Show More Love to End Youth Violence, Says Former Gang Leader

The church, police and community must work together to empower young people and help them feel valued and loved, if gun and knife crime are to be stamped out, says the founder of Street Pastors.

"The police are not going to crack this on their own," the Rev. Les Isaac said. "We need to turn the tables so that those who want an exit strategy out, there should be that exit strategy, whether it is the church, the police or the local authorities."

Speaking at the Baptist Union of Great Britain's Bite the Bullet conference on Saturday, he also said it was necessary to send the strong message to young people that carrying a knife or gun is "totally unacceptable."

More than 100 Christians packed into Brixton Baptist Church in London to address the alarming levels of gun and knife crime among young people.

Isaac said that the "get rich quick" mentality and family and community breakdown were big contributors to youth violence.

"Young people are angry, young people are confused and young people feel a tremendous sense of 'nobody cares,'" he said. "There is in many of these young people a sense of hopelessness."

The priority, Isaac stressed, is to make young people feel loved and valued.

"It is about caring and helping. What young people are looking for today is to know that they are valued and that they are loved. If you value and love someone it brings the best out of someone," he said. "There are an awful lot of young people out there who feel unloved and that nobody cares.

"If we as a community, city and nation could do what Jesus says to do – love your neighbor as yourself – in a very practical way … then I believe over a period of time we can see a major transformation in our society."

Isaac appealed to parents to play their part in stemming the flow of youth violence by taking more interest in their children. He proposed that the church launch family development and mother mentoring programs to support struggling families.

"The first thing the church needs to do is come out of the church," he said. "It needs to really come out and engage with young people. You learn a lot about what you are doing but also equally what you are not doing, because I think that the greatest challenge to the church is to be relevant to what young people's needs are."

The church also needs to be prepared to reach unchurched young people with no church experience, the Street Pastors founder said.

"We need to be very creative in what we do and how we do it to help young people understand that church is not just concerned about heaven but equally concerned about earth and the things that impact and affect you today," he highlighted.

"We've got to recognize that young people are very gifted and very talented and we've got to empower them."

Reflecting on his own past as a gang member and leader, Isaac said, "I didn't go out to really hurt people. It started with a laugh but then everyone around me is pushing me to go on, and you go on and do it, because you don't want to lose face. So there was this big pressure on me."

Speaking of his transformation from gang leader to committed Christian and Street Pastors founder, he added, "I put this down unequivocally to my faith. I can remember that point in my life when my faith in Jesus had a profound impact on the way I think, my actions, my values, and that really helped me to realize, number one, that there is hope.

"I say to young people there is hope, your life can be changed, because from my experience the Gospel, Jesus Christ, had a big impact in saying to me actually you do not have to become a victim of your circumstances."

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