(2.17.11) A Very Different Sort of Urban Gang

In our neighborhood, if you see a mob of youth walking down the street at night, your first inclination is to run for safety. You know that the kids could be part of a neighborhood gang.

Two Saturdays ago, one of our neighbors saw more than one hundred students walking down Chicago Avenue, headed toward downtown. But these inner city youth seemed different–they looked mature, not frightening. She didn’t know any of the kids, but her first thought was: “those kids must go to Hope.”

Sure enough, they do. And Hope is indeed a very different sort of “gang”.

What she saw was 104 of our middle and high school students walking back to Hope from the Minneapolis Convention Center, where they attended a Christian youth conference called “Acquire the Fire.”

While other gangs were getting into trouble, our Hope group spent the entire weekend listening to teaching, singing and worshipping together, praying for one another, and asking for forgiveness.

 At assembly this past week, I had the privilege of hearing our students share their experiences from the weekend. One by one, students stood before their classmates and shared what God had begun to do in their lives. Over the course of two hours, nearly every single student shared–including 25 of our high school boys.

 Here is just a sampling of the things they shared:

  • “It felt like God did surgery inside my heart…”  
  • “I had an experience with God…”  
  • “God showed me that I am a sinner, and I gave my life to Christ…”   
  • “All the anger I had at people just melted away…”  
  • “I struggle with sexual sin, and God is showing me that he can help me focus on what is good and pure…”  
  • “I broke down in tears on Saturday night. Everyone I saw that I have hurt, I felt disgusted and started breaking down and crying and asking for forgiveness…”   
  • “God finally got my attention-I was heading down the wrong path for so long, but now I know I can turn around and head down the right path…”

Near the end of the time, an 11th grade boy–one of the school’s spiritual leaders–shared some words to encourage everyone. He concluded with this:

“God has touched our hearts-but we need to keep on like this. We can’t be fooled and go back to living by the pattern of the world. We can fight by the power of the Spirit. We have learned that we have the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. If we have the Spirit of Christ, we will always win over the power of sin and the devil. I just encourage each and every one of you to be real with each other, and to encourage one another in the Lord.”

Thank the Lord with me for what he is doing in the hearts of our students. Know that because of your faithful prayers and generous giving, you are helping raise up a “gang” of a very different sort–a band of brothers and sisters, united by love and forgiveness, ready to serve one another and their neighbors.