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“We the People” • WINTER 2011/2012 • VOL. 17 NO. 4

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My Corner INTERACT PERSPECTIVE NEWS BITES_ World culture faith work Interview_ Susan Burton ideas_ inspiration initiative first person




reducing disasters of tomorrow

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In the public square war Therapy through papermaking


A decade well traveled


based in Basra, Baghdad and Babylon

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A united approach to veterans’ services Review Resources

At work in a Baja California hot spot


“Nice tattoo,” I heard over

Joining the ranks A practical battle plan to gang outreach By Matthew Jensen



my shoulder. He was one of the people helping out in our daily food line, trading jail time for community service at our facility. Turning, I noticed he was tatted on both arms. Faded ink most likely from a guitar string done in a garage or behind bars. “Thanks brother,” I responded. “I see you got some work yourself. Can I see?” We had found common ground, and the relationship began to take root. My friend turned out to be a high-ranking leader in one of the Santa Maria, Calif., gangs. After a few meetings with him, he confided in me that he wanted to get out of the gang. He said that the last time he left prison, his 12-year-old daughter sat on his lap in tears and told him that she wants a daddy like her friends have. She told him that Jesus loves even him, but that a change of life was his decision. He had committed to slowly edging out of the gang from that point, but realized that it was going to be a rough road. Intel gathering and battle assessment It wasn’t long before I was able to see how the locals respected and feared him. Being able to name my price at any tattoo shop in town after mentioning his name gave some credibility to his story. He dropped names to me of other leaders in local gangs, and explained the heavy involvement of the drug trade, prostitution, turf Lt. Matthew wars, and the violent cost of it all. Two Jensen is the main gangs, North West and West Park, assistant corps officer, with his run the show. Many of the popular Los wife, Vanessa, at Angeles gangs are also here in smaller the Santa Maria numbers and have been trying to get Corps in Santa a foothold lately, including 18th Street Maria, Calif. and MS-13. Photo by Vanessa Jensen

A few days later, I met with the police sergeant who runs Santa Maria’s gang suppression unit. The sergeant confirmed all that I had heard on the streets, and explained to me the major thread of mafia involvement weaved within the violent and diverse fabric of predominately Sureño-driven gang wars—a group of Mexican American street gangs with origins in the oldest barrios of Southern California. Voicing frustration that budget cuts had prevented the police from doing any kind of gang outreach, he said that all they can do is make arrests after a crime has been committed. Despite his pleadings, he had yet to find anyone willing to partner with them in gang outreach. I told him that I was his man and that The Salvation Army wanted to help; we’ve been cultivating a productive relationship since. One of the projects that we’re moving forward with is to develop an anti-gang video with interviews from some of his contacts behind bars and mine on the streets. This video can be shown at the local schools, so students get a raw picture of the reality behind the groups that promise to give them belonging, acceptance and love. We believe this will be more effective than an officer standing in front of a school chalkboard saying, “Gangs are bad, kiddos.” On the street level, I’m networking through the gang ranks. My angle is that I’m neutral and am there to serve as their pastor and social services representative. I’m finding that this approach is taking me as deep as I’m comfortable going, all the while gaining their respect and appreciation. I’m convinced that God’s hand is in this; too many awesome and crazy things are happening for his hand not to be. “So what, preacher? So what?” In a recent conference on the link between street gangs and human trafficking, Dr. Laura J. Lederer noted that gangs commit 80 percent of crime within most U.S. urban communities. Lederer said gangs are the primary retaillevel distributors of most illicit drugs, and that overall gang activity is measurably on the rise. Whether we like it or not, gang activity is an issue that’s going to become even more prevalent in the coming years than it is now. It’s time to start having an honest discussion about productive gang outreach. Based on what I’ve seen work and have been personally implementing, this is what I propose:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Use networking skills to go deeper into the local gang leadership (Deut. 31:6). Intentionally develop friendships with as many as possible from step one (Luke 7:34). Collaborate and mediate direct services to those within the gangs who need it (whether it’s within The Salvation Army or an outside agency), and thereby develop respect and confidence within the subculture (Matt. 5:16). Slowly integrate evangelistic strategies into the contacts, once their respect and confidence is gained (1 Cor. 9:23). Start back at step one (1 John 4:11-12).

William Booth said he’d fight didn’t he? We plaster that beautiful quote on T-shirts, cups, and plaques. It echoes the spirit of this great Army’s foundation—to fight for the lost with even greater passion than the devil is using to take them away from the Lord. From every fight I’ve been involved in, I’ve come out with marks; trophies of my confrontation with battle. Of course, this battle of gang outreach is going to get messy at times. If it didn’t, we should ask ourselves why the devil doesn’t consider us worthy to fight against. The truth is that men and women, boys and girls, are getting sucked into the gang life in search of belonging and a sense of self worth. It’s our holy duty to reach out to them, no matter the cost. It’s about “others,” remember? Toughen up, saints; remember your uniform represents battle, and let’s reach out to a demographic so many flee from in timidity. Following the steps I’ve listed, let’s live the Great Commission with the same raw and authentic Christian passion of the disciples. If the Lord is for us, who can stand against us? The battle is laid out, the plans are drawn, and your spot on the frontlines is reserved. Will you fight alongside me? Lost souls are waiting for your answer. w

Here is the principle— adapt your measures to the necessity of the people to whom you minister. You are to take the Gospel to them in such modes and circumstances as will gain for it from them a hearing. – Catherine Booth, Co-Founder, The Salvation Army



Joining the ranks  

A practical battle plan to gang outreach (from Caring Vol. 17 No. 4).

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