A number of New Zealand studies suggest that more than half of people leaving gangs are assisted through the process by involvement with a church or faith community.
Taking Matthew 25 seriously, many church communities also provide an essential support for those coming out of prison who have few resources or support people.
Criminologist Professor John Pitts speaking at a gang prevention conference organised by church leaders in the UK said:
“The value of faith community involvement in gang initiatives is that church members are local, they are often connected with the young people and families experiencing these problems, they have made a personal commitment to helping and they are likely to be around for much longer than the professionals – and continuity is very important in this kind of work.”
“However good intentions and commitment aren’t enough. This is complex and sometimes dangerous work, and we need to find ways in which statutory and voluntary agencies can work with faith groups to provide high quality training and ongoing support.”
A new gang transformation initiative supported by Safe Tairawhiti, Gisborne District Council, NZ Police, schools and residents associations also needs local churches involved.
We hope to learn from the success of faith-based groups like Sam Chapman’s Awhi Community Development organization in South Auckland, Prison Fellowship NZ and Wesley Community Action in Porirua that have been working with gang leaders over the past few years.
While many of his contemporaries thought the best approach to beating the Romans was to meet violence with violence, Jesus advocated a more creative engagement. Designed to help people mature and move on from the ‘might is right’ paradigm, Jesus used the restorative power of love, hope and faith to transform both oppressive and marginalised communities. Perhaps we can too?