Sunday, September 28, 2008
It grieves me to tell all of you that one of UTM’s most faithful students, David “Day-Day” Witherspoon, was gunned down on the streets of inner-city Grand Rapids Friday afternoon. Because we were close friends with his extended family (his grandmother was our next door neighbor), Sherilyn and I had known David since he was a toddler running around in diapers in our neighborhood. Throughout his childhood, Day-Day faithfully attended our ministry programs, including cross-trainers, tutoring, Berean Baptist church’s Wednesday youth night, the Rock, and Thursday Night Hype. What’s more, David braved campouts throughout the wilderness of Michigan, took part in several sleep-overs at our house, and enjoyed KAA sports camp. Now at the age of sixteen, he has left this earth and joined his Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
At this time, we do not know all the details with the shooting but make no mistake, Day-Day was not a trouble-maker and did not have police record. In fact, David was one of the nicest, kindest students that I’ve had the privilege to know who didn’t have an enemy in the world because he treated everyone with respect. In fact, because he was well-liked by just about everyone, David hung out with people from all walks of life, not only did he often spend time with his peers at church, but he also at times hung out with gang-members. Unfortunately, as in Day-Day’s case, if you hang out with the wrong person in the ‘hood, it could cost you your life. Nevertheless, Day-Day was a follower of Jesus who loved God and loved others. He was much more ready to meet Jesus than those gang members that the bullets were meant for.
Although Sherilyn and I have lost count as to all of our students who have been shot and killed on the streets of Grand Rapids, this one hurts the most. We are still in shock and find ourselves going from crying, to numbness, and then to anger. However, we are clinging to our Savior Jesus Christ in this tragic ordeal. We know that God is good and we continue to trust Him through all of this, even when we don’t understand why such a senseless tragedy could take place.
Please pray for our students who are involved in UTM through the ROCK and Thursday Night Hype. Most of them were very close to Day-Day. On Friday evening Sherilyn and I took fourteen of Day-Day’s friends who attend Thursday Night Hype out to Denny’s to eat and spend time listening, loving, and comforting them. Even during such a sad occasion, it was encouraging to witness the maturity of several or our students leading a prayer meeting at the restaurant and comforting each other through this horrific tragedy. On Saturday, when I shared at the ROCK about Day-Day’s life and devotion to God, I challenged almost 100 of our students to get right with God because of life’s shortness. Several of them responded to the message and our staff and student leaders spent the rest of the evening counseling and praying with about two dozen of our students. One of the positive outcomes of this meeting was that it has restrained several of Day-Day’s friends and relatives from taking revenge on the alleged suspect. One of our student leaders, Davien Fizer has been particularly helpful in talking down several of our male students. In closing, pray for David’s twin sister Danielle. She is taking it pretty hard because her twin brother had always been one of her best friends. Pray for David’s mother, Nyree as well. Although she is a strong woman, it has devastated her beyond comprehension.
For those who desire to know more information about Day-Day’s murder, here and here are some of the links to articles from the Grand Rapids Press.
Thank you so much for supporting Urban Transformation Ministries as we continue to serve Jesus and the inner-city in all of these circumstances. Please uplift us in your prayers.
By the way, I will be the preacher/comforter/speaker at Day-Day's funeral, which will be held at Berean Baptist church. However, the times of his visitation and funeral is still pending.
Update of the funeral:
Last week was the most difficult time that we have experienced in all of our years doing urban ministry. As you know, David “Day-Day” Witherspoon was shot and killed on the streets of Grand Rapids on September 26th, 2008. Day-Day was a long-time active member of UTM programs such as Thursday Night Hype and the ROCK, in partnership with Berean Baptist church. Over the past week, Sherilyn and I spent numerous amount of difficult hours counseling many of our students who were grieving as well as talking down several of our male students who wanted revenge. Sherilyn, Jim Bartels (who is Berean’s Jr. High youth pastor) and I organized the funeral with the Witherspoon family. Because of our close relationship to the Witherspoons (we lived next door to Day-Day’s Grandmother for eleven years), they asked me to preach at Day-Day’s funeral and committal service. Over 1,200 people attended the funeral at Berean Baptist, half of whom were urban high school students from Creston and young college age adults. Since people from all over the city packed out the church beyond its capacity, they had to set up two large overflow rooms to accommodate the standing-only crowd. Besides sharing several fond memories of Day-Day, I also spoke words of comfort from Psalms 23 and preached the gospel message. I was amazed at God’s sufficient grace, especially during this time, as I am still grieving. I can truly confirm God’s words when he says to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Continue praying for the many students that are affected by this tragedy. While our students within Thursday Night Hype and the ROCK continue to struggle with the pain of losing a close friend, our student leaders are stepping up and reaching out to their peers with the love of Christ. We find that while most inner-city students feel uncomfortable opening up to a counselor with whom they have no relationship, they will open up to their peers and adults when there is a relationship of trust already present. This means that there is much follow-up for Urban Transformation Ministries to do among the many students and their families who are hurting.
Despite such a horrific tragedy, we were encouraged by the pro-active, generous response from Berean Baptist church. Hosting a funeral of this magnitude takes a lot of help and we were amazed at how quickly the church organized over one hundred of its members to assist us in so many different ways. In fact, several who attended the funeral, especially from the Witherspoon family, commented that they’d never experienced a church that was so helpful and generous. Through the programs of UTM such as the ROCK and Thursday Night Hype together with the active partnership of Berean Baptist church, we are thrilled to help extend Berean Baptist Church’s reputation as a neighborhood church who actively loves its community.
However, Urban Transformation Ministries finds itself in a difficult situation. Even as God is opening up doors into the lives of several hundred more at-risk inner-city youth and their families, UTM is limited by what it can do because of the lack of adequate funding. While several other urban ministry organizations of comparable size employ between five to ten staff members, UTM can only financially compensate me as its executive director. We cannot continue to operate this way or I will burn out. Please pray and take action. If you are not a regular financial donor, please build UTM into your monthly budget. Or please talk to the appropriate pastors, boards or committees so that UTM is placed into your church’s missions or outreach budget.
Thank you again for praying “in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests” for the Witherspoon family, our inner-city students, as well as for our family.
Serving Jesus in the hood’
Joel Shaffer, Executive Director
Urban Transformation Ministries