Last week, every morning I turned on the news and there was at least one murder in Detroit. Ironically, I was in the city for about a week to present at the Fall Youth Explosion Revival hosted by Hartford Memorial Church. After the revival, I learned that several of these murders were attributed to drug dealers or gangs, and I was reminded of a lesson I learned many years ago on my own journey of healing from the wounds of poverty and pain. The lesson: hurt people, hurt [other] people. With this in mind coupled with the violence perpetrated by young people in our cities, it’s fair to say that kids are hurting.
When I look at what’s happening in Detroit and in many other cities, I find myself asking, “Is there anything people of faith can do to meet the needs of hurting children?” Furthermore, how can we provide dynamic direction in the face of despair? Ultimately, how can we prevent victims of abuse, violence, and neglect from becoming perpetrators of the same?
The first thing we can do is be honest and transparent about the hurts of our young people. We cannot heal the wounded places in our lives if we choose acknowledge that we have been wounded. Simply saying these kids need to locked up is a lazy thinking and hardly a solution to the problem. What we do for children is a reflection of who we are as the church and what we will become as a nation.
Related: Louis C.K. on Our Neighbor’s Bowl and What “Fair” Is
Knowing that liberation and healing often comes through storytelling (faith comes by hearing the word says) I told a number of biblical stories at the revival about young people who were hurt yet healed and went on to become great leaders. I first told the story about Jephthah who was a young man rejected by his family and community. Not because of anything he did wrong, but simply because of his parents’ mistakes. Like all of us, Jephthah had nothing to do with how he came into the world, but still he was stereotyped and mistreated for being born outside of marriage. As a result of his rejection the Bible says that he fled to the wilderness where “a gang of scoundrels gathered around and followed him.” (Judges 11:3) Like many young people in our communities, Jephthah ran to the streets and found refuge in other young men and women just like him – other young people who were hurting.
On the second night we talked about the boy possessed with a spirit that caused him to hurt himself, and I related that story to how people today often hurt themselves through addiction. However, for many of our children the “boy possessed with a spirit” is really a drug addicted parent and the burden and responsibility of finding healing and restoration is taken on by the child. In this example, the son or daughter of an addicted parent is hurt by resentment, worry, doubt, and verbal abuse.
We also addressed the fact that at the core of many hurting children is their belief that they do not matter. Unfortunately, these kids are told they don’t matter in a number of ways. In their homes they hear “you don’t matter” when parents are too busy to spend time with them in order to nurture their dreams and aspirations. Children are made to believe they don’t matter when they are yelled at and told that they are only good at doing wrong. Community and political leaders tell our kids that they don’t matter when neighborhood schools are closed and government programs that keep them from going hungry are cut. Even schools tell our kids they don’t matter with zero tolerance policies that push them out of school yards into prison yards in record numbers. The bottom line is that much of the crime and destructive behavior we are seeing from young people is in response to being treated like they don’t matter.
This is why the biblical stories of young people who were hurting, who we would consider to be “at risk”, are so important for us now. In these stories, the church can find encouragement and the audacity to begin turning a wounded child into a winning child. For example, we can start the healing process by doing the same thing the community did for Jephthah in Judges Chapter 11. The community was in trouble and needed someone who could fight for them and protect their families. They made up their minds to go into the wilderness and get Jephthah. They confronted the pain they caused him and asked for forgiveness. They recognized the leadership potential in him and made him a leader.
If we are going to save the lives of children that have been pushed into the wilderness we have to go into the wilderness and get them. We have to find the humility and courage it takes to admit how we hurt them, ask for forgiveness, and then empower them to lead. Once we do this, once we begin to value their talents and make an effort to reconcile, we begin to demonstrate that they matter to us. In fact, their pain matters, their story matters, and their purpose matters.
Also by Romal: Is “Preachers of LA” Representing Preachers the Right Way?
Because our young people matter, each night of revival we closed with an altar call petitioning them with a simple request: If you have been hurt and want to find healing please come forward for prayer. But the petition didn’t stop there, I continued with:
If you have been angry and feel like you are alone …
If you are afraid of what the future holds and don’t know what might happen to you …
If you are sad and tired of trying to find a way out by yourself …
If you have a family member you love but he or she continues inflicting the hurt of addiction …
If you are willing to give God a chance and trust God with your future …
If you know in you heart of hearts that you matter to God …
… please, come forward for prayer
After the call was made young people pressed their way to the altar with tears in their eyes willing to give God a chance. However, it was not only youth who came, but also adults – men and women who never healed the hurting child inside their hearts.
In that moment we realized that we all matter and that the journey of healing that will move us from wounded to winning began! What I witnessed for two nights of Youth Revival was evidence that God is working to defeat despair in Detroit and turn wounded children into winning children. In so many cities across the country, children are hurting and lashing out because of their pain and anger, and God is calling us to be real about our hurts and to heal as a community. The time for treating young people like they matter through our words, interaction, grassroots organizing, local and national advocacy, mentoring, and more is now.