by Karen Campbell, UBA Guest Editor
Dian Kidd, UBA Associate Director, contributing
(companion article:  Ganging up on Gangs)

While the city is marshalling a strong effort to reduce the number of gangs and gang activity in the Houston area, the church is also playing an important role and offering helpful resources.  There are cooperative, intentional efforts among the church community to reach this significant unreached people group of over 10,000 documented gang members with the good news of grace. 

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/Somebody-cares.jpgDoug Stringer, founder of Somebody Cares, has been part of the organized church response to gang activity since 1994 when Somebody Cares Houston was officially formed. Along with ministries to individuals on the streets, gang prevention and intervention training was offered to equip volunteers to assist in public schools. Later, an Adopt a Gang prayer ministry identified gangs in the city and connected churches in a unified prayer effort. Lessons learned on the streets were then used in a training program shared with the Houston Police Department. Now, Somebody Cares works with a network of autonomous organizations throughout the Houston area which focus on at-risk identification and prevention. For more information on the network, contact Somebody Cares at 713.621.1498.

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/FruitSummer.jpgAnother more recently founded resource, sponsored in part by Sagemont Church, Houston, and Texas Avenue Baptist Church in League City, is FRUIT magazine, an inspirational and educational resource for youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system. Tera Swigart, Editor-in-Chief and member of Texas Avenue, launched the magazine in 2009.  FRUIT magazine runs a number of regular resources addressing youth concerns:  Gangs to Glory, a regular column by James Odom, sharing the reality of gangs and offering the hope for getting out; Letters to our Readers from Texas Prison Inmates; and, perhaps most importantly, the art, poetry, and reflections of the youth themselves. 

More Youth Artwork"They are extrememly talented with art and writing," says Tera.  "We publish their material.  We say, 'Produce Fruit' to give them a chance to put something positive out there.  Being published in the magazine makes them want to hold on to it."  Holding on to the magazine after they leave the detention center makes it more likely that the youth can remember and access those resources that they were introduced to. (Click for more artwork published in FRUIT.)

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/Tera_Swigart_h.jpgTera's ministry is born out of personal experience and a passion for troubled youth.  Although a Christian herself, Tera had close contacts with gang members as a teen.  She shares that she had a history of making bad choices and watched as many of her friends went down that negative path.  Her best friend was a member of a gang connected to the Crips (video); another friend, a member of the Southwest Cholos, was killed during middle school years.  "I spent a lot of time writing letters to my friends in detention centers," says Tera.

After her best friend died of a drug overdose at age 19, Tera began searching for a way to help troubled youth.  She started mentoring at Fort Bend County Detention Center, later got a degree, and is a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor.  At age 31, she's been working in detention centers in one capacity or another for 12 years.  "God gave me a passion for them [the at-risk youth]," she says.

FRUIT magazine gives the youth something to read, something to represent them in a positive way, and something to take with them when they leave the detention center.   

For more information about this ministry, or to volunteer, contact Tera at 832.423.3126 or by email.

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/MissionCentersHouston-200.jpgOne cooperative UBA Ministry, the Mission Centers of Houston, no longer sees as much gang activity as it once did -- although the reality of the influence of gangs continues to be an every-day reality.

When the Mission Centers of Houston were birthed 50 years ago, Director Mildred McWhorter often told stories of gang members coming to Christ via bible studies for youth and other outreach activities. She even included a warning to volunteers to avoid wearing bandanas because of their association with gang identification. While the warning is still included in volunteer orientation materials, the frequency of seeing gang members walk through the door has declined drastically in the last decade, said current Director Ginger Smith.

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/Ginger_h.jpg"We know of some youth who attend our activities and are part of a gang as well," noted Smith. "But the numbers are not high."

In a recent chat with youth attending a Mission Center Youth Club gathering, the consensus was that the rise of alternative schools, preventive measures such as more police in and around schools and parents receiving penalties when their children are absent or have become chronic sources of trouble have all contributed to the downward trend. (Houston officials might also point out that gangs go where the money is and the suburbs are actually now seeing a large infiltration of gang activity.)

One 18-year-old pointed out that while middle schoolers join gangs as a sign of "being tough" and intimidation, many of his friends question the benefits as they grow older. "Why do it?" he reasoned. "Who wants to be a thug?"

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/Souled-Out_1.jpgStill, the reality of gangs is never far from Mission Center planning. For instance, when selecting t-shirt colors and designs for Souled Out Camp last summer, color choices were limited to black and silver because it was the one color combination no one thought was associated with a particular gang.

"I'm not a gang expert," said Smith. "We're aware of it and aware that our kids are pressured but gang violence is not knocking on our door in the same way that the needs of those lacking food, clothing and educational training are. These needs are so prevalent, we have to address them first.

"We don't have the resources or personnel to focus on gangs at the moment," she concluded. "Of course, if a volunteer wanted to share their expertise, we'd certainly be happy to receive it!"

For information about donating or volunteering at the Mission Center:  contact

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Gangs - Churches Take Action