Last week’s story about witnessing a turf war between a group adults and young teenagers generated a lot of comments. A police officer later said that the boys likely wandered into a rival gang’s territory. Warnings were given and threats made to stay away. “It happens all the time,” the officer too-casually stated.
“A friend told me how heavy the gangs are in our area and how they leave graffiti to mark their territories and they wear certain colors. The Police give a really good presentation to groups about gangs. It would be good for schools and churches. I doubt many of us have any idea about what goes on in our community related to gangs. Education is a great place to start. I know this relates to acknowledging the problem rather than resolving it, but I would expect this presentation may give you ideas.” Donna
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.”(Matthew 5) You and I and the church offer alternatives to these children that can provide strength for today and hope for the future. No educational institution or government program can compare. So, what specifically should we do?
First: We pray. I asked and received prayers from all over the world. During the month of August we are praying specifically for children trapped in a life of violence and poverty? Pray for those children in your neighborhood, in our nation and our world. Pray with passion.
“We need to shine our light while they are young. An aftercare program in church is good but many young mothers raising their children alone don’t have money. Maybe a good place to start is a support group for single parents. I was lucky and received help from my family but not my church. There is something wrong with that. We need to show the children the love of Jesus at a young age. Teach them a better way. We need to learn to open our hearts and our homes and our churches to single working families.” Sue
Second: I asked others to share practical ideas that could work. What have you or your church done to make a difference for children in the midst of violence and poverty? I received many suggestions but here is one that seemed practical and doable.
“A woman in our church is an elementary education reading specialist. She started a reading ministry called “Adventures in Reading” or AIR, at a subsidized apartment complex across the street from our church. Every Monday during the school year, several adult volunteers meet at the complex’s office area to help children with their reading. You would think that kids wouldn’t be that interested, especially since they’ve just left school but the average number of children is around 25. Everyone has a great time but it’s helpful to have some “battle-tested” elementary school teachers as part of the program to help with any difficulties that might arise. We always mix in Christian literature and frequent references to God. God’s grace is evident and present as love is shown to each and everyone.” Peace, Andy
Steve Jennings leads a wonderful program called TOP (Teens Opposing Poverty). Recently he visited with me and shared this story of how our own children can make a difference with the homeless.
“A man about my age, whose name was Marcell, began sharing his problems with me. He worked steadily all his adult life as a concrete finisher, but was laid off and hadn’t found a new job. He was discouraged, a bit angry and filled with self-pity, lacing his story with frequent cursing.”
“One of the girls from the youth group, an adorable little sprite who looked no older than eleven, came up and handed Marcell a picture she had drawn. She was effervescent as she explained that she was giving out the pictures just to cheer people up.”
“Marcell took the picture, gazed at it with a smile, then gently folded it and put it in his pocket. The two exchanged a warm smile and Marcell said, ‘If I had a refrigerator, I’d put this on it.’ Then he looked at all of us and said, ‘Y’know, here I was feeling sorry for myself. But I see these kids taking the time to come serve us and talk to us. My situation’s no good, but I have a lot to be thankful for.’”
“We prayed with him and, as we finished, I saw him wipe the tears from his eyes. Marcell’s heart was changed, not by any adult, but by a young girl with a hand-drawn picture and a contagious smile. Do you think teens can’t make a difference? Think again.”
Maybe having children help other children through the guidance of the church is the best idea of all. Next week: More about how TOPS can make a difference. Meanwhile, check out their website at www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org