I raised my hands up above my head as I stared down the business end of the .45.
Come on. Are you kidding me? I just wanted to make a deposit!
The hand that held it trembled and I looked up into the kid’s eyes, the only part of his face that showed through the black ski mask he wore.
What I saw there wasn’t what I would have expected to see in the eyes of an armed bank robber.
Maybe anger, maybe hardness, possibly excitement, or even indifference, but it was none of those that I saw.
It was fear.
He was a young black guy—couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen, maybe eighteen.
The kid’s finger quivered on the trigger and alarm shot through my entire body.
He readjusted the gun in his hand.
His accomplice was a white guy who looked about my own age.
I saw him pistol-whip the teller across the face and watched as the man fell unconscious to the floor.
Then he turned and looked directly at me.
No fear there. He was the dangerous one. The one who’d kill me or any of the others in a heartbeat.
“Come on, Jerrin, move!” he yelled at the kid.
“We shouldn’t be doin’ this, man,” Jerrin said.
“You want the money or not?”
“Yeah, but … you know how long we could go to jail for this, Trey? And what if the cops show up? I don’t wanna get shot, man.”
“Then get movin’ and you won’t! Now come on!”
Trey jumped over the counter and began looking for the money.
Jerrin turned back to me and jerked the gun to the side.
“Alright, over there against the wall … and keep your hands up,” he said.
I slowly moved in the specified direction.
“Everybody! Come on, move!” I heard him yell.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the guy named Trey stuffing money in a duffle bag.
The others joined me against the wall.
“On your knees!”
I saw the others follow the command. I knew I should too yet my legs wouldn’t comply.
Then I heard the voice inside my head, “Ask him if he believes in God.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Ask him, Jonah.”
“Come on, God, not now.”
“Jonah … ask him.”
I closed my eyes and tried to slow my breathing.
My heartbeat quickened as I turned around to face him.
He looked at me in frightened surprise.
I met his gaze and spoke in a low voice, “Do you believe in God?”
Then he looked at me like I was crazy.
“What?” he asked in disbelief.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Wha—why would you ask me that?”
“Do you … believe … in God?”
He shook his head and fumbled for words, “I—I … I don’t know.”
I took a deep breath, “He loves you, Jerrin.”
He shook his head and let out a disbelieving laugh, “Nah, man. You have no idea the kind of things I’ve done.”
“No, I don’t, but God does … and he still loves you. Jesus knew it when He offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins and willingly died in order for us to be redeemed and have the hope of an eternal life. He knew it then and He still let himself be crucified. You know the story?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know it. Mama used to read the Bible to us … but it just … it just never really seemed real to me.”
“It is real, Jerrin, it’s very real. Jesus knew all the sins that we would commit and He still died for us … because He loves us that much. He freely offers his grace and forgiveness to all of us and all we have to do is believe, just ask Him to forgive us and help us live for Him. I know you have doubts, I know you’ve seen the ugly side of life, but, trust me, Jerrin, there’s a life that’s so much better and it’s yours for the taking. You’ve just gotta have faith.”
Jerrin swallowed hard, “That’s what my mama always used to say.”
He paused as tears glimmered in his eyes.
Then he glanced back up at me, “She’s gone now. Killed in a drive-by. Why didn’t God protect her then?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know. I don’t profess to know all the answers. No one can … except for God. See, God doesn’t promise us that we won’t get hurt or that we’ll never have difficulties, but He does give us the strength to get through it and the promise of eternity with Him in paradise … and I can tell you, Jerrin … that’s where your mama is right now … waiting … waiting for you to find your way.”
Tears fell from his eyes and absorbed into the fabric of the ski mask. He stood silent, breathing heavily, the hand that held the gun falling down to his side.
I prayed like I’d never prayed before in my life. My heart went out to him. I’d come from a place not much different than where he was right now.
“Jerrin … do you believe in God?” I asked again.
He looked at me, his lips parted.
“Dude!” Trey’s voice cut through the silence like a sledgehammer, “What are you doin’?”
Now I had another gun pointed at me.
“Are you really lettin’ some Bible-thumper talk you down?” Trey asked.
Jerrin glanced from him to me and back again.
Finally he shook his head, “I can’t do this.”
He glanced back at me and nodded, “I believe.”
© Whitney L. Schwartz