Rough towns and neighborhoods have an unsavory reputation and people say, “Can anything good come from there?”
That’s what they say about Southeast Bakersfield. “Don’t go into that neighborhood. It’s not safe.” And they may be right that it is not always safe. We do need to be wise and cautious in areas known for gangs and crime. But staying away and doing nothing never did any good.
The truth is, most neighborhoods are made up of ordinary people just trying to mind their own business and live their lives, in difficult circumstances. They don’t want violence and danger in their backyards or streets. They want safety and welfare for their children and grandchildren, the same as you and I want these things for ours. They worry about their children being influenced by or forced into joining a gang or getting caught up in crime.
“Why do people join gangs? Young people most likely to join a gang are impoverished with no economic future. They usually come from broken homes and experienced domestic violence at an early age. Often they have family members or friends in a gang. Typically they failed school and have no positive adult role models.”
So states an article in the Denison Forum. This perfectly describes many kids in Southeast Bakersfield, and in thousands of communities across the country.
The article goes on to say, “What can Christians do?”
The first thing, they say, is educate ourselves about the gang problem in our own community. Never assume there is none and that our own children are immune to its influences.
A second idea is to become a school mentor, especially for at-risk kids. They desperately need positive role models. We have seen the positive impact mentoring a child can have. Many of these children do not have a dad in the home, and few have any positive male role models. Christian men can fill the gap by committing to mentor a child or young man. Christian women can fill the same gap for girls who need to see an alternative to the way of life they see around them every day.
Another option is to put on a conference for at-risk youth, inviting speakers to educate the at-risk children in the community about the dangers of gangs and getting involved with them.
A fourth suggestion for Christians is to “sponsor programs that minister to youth, including recreation, job skills, counseling and educational programs.”
Mustard Seeds and Mountains has first-hand experience in this area. We did this in one of the poorest counties in West Virginia through our youth work and the Empowerment Center, an after-school learning center that worked with at-risk children one-on-one and in groups. As a non-profit, faith-based organization, Mustard Seeds relied on God’s people to partner with us to accomplish our goals of serving this needy population of children, offering them positive opportunities for a better life, both educationally and spiritually.
This kind of intervention requires moving into, or at least visiting, the at-risk neighborhood. That is exactly what Mustard Seeds did in McDowell County, West Virginia. That is what Plaza Iglesia Cristiana, a bi-lingual church plant, and Positive Change and Development Center (PCDC) is doing in Southeast Bakersfield. They moved into the neighborhood to reach the neighborhood.
Plaza Church reaches out to families and teaches the Word of God week after week. During the school year PCDC, through their “Hope for the Future” learning center, offers after-school tutoring in reading and math, help with homework, and a Bible lesson, building academic strength and spiritual depth in at-risk children. In the summertime they host a month long recreation, crafts and Bible program free to all the children of Southeast Bakersfield.
All of these programs depend heavily on financial and prayer supporters, and the faithful volunteers who come to work with the children week after week, lovingly guiding them academically, being the positive, godly role models they desperately need.
That is why Mustard Seeds and Mountains (Mustard Seeds West) partnered with Plaza Iglesia/PCDC, joining hands with them to give families and the children in the ‘hood the opportunity for a better life, educationally and spiritually.
There was a fifth suggestion in the Denison Forum article, for Christian intervention in gang threatened neighborhoods in our communities: prayer.
You may not be able to volunteer in an at-risk neighborhood or church. But perhaps you can give financially and encourage others to go. Regardless of what else we can do, we can and should pray. Seriously pray. Pray big. Pray in faith. Big faith, for the big God we serve.
On June 11 at 8 am a group of women (men invited) will be meeting to scatter throughout southeast Bakersfield to pray for their neighbors who live there. For the residents of Southeast are our “neighbors,” according to Jesus, regardless of where we live. Will you join us in prayer?
We need God’s people to link arms with us by praying, donating finances, and spending themselves by volunteering to reach these at-risk children so that fewer of them will be sucked into gang life. By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, can these kids become part of the solution to gang violence and crime, rather than be the problem. We are praying for and working toward the salvation of every one of them.
Nazareth had a bad reputation. When told that the Deliverer lived there, Nathanael said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He just didn’t know Jesus.
“Can anything good come from Southeast Bakersfield (or the worst neighborhoods in your town)?” Undoubtedly. If we believe Jesus is there in his distressing disguise, and we go to serve him.
Pray about getting involved in an at-risk neighborhood near you, to serve Jesus—in his distressing disguise.
Leave a comment or send me your questions. I’d love to hear what you are doing in your town, or answer your questions about how to start to do something (for something is better than no-thing).
 Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, www.denisonforum.org, Today’s Cultural Commentary, May 19, 2015. Used with permission. Link to Supporting Data: http://advancementprojectca.org/sites/default/files/imce/AP%20Call%20To%20Action_LA%20Quest%20to%20Achieve%20Community%20Safety%20FINAL%202013.pdf
 John 1:46 Living Bible (TLB)