ST. JOSEPH — Lynn Masterson knows firsthand that violent crimes harm more than just the victim.
The St. Joseph woman lost a 15-year-old cousin about 20 years ago when another teen shot and killed him. Decades later, the pain of this remains — but so does a purpose to stop violent deaths.
"This is a human thing," she says. "We are all in on this."
She means that violence can happen anywhere, even in places where people feel immune. She found these thoughts resonating back to her through music recorded by Kansas City pastor the Rev. Ron Birmingham, who leads a church called A Special Place in a disadvantaged part of the city. Masterson has attended the church for eight months and has begun bringing some of its ministry to St. Joseph in the form of a song by Birmingham.
The song, called "I Am the Voice," communicates a message about how many people are hurt when a life is lost. Birmingham notes that it's part of a campaign to stop senseless killing, which became a passion of his when his brother was murdered in 1983.
"It's the voice of those who no longer have a voice," he says of the song, adding that in the time he's known Masterson, he's seen how much compassion she has, specifically for people affected by violent crimes. "She always wants to be a part of the solution."
Masterson hands out recordings of Birmingham's song at apartment complexes, businesses and other locations around town, hoping it sparks a realization for listeners. Anyone interested in receiving a copy can contact Masterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her e-mail address is on the discs, and she's received messages from people who have been touched by the song. Her hope is that as its impact spreads, it will prompt similar messages by local pastors or invitations for Birmingham to speak locally about the consequences of violent behavior and the slippery slope that can lead to it.
"You see so much killing on TV and in video games that it's not real," Masterson says. "I heard someone say once, 'I just wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.' Until they experience it, it's just a game."
As someone who's always had a way with troubled youth, she's seen plenty of what it looks like to be on the wrong path. But she also knows how much possibility exists to redirect a young life. She experienced this with a 12-year-old boy she met several years ago at a park who, after they'd talked for several hours, told her he wanted to kill his mother.
Masterson was able to help him see what the consequences of this would be and also to help him get the help he needed. He ended up moving to a foster home that was a much better environment for him and went on to thrive and to graduate from high school, where he played on the football team. When she visited him once at a game, his coach told her that she had saved the boy's life.
"There's a lot of stories like that that I've had with kids," she says. "If we can make them think before they pull the trigger, then we've saved two lives."