Cornerstone

“Gangs are all throughout our city, and we shouldn’t view them as a problem but rather as a gospel priority.”

Throughout my years of doing gang ministry or just knowing gang members personally, there have been various situations and conversations that have helped me understand the realities of their lives. I remember one individual telling me about all the friends he’d lost during his lifetime and the normalcy of which he spoke about it. I recall another time when a guy pulled out a gun, showed us, and the feeling of disappointment he had in himself yet he absolutely needed it because of where he was living. I heard from guys who at a very young age, even before they entered the gang, had to pull tight on a belt as an older sibling shot heroin. I’ve heard the phrase many times, “This is all I’ve ever known, I didn’t know any other type of life.”

There are plenty more stories that can be shared detailing a gang member’s experience. Where does that leave us when we begin to understand the burdens and hardships many of them go through? I see a people group in our city that has been regarded as “other” and regularly avoided. Gang members are often seen as problems. “If we can just get rid of them, get them out of our neighborhoods”, then society feels it would be better off. But what about the hearts of these individuals?What is someone supposed to do when the gang becomes the best option, or for some, the only option?

I believe society has failed to properly understand a culture so marred by sin and suffering. But my hope and prayer is the church can bring forth real redemption through the person of Jesus Christ. We have a Savior that sees sin and offers forgiveness. We have a Savior that sees suffering and offers comfort and true hope. The message of the gospel offers grace and love, but how can our hearts and minds reflect the love and grace found in the message being proclaimed?

In Mark 12:31, we read about the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbor as our ourselves. The vertical relationship with God (vs. 30) impacts how the horizontal relationship manifests itself with neighbors. While many Christians may have good intentions of trying to love our neighbors, we must consider the complicated nature of what this looks like when it comes to gang culture. In reality, there shouldn’t be a shift in loving no matter who a person is. But due to a lack of understanding in our society as a whole, it’s worth thinking through how to truly love our gang neighbors since it can be easy to adopt society’s state of mind.

The circumstances and struggles affecting gang members can make ministering to them seem overwhelming. They deal with death, addictions, lack of opportunities, imprisonment, broken families, violence, and a list of other systemic or personal issues. And these occur on a daily basis. Life can be moment-to-moment or impulsive for them due to the instability and hardships many of them have to face. 

Ministering to people who often live in constant crisis requires an understanding, intentionality, and love that is grounded in the gospel. Gangs are all throughout our city/communities and we shouldn’t view them as a problem but rather as a gospel priority. As a church we have an opportunity and obligation to love those who society deems as “non-human” or “other”. Let us strive to love the gang members as ourselves.

 

Danny Neiditch

Danny is the founder and CEO of Prodigal Sons, Inc, a non-profit ministry serving gang members and their families on the Westside. Danny also serves Cornerstone as a Family Ministries Assistant.

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