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Deadly Discrimination: Chapter 20

IN THE October 9 ISSUE

FROM THE Lorie Lewis Ham,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Lorie Lewis Ham
Lorie has been singing gospel music and writing since childhood. Her first song and poem were published when she was 13 and she has gone on to publish many articles, short stories and poems throughout the years as well as write for a local newspaper. Lorie continues to sing and her mystery novels are set here in the San Joaquin Valley, with five of the six featuring gospel singer Alexandra Walters.
Deadly Discrimination was originally published as a novel. The story takes place around a fictional version of the Reedley Fiesta and is being serialized here at Kings River Life Magazine in weekly installments. Be sure to start with Chapter 1!
CHAPTER 20
book cover of Deadly DiscriminationTuesday morning dawned bright and beautiful. The world was no longer on my shoulders and I felt great. I began my day as I had forgotten to do of late, in prayer and devotions. When it came time to head for the church I was ready and whistling an old Nat King Cole tune called Smile. Before I could leave, my phone rang.
“Pastor Mike, this is Chief Harmon. Since you were such a help in the cast I thought you might like to know that Eddie was released an hour ago. We searched Barrow’s apartment and actually found an outfit like you described. It reeked of cloves. It also had a little spot of blood I guess he didn’t see. My guess is that the blood will match Toews’ and the case will be sewn up. I imagine he robbed the truck to get Eddie’s knife so he could frame him. Eddie set himself up for that by arguing with Toews at the radio station.”
“That’s great. Thanks for letting me know.”
There was silence on the line and I thought he had hung up, but then he spoke again. “Pastor Mike, I was wondering if we could meet for coffee later. Uh, I, uh, have been reading the Bible you gave me. I’d like to talk to you about it, if that’s okay?”
My day was just getting better and better. I nearly burst with excitement. “Yes, of course. Why don’t we meet at the Café Joe around ten?”
“Sure. See you there.”
The line went dead, and I headed off to face what I thought was the beginning of a glorious day.
When I arrived at my office, I began to feel I might be wrong, as almost the entire board of the church greeted me. Perhaps they just wanted to apologize. I saw no smiles, except for a tentative one on Lola’s face. Technically, she wasn’t a board member, but she was the treasurer.
“What a nice surprise. What can I do for all of you this morning?” I asked, trying to maintain my beautiful day as I made my way through the crowd and helped myself to the last of the coffee.
“Pastor, you should take a seat,” said Scott Matthews.
“Thanks, but I’ll stand. What is going on here? I assume you’ve all heard that the Martinez boy is innocent. I hope you’ve all learned your lesson about judging people by their race.” I had probably stepped too far, but I didn’t care. However, I was becoming a little nervous due to Henry’s absence in the group.
“I think that was uncalled for, Pastor Raffles, just like your sermon last Sunday,” continued Matthews.
“A preacher has no business going out investigating crimes,” chimed in Mrs. Jacobs. “That’s not what we pay you for.”
“You barely pay me at all, which is why I’m bi-vocational. I researched the murder for an article for my other job at the paper. I do my job here. I preach sermons, I’m here for counseling, and I help people. Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be doing?”
Mrs. Jacobs harrumphed and folded her arms. I could tell I wasn’t winning this battle. But there were two other board members unheard from, so I continued to hope this would turn out okay.
“We came here to tell you that we don’t want any more sermons like the one last Sunday. And we don’t want you recruiting people like the Martinez’s as members of the church. They have their own churches, let them go there.” Apparently, Matthews had been appointed as spokesman, and it had been a good choice if they were trying to intimidate me.
Matthews was a big man, over six feet tall, and his body rippled with muscles. He reminded me of a bouncer at a club in New Orleans. I could easily see the resemblance between father and son. But I wasn’t about to be intimidated. My perfect day had been ruined. I was angry and took a deep breath to gain control before speaking.
“People like the Martinez’s? You mean minorities, don’t you? Do you all feel that way?”
All but Lola nodded, some more tentatively than others.
“I know Henry doesn’t agree with you. Where is he? He doesn’t know about this little ambush, does he? Well, I’m going to put this as clearly as I can. I will preach the Bible. That’s it plain and simple. If it’s in the Bible, I have the right and the duty to preach it. God did not create people unequally. He did not say to discriminate because of color or race. You find that for me in the Bible and I’ll stop. Otherwise, you can forget it.”
I set my coffee cup down hard on my desk and some sloshed onto my hand, thankfully it was lukewarm; well, it was still my desk for the next few seconds anyway. “If you don’t want to be in a church that preaches the Bible, perhaps you should consider a different religion! And if you don’t like it, you do have the option of firing me. But you can’t do that without the entire board present.”
“Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to ask you to leave. I need to talk to Pastor Raffles alone,” announced Matthews. Everyone shuffled out except Lola.
“Miss Thiessen, that includes you.”
My instinct was to punch him for talking to Lola that way, but I was trying to handle this in a Christian manner, unlike them. “Lola, I’ll be fine. Honest.”
She smiled at me, then left hesitantly.
I leaned back against my desk and folded my arms. No one was going to make me budge on my stand on this issue, and I wanted that to be clear.
“Mike, let’s get honest here. Have you heard of the All American Club?”
Afraid to let myself speak, I nodded.
“It’s a club of influential and prominent men and women in the community. Jim Barrows is one of our finest members and I think it’s a shame he’s being framed for this murder. The police already had the best suspect in custody, and if you hadn’t stuck your nose where it didn’t belong…” Matthews stopped for a minute, leaned forward on my desk, and glared at me. His eyes were so filled with false pride and hatred it made me ill.
“We do a lot of good around here. Fund-raisers for the hospital, a summer youth camp, and much more. We don’t like our community being sullied by those who don’t belong here. This is our town and our country. It’s fine for them to come here and work on our farms, but they need to stay out of our business and go back home to Mexico when the picking and packing season is over. If you’re a smart man, and I think you are, you’ll put aside this nonsense. We’re powerful people. If you want to succeed in Kingsbury, you need to be with us, not against us. Get what I’m trying to say?”
Oh God, help me not to kill him, I prayed in my head. “Loud and clear,” was my only answer. I didn’t dare say anything more for fear of using the kind of words that hadn’t come out of my mouth since I was a rebellious teenager.
“Good. Then I trust this problem is solved.” With this last statement, he left without giving me a chance to comment further. Matthews was a farmer, so of course he wanted Mexican people here for the work, but in his eyes that’s all they were good for. My anger was just about to explode when Lola returned. “You didn’t actually cave in, did you?” She looked like she was going to strangle me if I had.
“Of course not. He threatened me, and I’m not going to take that. But if I had spoken, I would have said some things a Christian shouldn’t say. There has to be a right way to handle this, I just don’t know what that is yet.”
I took a deep breath, then glanced at the clock above the window. “Shoot. It’s almost ten. Didn’t realize that took so long, though it felt like an eternity. I have to meet Chief Harmon at Joe’s Café.”
She pouted. “I thought you were done with that police stuff.”
“Don’t worry, I am, sweetie. I think he has some questions about the Bible, and I’m not passing on this chance for anything.”
Her grin returned, and she gave me a big hug. That would have to hold me for now, or I’d never leave. I looked around my office and wondered if it would soon belong to some other poor, unsuspecting soul. It was such a shame that a church had to be ruined by just a few bigoted people who dared call themselves Christians and happened to be in power.
When I made it to the café, Harmon was sitting at a table in the back corner nursing a soda. The Bible I had given him was lying next to him on the table. I joined him.
“How’s Glenda?”
He smiled briefly at the thought of his daughter. “Much better now that Eddie is out and can chase that annoying brat Josh Matthews away.” Harmon cleared his throat before continuing. “Thanks for your help, by the way.”
The thought of skinny Eddie chasing away the star of the Kensington football team made me smile, but I knew he had the guts to find a way to do it.
“Happy to do it. I’m sure you would have solved the whole thing yourself if you weren’t so overloaded there at the PD. But I don’t think you asked me here to talk about the Toews’ case. What can I do for you, Chief?”
I watched his large hands nervously play with his glass as he stared at its contents. This was not easy for him I could tell.
“I’ve been reading the Bible you gave me. A lot of it I remember from Sunday School when I was a kid, but a lot of it I really never saw before or was too young to understand.” Harmon looked up at me. “So you really believe this stuff? That Jesus died on a cross and actually came back to life again? And that he did that for us? Kind of far out, don’t you think?”
Being a new pastor, I hadn’t had as much experience with witnessing as I would have liked, so I searched my heart and prayed for the right words. I decided to use something that had been taught to me at an evangelistic seminar. It wasn’t something I would have used when witnessing to your typical non-Christian these days, but since the chief had some church background I thought a lot of it might be familiar. It was something a friend of mine referred to as CRJARR. It stood for creator, rebellion, judgment, atonement, resurrection, and repentance.
I took a pen out of my pocket, unfolded my napkin, and began to draw a diagram. I started with the ‘C’, which stood for Creator, and drew a little box with a stick figure, a circle for the world, and a crown on top. “God created the world and us, but we rebelled against him. We are all sinners.” I continued to draw and drew a man with his own little crown and the big crown crossed out.
“Man tried to kick God out of the picture and rule his own life. But there is a judgment we all must face. The Bible says the punishment for sin is death.”
I continued with the diagram as he watched in silence, drawing the same diagram as the first one but adding a little ‘j’. “First Peter 3:18 says,
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
“Someone had to die for our sins, and Jesus died so that if we accept Him, we don’t have to die.”
The next diagram had the ‘j’ inside the crown. “Then Jesus rose again to rule over the world. First Peter again tells that God in His great mercy had given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But it is our job to repent. Through repentance of our sins, admitting and confessing them to God, and asking to have Jesus in our hearts as a ruler of our lives, we don’t have to face the judgment of death. John 3:36 says,
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
My mouth was a little dry, so I took a sip of water before continuing. The chief seemed to wait anxiously, leaning forward on the table. “God has given us a choice. We can accept Him and not face the punishment for our sins we deserve; accept His gift of eternal life that is possible because Jesus died and rose again. Or we can refuse the gift and face that judgment of death. The choice is ours.”
The last diagram had two parts. Part one was a man with his own little crown again, and the other part was man with a big crown over his head with a little ‘j’ in it as a symbol of the fact that Jesus was ruler of his life.
Not sure Harmon was convinced, I continued. “Chief, let me give it to you from my heart now. Whatever the Bible says, whatever preachers have said, the bottom line for me is that God has always been there for me. He doesn’t take away all of your problems, and we are left with many things we don’t understand. But He has always been there to give me the strength to get through whatever happens. I was angry when my dad died, but I came to realize I shouldn’t be. Death is a part of life, but my dad is in heaven now, and someday I’ll be with him. It still hurts, but not as much since I gave my burden over to God.” God’s peace once again flooded me as I remembered that day.
Candy silently placed a soda on the table in front of me, and I respected the fact she didn’t interrupt—just brought me my usual.
“I remember sitting in my rocking chair back in my apartment in New Orleans and closing my eyes. I could almost feel God’s arms around me, comforting me. It was the most awesome thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Tears threatened to fall from his eyes, but Harmon was doing his best to hold them back, and for that matter, so was I. He let out a ragged breath. “So, if my Eileen was a Christian, I can see her someday? Really?”
“If your heart is right with Christ, yes.”
“Were you born a Christian?”
“I was born into a Christian home, but I had to ask Jesus into my heart on my own later in life. I actually rebelled; that’s when Stephen and I got really close. I went through some really tough stuff.”
I could feel God leading me to be honest with this man in a way I hadn’t been with anyone except a few close friends. I took a deep breath then plunged forward.
“When I was twenty-one I became very angry with God about my mother’s death—she had cancer. I left the church and took a job playing sax at a local jazz club and became involved in the nightlife that was a part of that scene. Stephen was killing time playing piano there.”
The pain of those memories made me draw in a ragged breath. “I met a girl, the prettiest young thing you’ve ever seen, and I fell in love. I had taken an apartment above the club and thrown everything I’d ever been taught out the window. I wanted this girl more than anything, so we decided to live together. She became pregnant, and I was all ready to do the right thing and marry her.”
I took another sip, looking for strength. “Instead she slipped out one day while I was rehearsing with the band and got an abortion. That devastated me. She had killed my child without even talking to me first, and
I couldn’t be with her anymore knowing that.
“Right at that time, an old friend came into town and invited me to come with him to a Billy Graham crusade. I was so beaten up and down I didn’t feel like arguing, so I just went along. I was twenty-two when I heard Graham’s message. I was reminded of all the things my dad had taught me. I went forward to accept Christ with tears streaming down my face. It filled me with such a joy to know that even though she had robbed me of my child, I’d meet my baby some day in heaven. My life has never been the same because I am never alone anymore, even when I moved out here to California.”
I watched him closely as I sipped my soda. He seemed lost in thought, probably processing this whole thing with his detective mind. Analyzing all of the details. I was also pretty certain he was thinking about his daughter.
“Did you ever forgive her?” he finally asked.
“Yes, I did. We went our separate ways, and I haven’t heard from her since. But I was able to forgive her and forgive God for taking my mom away because I know He has His reasons. And I forgave myself. Later God saw me through my dad’s death.”
“Thanks, Pastor Mike. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” He got up to leave, but I stopped him.
“Would you mind answering something for me?”
He looked skeptical, but motioned for me to go ahead.
“Have you heard of the All American Club?”
His body stiffened at the name of the club and hatred filled his eyes. “What do you want to know about them? They’re not your type of people, preacher.”
“I need to know.”
He sighed. “My father-in-law was one of the founders of the club. It’s filled with hate mongers and bigots who try to put on a good face by putting on fund-raisers. I’ve been trying to find something against them for years, but haven’t found a thing. They’ve been very careful, and because they have so much power, no one has been brave enough to file a discrimination lawsuit against them.”
“Do you think they’re doing anything illegal?”
Harmon sat back down and spoke in a whisper. “I can’t prove anything, but I believe they knowingly hire illegals and treat them horribly because they know they can. They distance themselves by using a labor contractor, so there’s not anything I can do.”
When he leaned in close, I could feel his breath on my face. “Leave them alone, pastor. They are dangerous people.”
With this ominous statement, the big man got up, gingerly picked up his Bible, and left. The fact that the Chief of Police was afraid of these people tied my stomach in knots. But I had never in my life backed away from a fight, and I wasn’t about to start now.

Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds.

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