Young Death

Posted on September 28th, 2013

Just got back from the funeral service of a 'too young' man whose grandmother has worked in our community food pantry for years. It has been a beautiful, warm, September Saturday and a very busy one. We have a volunteer paint crew painting the front of our downtown thrift store and a group of young people doing community service projects with my wife and youth pastor in other parts of the city.

I have been back and forth between the groups, encouraging, helping and also dreading the fact that I have to break away to attend yet another memorial service of a young man shot to death before he really had a chance to live his life. He was one of three killed in a local club shoot out a few nights ago. I believe this is the second killing at this club since June of this year and they may lose their liquor license over it. That doesn't help the families who are burying their young this week, but perhaps it will keep it from happening there again.
We all know from experience that closing clubs or taking away licenses is not the answer to the escalating violence we have witnessed in our area. Young people are searching for their place in society (some do not even see a place for themselves) with whatever tools, or lack of same, they have at their disposal. When you see a life without hope for yourself, the future holds nothing for you and life becomes cheap and expendable. Watchman Nee, a Christian writer and martyr from the early 20th century said, “The answer to all your problems is more of Jesus.” You may view that as overly simplistic, but I believe at its core it is absolutely correct. But I need to leave that discussion for another time or this blog will turn into a book.
The funeral was at a small black Baptist church just outside of town and I wanted to show support to those who were grieving, especially to the grandmother who spends a good part of her life doing for others. I arrived on time and found that I had to go about a quarter mile away just to find parking. There were still about a hundred people outside in front of the church waiting to get in. One of the elders poked his head outside and announced to us, “We are profusely sorry but we have no more room for anybody to come in, so we are closing the doors and starting the service.” The crowd was obviously disappointed but everyone understood and acted accordingly.
What really struck me that day were the contrasts, yet familiarity I felt. The group of city kids we were mentoring and doing community projects with were only a few years younger than the ones who were killed. These kids in our Vertical Youth Impact program were painting in a renovated city park, picking up trash on abandoned city lots, laughing, eating pizza and just full of life. On the other hand these young people who were killed came from the same area with the same set of obstacles and hardships. The big difference may be that our kids are working with consistent mentors who love, challenge and encourage them. The Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization took a survey and found that kids who grow up in poverty or difficult family situations do remarkably better in life if they just receive mentoring for one hour, once a week for one year.
There are civic and pastor’s groups in our city meeting together to find ways to curb the violence and that is needed and we are behind it. But when the meetings are ended, the reporters are gone home and the janitor turns the lights out and locks the doors we need to know that we are doing something meaningful to change the situation. For us, even though it’s not an overnight solution and does not sound sexy for the news shows or tabloids, it is this; the steady, everyday mentoring programs that reach kids while they are young and teach them good character, purpose, integrity and that they have a future hope. That is what will win the day. This violence did not happen overnight and it is a many pronged problem, but we have to be diligent and work toward the long view.
Hope lighthouse Ministries has been in Muskegon Heights nearly 18 years. We have a mentoring program for kids from 8 to 17 years old which has just moved to Wednesday nights from 7 to 8:30 pm. This year (2013) we are working with Muskegon Heights public school alumni association and middle school teachers to open an after school tutoring program in October, at our building a half block from the school and will include crafts and games. This will be our Vertical Youth After School Program and will give kids a safe place to go after school Monday thru Friday.
There is no funding available for this program from the schools or the city so if you would like to sow into this project please make out checks to Hope Lighthouse and put in the memo, “after school program.” We also need volunteers who like to work with kids and are willing to have a back-ground check done by us. You can volunteer for as much or as little time as you like. Call 231-737-HOPE (4673)
Thank you,
Doug Malear
Hope Lighthouse Ministries
2731 Peck St.
Muskegon Heights, MI 49444

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