Last night I participated in the 5th anniversary of a local church, located in the southern part of our city. It was a moving experience. I was moved when I arrived; I was early, even though the announced beginning time had come and gone. So I sat in the car and used the reading lamp to go over my notes for the message I intended to preach that night. I read and I watched the activity around me.
Outside, under the dull, dust-covered, yellow street lights, people walked to and fro. Significantly, many of the young men and women I watched were gang members. That was not a surprise; I knew it. It's something a person better know if he or she is out in this part of town.
The pastor of this church knew it, too, when he decided God was calling him to plant this church. It was a community rife with gang activity. But he pressed on with dogged determination. His original target was the meanest gang leader there. And he won the young man, now a leader in his little church. Then he won most of the other gang members that young man belonged to. One gang down, a dozen more to go.
Pedro continues to reach into the gangs. Some of them came last night. They were mildly timid in front of me, all the while eyeing my car. When they weren't eyeing the car, they were checking out the girls. But they stood in the door and listened to the message of Christ. Pedro's wife told me they were on the verge of turning it all over to Jesus.
These gang members, by the way, are all under 18. Some won't live to see 18. Gangs often have wars in this part of our city. They pull out guns, machetes, rocks, bottles, and anything else that can hurt their rivals. The gangs don't think twice about hurting one another. And someone almost always dies.
So Pedro is there, telling them about someone else who died for them. It's a story he loves to tell. It's a light that shines brighter than those dull, yellow, dusty street lights. That light shines brigher than the sun. It's a light that penetrates the tough facades these guys put up.
So I tell Pedro and his church, "Shine the Light!"
And they will.