Boyce "Bo" Allen, as a member of the Unknown Vice Lords on Chicago's West Side, served as the gang's "enforcer"-the one responsible for wounding or even killing rival gang members. At the height of his criminal career, Allen had an unexpected encounter that would change his life.
"One of my boys brings around this white preacher dude who greets me and gives me a Bible, and I thought to myself, 'What am I going to do out on the street with a Bible when I'm getting ready for some heavy action?' But he kept coming around, and asked me if I'd read the book yet."
One day when he was bored, Allen did begin reading the Bible, and then read some more, causing him to reflect on his future.
"I knew I couldn't stay on the streets forever, and the only future in what I was doing was death or jail," Allen says. "One day I went to church, and that just blew all my brothers' minds." Soon after, Allen became a Christian and saw his life transformed.
Gordon McLean, the "white dude," feels that "unless you make a change on the inside of a kid's life, what you do on the outside won't make any difference."
"But," adds McLean, a 40-year-veteran working with gang members as a minister with Youth for Christ's Juvenile Justice Ministry, "once a gang member makes a faith commitment to Christ, then education, job training, counseling, and church all become extremely important." That's why the point of contact with gang members for McLean and his full- and part-time staff of 20 is in prisons and juvenile detention centers, using Bible studies.
Once a youth with whom a relationship has been established is released from prison, the ministry team follows up by hanging out on the gang member's turf, such as a basketball court. This way they will meet the rest of the gang and determine what other needs may exist.
"We are accepted by them," McLean says, "because we cared for one of their own who was in trouble by posting bail, recommending a good lawyer, and visiting them while they were incarcerated."
From these contacts, Youth for Christ forms Bible-study groups and every six weeks holds a "United Nations" meeting in a suburban church where around 60 rival gang members-who in the neighborhood might be trying to kill each other-gather for pizza, games, and discussions about Jesus.
In addition to many conversions, more than 50 gang members have found jobs through the ministry team's efforts.
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