The van with the Youth for Christ USA emblem on the door rolls to a stop at a traffic light on the northwest side of Chicago. This is familiar terrain for Joey “Baby Bandito” Vega of the Insane Dragons, who is riding in the front passenger seat and giving directions to the volunteer driver.

For over an hour, as dusk settles into night, the van winds through streets that tourists and suburbanites see only if they are lost. The van stops several times for Joey to run up to a door or into a building, and return with a new companion.

At the same time, three other vehicles crisscrossed the city’s west, south, and southwest sides picking up a total of 21 passengers. The common destination was an unusual meeting of youth gang leaders from around the city, a monthly summit that YFC staffer Gordon McLean calls his “Little UN” (since each gang designates itself a “nation”).

“One more stop,” says Joey.

“Who is it?” asks Gilberto “Bam Bam” Flores of the Latin Lovers.

Joey gives a name. “You know him? He’s LK [Latin King]. You probably shot at him sometime.”

“Maybe,” replies Bam Bam. “If he live on this street, I know we be havin’ it out.”

McLean had explained earlier: “We plan our pickup routes very carefully, because we don’t want some of the guys to know where some of the others live.”

The van does a lot of backtracking before everyone is aboard and heading for McLean’s apartment. The eight-story building lies just a few blocks beyond the official Chicago city boundary. More important, it falls outside any territories claimed by a gang.

The police department says you can find more than 125 different youth gangs in Chicago. McLean and his colleagues with YFC’S Youth Guidance Division know right where to look. Primarily an institutional ministry ...

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