As I step away for one year of study and sabbatical, I am happy to help send along my coworker Ryan Mathis' first "Gang Initiative Update" to you partnering churches. Every week, Ryan will send a quick update about what's going on with the gang ministry, with a one-to-two sentence prayer request or need announcement for you to print in your bulletins, or Sunday announcements.
This is the first one, a little long. Here we go...
So what does it mean to “know the truth and be set free?” I think it looks like my roommate Juan.
We met him in the jail. Even then he was changing. Something was shuffling around deep in his person. After spending the majority of his adolescent life in different juvenile detention institutions and now in the county jail, Juan wanted out. That is to say, Juan wanted out of the cycles of violence and crime that continually led him to places like the jail. He wanted out of the streets, out of hopelessly broken relationships. In short, Juan wanted to be “set free.” We prayed a lot over Juan in our jail Bible studies, always blessing the new Self that was growing in him like a baby. The new Juan grew inside the old one until it was going to burst... and then it did! After several months away from us in prison, Juan was released, set free, from the custody of the state and came to live with us in our apartment.
Juan has lived off and on with us for eight months, the longest period that he has been in the free world (that is, not in jail) since he was a juvenile. Juan is winning the battle against drug addiction and old fits of anger. When he lives with us, he stays in my room and we joke that we are “cellies,” a term used by inmates to refer to other bunkmates they share a cell with. The closeness of being together this way is also liberating for me. I am set free from nice theories about spirituality. They get traded in for reality. This is where the sky meets the earth. This practice of living together is where Bible passages walk off the pages of scripture and the dusty shelves of theory and join us in our home and our rooms. This is where we adopt each other. And everything becomes real.
Please pray for Juan’s continual freedom... and for mine.
TO PRINT IN BULLETIN: Juan, 20, a recovering gang member out of prison this last year, is living with us in our community housing at Tierra Nueva and getting on his feet. He is waiting to get a job from an interested presbytery member, about to get his daughter back from CPS, and is learning how to be in a committed relationship with his girlfriend. They want to build a home together for their children, part of our faith community. Please pray for Juan this week.