When the COVID lockdown began 18 months ago, a group of guys in one of the units of the jail decided to hold their own Bible Study and worship service. Every person in the unit is a former gang member — but from a number of different gangs — even rivals. So there is hispanic, black, white, and asian — all gathered together for worship. I recently joined them for one of their Friday night services.
In some ways it is like attending church in a developing nation. The service starts when everyone is ready and it lasts until everyone is done. There are multiple sermons, songs, and testimonies. It is raw and real.
Much of the music was written by the guys. The musical instruments consisted of the security grate on an air vent and a plastic chair – both used for percussion.
Some of the guys have extraordinary voices. There were solos as well as songs where the entire group to joined in singing. Rap is their favorite style so there were several rap performances as well. Some have been setting the Psalms to rap.
The first sermon was given by “D” who talked about the gang live versus the Christian life. I’ll share some of the highlights:
- Becoming a gang member starts with getting jumped-in. This consists of a series of beatings over a set period of time by a certain number of members to see if the initiates are tough enough to join the gang.
- Becoming a Christian starts with getting saved. Getting saved is a free gift, from God to us, that includes forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and entrance into heaven through Jesus Christ.
- Gang members have juntas – hanging out together
- Christians have fellowship
- Being in a gang means being driven by hate and fear
- Being a Christian means being driven by love and forgiveness
- Gang members are associated with gang signs, tattoos, guns, and fights
- Christians are associated with praise, prayer, and the laying on of hands (but in a good way)
- The gang demands a member give up their life for the gang
- In Christianity Jesus gave up His life for us
- Following the gang ultimately leads to death
- Following Jesus leads to eternal life
He explained that when Christians look at the gang life it seems like something scary. But for the gang member looking at the Christian life it also looks very scary. Gang members are told to avoid church because it is poison.
In gang life if someone hurts you, your gang, or your family you are supposed to respond with retaliation, revenge, and retribution. But Christians are to respond with love and forgiveness. Gang members have a hard time understanding how much courage is needed to respond with forgiveness. It takes far more courage to love and forgive than it does to hate and retaliate.
Next another man shared. He’s had a long history of anger and violence, but he is changing through the grace of God. Recently he’d received word that his little brother had been shot. In his past he would have immediately sought to find and punish those responsible or their family. Now he was instead being called on to forgive. Many men gathered around him, prayed for him, and encouraged him.
We finished the night with more sermons, worship, and prayer.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24