Keep the Faith editor Marcia Dixon MBE shares some pointers on how churches can help in the fight against gangs, knife and gun violence and youth crime
I attended a vigil for Keelan Morris Wong held in Windrush Square, Brixton, London, on Friday October 6, 2023.
The promising 22-year-old, remembered for his smile and kindness, was stabbed to death in Brixton, in the prime of his life. A 23-year-old has been arrested for the stabbing.
This was not the first vigil I have attended for a victim of youth crime. Twenty years ago, in January 2003, four young ladies were shot outside a hairdressing salon in Birmingham. Two of the young ladies died, two survived, and the whole of Britain, and the church were alerted to the darkness and sometimes murderous nature of youth crime and gangs.
The people of Birmingham came together, held major events – one of which I attended – and looked at ways in which they could combat the issue.
Now, 20 years later, we are still talking about how to deal with youth crime – knife crime in particular – within black communities. Whilst the talking is going on, young people remain both perpetrators and victims of crime. Some are stabbed and left with life changing injuries, whilst others are stabbed and killed, and in the process robbed of their future, with their bereaved families left behind, picking up the pieces.
Amid all of what’s happening in the black community regarding young people caught up in gangs and knife violence, the question is often asked ‘Where is the church?’ and ‘What is the church doing?’ The answer has to be that churches are all around us but are not doing enough.
During the vigil for Keelan, one of the pastors who addressed the crowd, admitted that the church had not done enough. His church denomination is now exploring how it can better support young people in and out the church.
I fully understand that not every church leader feels called to work with young people involved in gangs and crime. It is work that calls for courage and major people skills – however what church leaders can do, is give spiritual, and more importantly practical support to those working in this arena.
Here are some ways that churches can offer support and play their part in combatting knife violence and youth crime..
1. Learn about community and para-church organisations working to combat youth crime, gangs and knife violence. Put them on your prayer list and get your church intercessors to pray for them regularly.
2. Sign up your youth leaders for training courses so they can be more aware about the issues of gun and knife crime (if they are not aware) and understand how to effectively engage with unchurched youth involved in gangs etc., and share the gospel with them.
3. The church should be the hub of the community. If you have a church building that is only used once or twice a week for church services, be generous and allow charities, para-church organisations and voluntary groups working in this arena that have no premises and/or little funds to use it for free or for nominal cost.
4. If you recognise that your particular church congregation don’t have the means or will to get involved in this kind of youth work, but are rich in material resources, donate money to those that are doing great work in this area. You could also invite charities/para-church organisation working in this arena to speak to your congregation, so they are more aware of the work being done to support vulnerable youth.
5. Evangelise, evangelise, evangelise, The Bible says the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. There are teenagers and young people desperate to hear the glorious message of the gospel. Find ways to share the gospel with them. Host special events that attract young people.
6. Help families to strengthen their relationships. It’s been noted – though not in all cases – children involved in crime often have no father in their life. Help estranged fathers reconcile with their children. Preach from the pulpit about the importance of two parents being involved in the upbringing of children. Encourage estranged parents to work together for the welfare of their child, utilise mediation services if necessary. Parents need to be focused on doing what’s best for their child. If that fails, encourage men within the church to mentor teenagers that need a positive male role model in their life.
7. There’s many children who have become traumatised because of the media reports and accounts of knife crime. Some have personal experience of being bullied to join gangs. These days our churches are full of qualified counsellors. Encourage them to donate one hour a week to provide free counselling for their local community. Our churches should be a place where people can find a listening ear.
8. Join organisations like the Synergy Network who are an umbrella organisation for churches, para-church organisations, charities and voluntary organisations doing important work in this area. Visit www.wearesynergy.org.uk for more information.
9. Recognise if , as a church, you don’t do anything the problem will get worse. Christians are not immune from this issue, and increasingly, it’s children from Christian families that are either involved in crime or losing their lives.