As many of you know, last week President Obama signed executive orders related to gun violence. I’m not going to say anything about that political situation, except that on the day he signed those orders, I posted this on Facebook:

“Banning guns doesn’t change the culture, only Jesus does. People are so obsessed with living the hood life they put bullet hole stickers on their cars, and then go to schools to pick up their children. We need heart change!”

I wrote this while sitting behind this car waiting to pick up my children from school. I was irritated because of the glorification of guns, and also irritated because of all the violence happening within a half mile of where I live and work.

Over a week ago, a man was shot and killed in a gang related incident. A few days later, there was an armed robbery on the route I normally walk going to and from work. Some teenagers took a guys coat and roughed him up. This past Saturday I had multiple people calling me to tell me about the police presence in our neighborhood again. They were chasing a person of interest through back yards, around houses, and across streets. Thankfully nothing bad happened that night, but once again it put everyone on high alert.

There are many people in my community who are scared right now. While last week was bad, I try to keep reminding myself and others, that to a large degree this a blip on the radar. Our neighborhood is not typically violent, and what has happened in the last week is way out of the norm. Still, last week happened, and it made people afraid to be in their homes.

It got me thinking about what I as a neighbor and NCN as a ministry should do about the situation. To be honest I don’t have a lot of ideas. What I do know is that our ministries are more important than ever because of what they offer: relationships.

Many of the teens involved in these crimes are kids who don’t have a lot going for them. They’re looking for love, acceptance and community, but they are finding it in a culture of violence. It pains me to say that some of the kids involved are kids I worked with years ago, long before NCN. I still care about these kids, but they are not easy to reach. While I am grieved by the situation, I know that we must keep trying to build lasting relationships, that have lasting impact.

In speaking to the exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah sends these words of God. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” The people of Israel were in a bad spot and they wanted to be in a better place. God tells them to be present in their new location. Build a community, fill it with people, and seek the prosperity of the city. More importantly he tells the people to pray for the city.

In the face of violence there is a temptation to put houses up for sale and head to the suburbs. This is not the right response though. We are to pray for the city, pray for our community, and actively work for its good. We are to be God’s kingdom agents and work towards transformation. A new neighborhood will not provide peace, only Jesus can do that. The same Jesus who saved us from a life of destruction is calling us to share his message of true salvation, community and love with those still living without hope.

In light of all this, I’m asking for a couple things today:

  1. Pray. Pray for the youth who are throwing their lives away pursuing false friends, guns and glory. Pray for gospel transformation. Pray for men and women who will invest in kids long term so they can know love, support and encouragement. Pray for the volunteers at NCN. Pray that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out the work of Christ.
  2. Consider volunteering in our ministries. We need men and women who will invest in kids long term. We need volunteers who are willing to hang out with kids at our ministries, but also go to their schools for events, concerts, and even lunch. There are too many kids without hope, and we need people like you to share with them the hope of Christ.

Community transformation will not happen just through laws or anti-violence programs. Genuine transformation takes gospel relationships the help kids find true identity and belonging in Jesus.