Pastor Blake Williams
Missions & Outreach Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles with a group of pastors from 7 other churches here in the valley to learn from a handful of different ministries in LA. It’s hard to even summarize all of what I learned but I just want to share a few thoughts about this experience that I think are helpful for everyone.
One of the ministries we visited on our first day was Homeboy Industries, whose state mission is to: “provide hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” They do this in a handful of ways, one of which is to do tattoo removal. I’ll give you two pieces of information that help you understand the scope of this: 1. They do more tattoo removal than anyone in the world. 2. The average number of face tattoos present while we were there was over 1.
As the tour guide showed us around he shared his story of how he came to Homeboy Industries after drug and gang involvement had plagued his life from the age of 11 until he was incarcerated in his late teens. Father Greg was the parish pastor in Boyle Heights and had gotten to know all the boys in the neighborhood (including our tour guide) and attempted to minister to them, many times to no avail. However, after over 30 years of faithfully serving that community Greg Boyle is one of the most respected people in all of LA. You can read more of his story in his book: “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” He has hundreds of stories of former gang members who have turned their lives around and are now contributing to society.
After hearing about the history of the ministry we saw the rest of the facility and met some more of the staff. On any given day they will have hundreds of people going through their doors to: work, take classes to get a GED, learn a life skill, get counseling, or a dozen other things that they offer. Each year they have over 10,000 former gang members from LA County come through their doors looking for help.
In thinking through this over the past week I’m continually amazed at how God has gifted unique people to serve in unique places and make incredible impact. One difficulty we face as human beings is this innate desire to compete in everything. But the kingdom of God is to be different. I didn’t leave that place thinking that I wanted to start a ministry to rehabilitate gang members in Phoenix; rather, I praised and thanked God for Father Greg and his staff that have been specifically gifted to do so. We all desire for each of these individuals to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and I know that there are people better equipped to get them there than me.
For each of us I hope that we look around at the creative ways God’s people are reaching
the unreached and celebrate with them. Whether you are a teacher in Phoenix, a tattoo
removal technician, a server at a restaurant, or a pastor of a church there is a common mission to see the lost be found, and each of us has been strategically placed where we are to have an impact. Even within the same industries we do different things.
As I mentioned I was there with pastors from 7 different churches (Bell Rd. Church, Desert Springs Bible, Desert City, City View, Roosevelt Community, and All Souls Church), all of whom have been called by God to different parts of the valley, to minister to different groups of people, doing so in different ways, but we are all united. I loved praying with them, fellowshipping with them, processing life and ministry with them, and seeing if there are ways that we can change our city together. I believe that we will. I also believe that each of us will change it in unique ways. Sharing a common mission to see people come to know Jesus, but going about it in uncommon ways.