With this long history in our Westside neighborhoods, the church should see this mission field and strive to take the hope of the gospel to a culture often characterized by hopelessness.
There is a history of gang violence that has plagued Los Angeles for decades. Many neighborhoods throughout our city are not immune to this history including the Westside. The Oakwood section of Venice once had one of the highest murder rates in all of Los Angeles. Back around 1994, 20 people were killed and 70 people were shot in that one-square mile neighborhood. Neighborhoods such as Culver City/Del Rey, West Los Angeles, and Santa Monica all have endured numerous gang wars and many individuals have lost their lives in these communities. There’ve been times where multiple shootings happened all in one day between warring gangs. There were periods where shootings were happening on a daily basis. People were getting shot and killed in the morning, in the afternoon, or at night. Multiple people were getting shot at one time. There have been police-involved shootings, black vs. brown shootings, and innocent people getting shot. Along with this history of gang warfare comes narcotics sales, drug use, graffiti, and other behavior associated with gang culture.
When communities have endured this way of life, the solutions tend to focus on fixing these behaviors, sometimes by any means necessary. Oftentimes, things such as gang injunctions or constant police presence are instituted yet they don’t necessarily solve the heart of the problem. Society wants to solve the gang violence without looking beyond the external acts. They don’t take time to see the root of why an individual has gravitated toward gang life and therefore participates in gang activity. In my previous blog I mentioned about the various issues that have affected gang members, whether they were personal or systemic. Tied in with the personal issues is the reality that all men have a heart that rebels against God. The heart is where sin resides and Christ is the only One who can change us and give us a new heart. Matthew 15:19 states “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” There are numerous heart issues such as anger, lust, love of money, hatred and many more that we all wrestle through. When we look at gang culture, we recognize these same sin struggles that reside within us also reside within gang members. And we must remember how family, friends, and even society have sinned against them. The sinfulness of mankind is a universal problem and as believers we know that true lasting change comes from the gospel, not some moral policy that we hope straightens up our behavior.
With this long history in our Westside neighborhoods, the church should see this mission field and strive to take the hope of the gospel to a culture often characterized by hopelessness. Are the churches throughout our communities known for having a heart for our streets? Are Westside churches characterized by taking the gospel to the gangs, building intentional relationships with them, coming alongside the broken and those feeling hopeless, and bridging the gaps between church and gang cultures? It’s great to see organizations stepping up and doing what they can to reach out to our local gangs but I hope and pray the church will develop that same motivation to see the gospel change a gang member the way it changed us. Our neighborhoods are home to numerous individuals caught up in the gang lifestyle-people who are currently gang members, those locked up, those who’ve been killed, and even those who have moved on in life. Consider the fact that the gospel has probably not consistently gone forth to them and our local churches should be the ones who are looking to take that message. I know there are some churches in our Westside communities who have connections, are building relationships and getting involved. But I hope churches on the Westside will know the history of the marginalized in their areas and understand this history is still present. With so many lives that have been lost to gang violence or the prison system, the gospel is what needs to go forth. And with so many who are still around yet have suffered and endured so much hardship, the church must be on the frontlines of trying to take the gospel to them. Unfortunately, this history of gang violence will most likely repeat itself, perhaps not as frequently as the 80’s or 90’s, but it will continue to happen. We have a Savior and a message of hope that can transform lives and communities. If the gospel changes the history of the sinfulness in our lives, it will do the same for our fellow gang members and neighborhoods.
Danny Neiditch is the founder and CEO of Prodigal Sons, Inc. Born and Raised in LA, Danny is a diehard Dodgers, Lakers, and street tacos fan. You can find him on Twitter @dannyneiditch.