"Well, he chose to be in a gang..." may be your response, as if that "choice" was signing himself up for a future of watching friends die. It is difficult for outsiders to understand gangs, to comprehend what it is like to live in a neighborhood where the most difficult situation is not being in a gang- it is being without a gang. In a gang you are an enemy of some, without a gang you are an enemy of all.
I think before I lived in the home, before I watched our teens wrestle with the waves of violence that devastate their families and friends, I thought that gangs were simply magnets that pulled in violence-prone adolescents. I believed it was a bunch of birds of a feather flocking together. Since then I've come to understand that gangs are not a social club, though they fill a need for love and acceptance that I found at my youth group and show choir. They are not just a family, though the majority of teens in them do not know their own dads. Gangs provide purpose, mentoring, and even community, but beyond all that they offer a hope for survival.
Most of us (in "us" I am referring the the suburban crowd I run with who did not grow up in gang-filled neighborhoods) have no idea what it is like to be contemplating survival as a pre-adolescent. For me, self-preservation was a matter of fashion choices or social networking, not protecting younger siblings or navigating dangerous streets.
The most common response to the problem of gangs in America is to ignore the truth- a response that is both cowardly and hopeless. I'm not saying we can just troop out on the streets and break them up. I know we can't make laws to make being a gang member illegal (little good that would do). But there is something that we can do, something powerful, something profound.
We could engage. We could think about it in a kingdom mindset: that gang members are not juvenile delinquents but wandering souls that have chosen a dead end. What does Christ have to say to these young men (and increasingly women) who are territorial, deal drugs to make money, use money to buy weapons, and need weapons to protect their territory?
To their fear of death, He promises, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies."
To their hunger for love, He says "I have loved you with an everlasting love."
To their hardness, the natural reaction of a heart that has endured and seen so much evil, He speaks, "I will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
And to the guilt, the acts of violence that they have committed and witnessed, acts that haunt them at night and in the quiet of their hearts, my Savior Christ says, "I will forgive your past and remember your sins no more."
I believe that the hope for gang members is the same hope Christ offers for drug dealers and liars and stay-at-home moms: the resurrection power of Christ to lead us from death to life through our belief in Him.
Dear friends, let us not underestimate the compassion of God to transcend another's experience or the love of God to redeem and renew a wandering soul. May we not strive to reform society or to hide from violence; instead may we labor to be a redemptive part of His redemptive plan.
|Isaac (7 months) with one of his big brothers|