Faithful Presence among Gangs, Mental Illness, and Gun Violence in the City

What a week it’s been in Seattle. But really, it started back in January. A stabbing of our neighborhood barista by a mentally ill man a few blocks from my house. A standing room only community crime meeting at our community center in February. Then various incidents for a few months that didn’t draw much attention. This last week, a father was killed by a stray bullet fired in a gang altercation. He was in his car driving his parents and kids at 4:30 in the afternoon! This was a block north of one of my kids’ favorite playgrounds. Then yesterday, while I was out of town watching orca whales playing around the San Juan Islands, an angry, probably mentally ill man shot and killed 5 people at 11:00 am in the morning in very public, seemingly safe locations in Seattle.

One week ago, it was much easier to write off violence in our city. Gang on gangs. They who live by the sword will die by the sword. If the bullet that killed the father driving his kids and parents had instead hit its intended gang target, the community would likely have reacted very differently (which I am not saying is a good thing).

When I moved to south Seattle in 2003, it was calm. I later learned that after years of gang activity, the city allocated funds for a gang task force, and it worked. But after gang crime rates dropped, the last mayor disbanded the group due to budget cuts. After a few years, older gang members started getting out of jail and younger kids started joining again. Similar budget cuts affected options for the mentally ill.

What’s a conservative Christian to do?! Well, people need the Lord. Gang members, the mentally ill, and victims of violence ALL need the Lord. End of post, right?

No – there is more. People need Christ, and until they meet Him and/or He returns and makes all things right again, He’s left them us. I love the simple words God speaks to Abraham in Genesis. Through his seed, all nations will be blessed. Through Christ right? And we are His Body. So today, as I look around at my shocked and wounded city, I pray, “How can I bless them in these circumstances?”

For me, I think I can bless by getting involved at crime prevention meetings and adding to the public discourse. Public discourse in such times is not safe, though. People’s emotions are running high, and now more than ever the city needs calm voices offering logical practical changes to prevent crime and compassionate support to victims of crime. Our police department is under fire from the Department of Justice, which they frankly deserve. They too need calm, logical voices offering feedback and support in wise ways. They need faithful truth tellers who are FOR the city, FOR the police, FOR the victims, and FOR those who commit such crimes.

My pastor preached a very wise sermon last Sunday that dealt with a broader philosophy of how believers should engage their community. If you are struggling with issues in your community, I can not recommend this sermon enough! It came at a moment when I frankly just wanted to move away to the suburbs—to find a 10 acre parcel in Issaquah, or better yet, Vashon Island. There’s nothing like being on a whale watch tour on a boat in the San Juan Islands while listening to news coverage of multiple slayings in Seattle to make you want to pack up and move!

My pastor highlighted several ways Christians have handled troubles in their communities over the life of the church. There is the fortress mentality—it’s us versus those outsiders, and we need to do whatever we can to keep ourselves safe from them. Then there is the domination mentality—we’re going to engage culture by stridently attempting to take it over. There is the accommodation mentality—we want to positively engage our culture, but we lose the differences that make belief in Jesus a distinct alternative to unbelief.  There is another option that I believe is God’s good plan for His children and their communities. It’s simply faithful presence. Show up. Be available. And be available in ways that are faithful to our beliefs and blessings to our community.

People need the Lord, and we are His Body.

Jeremiah 29:7  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

5 Responses to Faithful Presence among Gangs, Mental Illness, and Gun Violence in the City

  1. Katie T. May 31, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    Wendy, I am going to listen to your pastor's sermon. This has been an area of such discouragement for me lately. We live in a rough (and getting rougher) part of our city. We moved here on purpose. My husband is a guidance counselor at a nearby middle school and he didn't want to just commute into these kids' lives, but see them at the grocery store, play basketball with them on the weekends, etc. We now have 2 small children of our own and a few weeks ago, my husband found a loaded gun hidden in the backyard. Violence has been all around us while living here, but this was personal. We are praying about our future here, to not be slaves to fear and to know what it means to lay down our lives while still caring for our own children. All the while, not having much Christian community, many having moved out or in the process of it.

  2. Susanna Hindman May 31, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    This post reminded me of a similar heart struggle that I wrote about last year {http://learning-2-see.blogspot.com/2011/06/security-is-overrated.html}. You've expressed yourself much more eloquently than I am able to and I'm glad for the clarity you've brought to my thoughts and for the encouragement to continue living on mission in tough situations. Thanks for writing.

  3. Flyaway June 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Excellent post. My continued mission is prayer. Each Christian has something the Lord will put on our hearts that He wants us to do. I pray protection around all, especially the children. I pray for wisdom for those with little ones. I pray for the Holy Spirit to sweep America and the world and for God to bring in the last little sheep into the Kingdom. May everyone be drawn to the light and be made light. May evil be rooted out and all turn from darkness to light from the power of Satan to the power of God. May there be a third reawakening in the U.S. May we all keep our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.

  4. SundA Strange June 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Oh thank you so much for expressing this and bringing this very clear directive to us from the Bible. I am struggling just being part of my community without all of the new fears, I am very grateful for guidance that is holy and I will also listen to your pastor's message when I can. Lord help me to be present and available in ways that are faithful to my beliefs and helpful to my community, to lay down my life today and everyday hereafter.

  5. Zipporah Bird June 5, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    Great post. I wish I understood Christ's heart regarding mental illness.