight, they wanted me to kill someone. It was a member of a rival gang. I'm not even sure what he did. Broke one of the unwritten gang laws, I guess. They handed me the gun. Told me it was part of my official initiation. I couldn't do it. I told them I wasn't going to do it.
"Then they surrounded me. I didn't know what to do. I dropped the gun, punched a couple of them, and started running. I knew you lived close, so I just kept running until I saw your street name. I heard shots as I was running. I don't know if they killed him or if they were trying to scare me, or what." Stephen paused as his eyes filled with tears.
"It's ok, Stephen. Is that all you had to say?" Uncle John asked gently.
Stephen shook his head and silently held up a finger. He took a deep breath as he continued. "I was the only one not wearing gloves. My fingerprints are the last ones to touch the gun. Uncle John, if the police find that gun..."
Uncle John motioned for the group to gather around Stephen. "Stephen, is it ok if we laid hands on you and prayed for you?"
"Father God," John began. "I ask for Your protection on my nephew tonight. You know he's had a hard life. Probably harder than anyone, but You know. But Lord, we know You can do anything. Tonight, I ask that You would give Stephen here protection and courage. Protection against retaliation from the members of the gang. Courage to do the right thing in this situation. I'm not going tell him what that is Lord, but I pray You would lay it upon his heart to do the right thing. And I pray for a peace that surpasses all understanding."
Other members of the group prayed over Stephen as he wept. When they finished, Stephen looked up. "I can't thank you enough. I don't know what I would have done." He turned to his uncle. "What do you think the chances were of me running by your house tonight the same time your small group met?" he asked, with a hint of amazement in his voice.
"With God directing you, I'd say about 100%," Uncle John said with a smile.
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