My days off consist of spending time with my kids, catching up on household chores, and finding time to engage in thoughts that don’t relate to church work. I love my job, and I love continuing to learn about youth ministry through a variety of mediums. However, I find myself needing to unplug once and a while from constantly thinking church work.  So while I was folding laundry on a day off, I tuned into the podcast “This American Life” featured on NPR.  

The particular episode that came up was one about teenagers who went missing from a town in Long Island. I almost switched to a different episode since I was trying not to think about anything related to youth ministry. Yet, there was a nudge in my heart to pay close attention to the story. The reporter talked about how the parents of the missing kids kept insisting to the police that their kids had no reason to runaway, but the police kept ignoring their cases. The families who were ignored happened to be Latino immigrants. However, when a teenager who was a U.S born citizen was found brutally murdered, police jumped into action eventually discovering the murders were from MS-13 gang members. The Suffolk county police department eventually found the bodies of the other teens who were labeled as runaways. These Latino teens were also murdered by MS-13 gang members. There were 18 murders in 16 months. Hannah Drier, an investigative reporter from ProPublica, discovered Suffolk County police had pervasive problems with treating Latinos poorly, which dramatically slowed their response to the MS-13 murder spree.   

I found myself unable to turn off the podcast even though it felt heavier than my heart could bare. I felt this pull to step into someone else’s perspective even though it was dark. The story felt so distant from the one I live. It seemed like it happened in a far away place or from a long time ago. It’s hard to fathom this is the reality of people’s lives, especially for immigrants and other marginalized people. But of course, it’s hard for me to imagine because I am a white U.S citizen living in economic stability. While I listened and kept hearing how police dismissed these immigrant parents, I couldn’t help but ask these questions about people in my own community. I wonder…

  1. What stories need to be heard and believed by those who are marginalized? And how can the church make space for these stories to be heard?
  2. What groups of people am I overlooking, and what stories are we (the church) refusing to believe simply because we don’t think it fit’s with the church’s mission?

I don’t have the answers yet, but I am in a place of trying to be more aware. This podcast not only raised my awareness of what immigrant families are going through, but it also raised questions about what draws young people to gangs. After doing some research on gangs, I discovered that teens typically join gangs because they believe their gang will protect them from other evils and difficulties they face. They are also seeking a sense of belonging and significance that the gang offers. This brings up more questions to think about:  

  1. What community structures are put into place for teens to help offer support, belonging, and protection?
  2. What positive ways do we (the church) empower young people and help them feel significant?  

Hope begins by asking the questions and processing them in our communities and churches. Let’s lean into these questions by praying for God to reveal plans of restoration. May God bring healing for those who are ignored, dismissed, marginalized, and heart-broken. May God have mercy for churches, communities, and authorities who have failed to love and care for others. May God provide a sense of belonging and protection for young people who are lost. Lord, we ask for your wisdom and strength, as we work together to bring restorative justice to young people. Amen.

Samantha Tidball
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