So I went to Mars Hill Pre-Launch service in Rainier Valley and I have to say. I was so blessed and truly in awe of what God is doing there. The Community, the worship, the teaching, all seemed so authentic. Teaming up with The UGM and serving the community and Hope Place; So needed…
I was talking to one of the Lay Leaders about some ideas for community engagement that I had been involved with in Tucson AZ . When our conversation turned to understanding the gang and criminal element of Urban Ministry. This is when I realized that there is an invisible hurdle that many ministry and civil leaders are not aware, especially when it comes to racial integration and reconciliation.
Many think they know, They have experienced racism, or segregation, they have made huge strides in their communities and often times in their own hearts toward reconciliation. But these are the visible hurdles. The hurdles that are a little more tangible. The invisible hurdle can not be seen but only perceived. This is the hard part; there is an underlying tension that many standing right in the midst of the divide cannot see.
So before I tell you what the hurdle is let me give you an idea of how it is I can perceive what it is. Have you ever been in a place like Texas, Oklahoma or Minnesota where people have strong accents but don’t realize it. They think that there inflections are normal. If you walk in to their surrounding and say “hey you have an accent” they listen to you and say “no you’re the one with an accent.” You sound funny to them. It’s only when someone with the accent gets away and experiences the different sounds of speech that they understand how different they sound. Have you ever noticed that they may even lose their accent, but can immediately pick it back up when they return to those surrounding. Often times they understand the intricacies of the accent that someone else might miss. This is how I perceive the hurdle, Iwas once had “this accent” and it is through the years of travel and separation that I can see the subtleties of it.
So on to the Hurdle… The difficulties of doing urban ministry are not about culture, clothes, cars or the color of your skin. It is about understanding control and the flow of cash and into a community, Let me explain.
I remember when I first moved from Southern California to the Seattle area in the late 80’s. It is when the ‘so called’ Crips and Bloods were gaining attention in the area. I remember talking to one of these self proclaimed tough gangstas and telling him he was a poser at very best (yes I was a bit of a jerk). So why would I say that? After a brief conversation I realized he couldn’t perceive the hurdle, He didn’t realize the chain of command or how the world of crime worked. Now if he was a soldier or even a dealer he would understand chain of command. If he was a leader he would understand how the world of crime works. He knew neither, he was just a naive victim of the system that was romancing an idea to lure youth into being puppets.
Here is something that you probably don’t know and this may be insulting and seem so racist and so non-politically correct but it’s true. The bloods and the Crips were actually run by the Aryan (White) and Mexican gangs… They were used as puppet drug dealers to corrupt their own culture and make money for the other gangs. You say that can’t be true? Sure it is. Let me give you a lesson on how this works. In the 70s, 80s, and part of the 90s it was the White and Hispanic gangs that controlled the Drugs coming into the country. Therefore they controlled distribution. Allowing them to control who and how the drugs and cash streamed worked. So the Blood Crip rivalries where actually turf wars for the distribution of drugs for the White or Hispanic gangs. It’s the income of cash and the perceived belonging and control that moves a community.
So how was this controlled you may ask? Through the prisons. All “legitimate” street gangs are run out of prison…. Now not everyone knows this, not even the gang members themselves. But in a life of crime, everything flows out of the prison gangs. If you think about this it makes total sense. When you’re a criminal more than likely you are going to go to prison at some point. The gang system is very structured and run without any flexibility. So you learn from those that have gone to prison before you and from going yourself . That what happens on the street is answerable in prison and the respect of Prison follows to the streets.
So you may have heard that 11am on sunday is the most segregated hour in America. Logically then you would say that Church is the most segregated institution. Not true, Prison is. You have no choice when you walk though those doors even if you have a best friend of a different ethnicity, you must watch your interaction or you are in big, big trouble. Remember it is the order of prison that flows to the streets, not the other way around.
Now although much has changed in ethnic control with tidal wave of clandestine drugs and the popularity of prescription drugs being sold on the streets. There is still an underlying cultural control among the different ethnicity’s that flows out of the prisons. It may be invisible to most, but it is there and it is it’s invisibility that makes it so dangerous (how often do we as pastors say… Satan doesn’t want you to believe in him. If you don’t you wont even know you have a battle).
So how does the church or civic authorities make a difference. I think it starts by giving these different Ethnic groups power and influence. Most of these young men associate power and influence with money. The gangs promise all of this and the Church has traditionally said come in, sit down, shut up (don’t cause trouble) and learn. We tell people they have value but don’t give them an opportunity to demonstrate their value. In order to win these young men back from this invisible influence of crime we must engage them with an accelerated discipleship program and get them to engage quickly into a missional lifestyle. Give them influence, Give them power and authority. We have to create opportunities to replicate quickly and to make an impact on their culture. Only then will we be able to cross these ethnic boundaries that are so firmly ingrained.