The Urban Grind

Ashes to Ashes


Ashes to Ashes the death of the BCC shed...

"The shed's gone - it burned to the ground." These words from Mark were jarring as Jenny shook me awake this morning at 3:00am. "Wait, what happened?" I asked. "The fire department's here and they just finished putting out the fire and burned the shed up. They want to talk to you."

I hung up the phone, groggy, and started putting some clothes without really knowing what had happened or what I was going to do. As I slipped into the muggy darkness of the early morning I promised Jenny I would call her as soon as I discovered what had happened. Pulling up to the rec center the strobing lights of the local firetruck pitted my stomach. Still in disbelief I slowly approached the smoldering charcoal of donated clothing, coffee urns, and the sculpture of melted folding chairs.

At first I thought it was my own stupidity that burned down our shed - a gas can used for our generator sitting inside the wooden, outdoor oven. I sighed with relief as the fire inspector informed me that gas doesn't just explode like that; so, if not the gas then what could've possibly caused this?! Based on all of the information we have gathered thus far: someone stole the generator we use for portable events and on the way out they torched the shed to "cover" their tracks.

We lost everything in the shed. The donations are toast, the equipment charred, the chairs melted together like a campfire marshmallow, and our arms covered in ashes and soot. Right now, the plan for a clothing exchange to benefit county parolees, violent gang members, and, in turn, the neighborhood will be put on hold while we figure out where to go from here.

It's an unexpected tragedy that leaves our community with a deep sense of amazement, confusion, frustration, and anger. As the steam rose to the humid sky in the starlit morning I couldn't help but think of a song by King David where he sings, let my prayer rise before you like incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Burnt polyester blends don't smell as nice as incense. Our hands are lifting up piles of ash and charcoal into a dumpster in the parking lot.

We know that if we hope in the Lord our labor is not in vain. We will rebuild. We will continue to till the hard soil of south Chattanooga, plant seeds, water, and trust that God will give the growth.

Like many of the other youth around the rec center today Keorra braved the stench and soot to help take loads to the dumpster. Malik was out there too and at one point I stopped to let them know how much I appreciated them. In reply Malik said, "This is how we love you Mr. Josh." These students, among the many others, make cleaning up after arson one of the greatest joys of urban mission.

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