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Turning the tide on youth-related violence

How can the church help victims and perpetrators of youth-related violence? asks Abi Jarvis

On Saturday I was part of a crowd at Trafalgar Square, London, that had come out to show locals and tourists from around the world that the church stands against knife crime.

That evening I went to the cinema and a request that some people stop talking during the film resulted in a young woman threatening to kill my friend. 

Yesterday I read that 13 prison officers at Feltham Young Offenders Institution had been taken to hospital after being assaulted by teenage prisoners over the weekend, likely in gang-related violence. 

It seems to me that vulnerable young people in this country, particularly in our cities, have become accustomed to violence as a normal part of life. It makes me realise what a privileged childhood I had. I can’t imagine living as some of the teenagers at my church in east London do, knowing that people have been stabbed just down the road. 

What has struck me this week is that most of these young people never intended to live violent lives. At the Standing Together Rally on Saturday I heard grieving family members angry at those who murdered their loved ones, but also speaking of the need to tell and show young people that they are not abandoned – that their communities love them, and that God loves them. 

In The Beautiful Gate, author Bob Ekblad describes the impact of stories such as Jesus’ friendship with tax collectors Levi (Luke 5:27 – 39) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19), and His healing of the bleeding woman (Luke 8:40 – 48). These were people on the margins of society –people who felt rejected like, perhaps, today’s incarcerated gang members and illegal immigrants. He describes the beautiful gate’ as: 

An impassable barrier separating the excluded from restoration, which suddenly becomes a doorway into a transformed life through divine engagement. These gates are more specifically encounters at the margins when God’s intervention mediated through Jesus’ followers moves someone rejected across a barrier into acceptance, healing and empowerment. The prospect of transformation for someone barred opens a doorway of hope that includes anyone, anywhere, anytime.” 

Who do you know who may feel like there is an impassable barrier between them and Jesus? We need to consider the opportunities we all have to encounter people at the margins. We need to champion, volunteer for and pray for the churches and charities and public bodies combatting these issues. We need to give encouragement to our young people and help them to know that they are loved. We must give them opportunities for growth and leadership, and a sense of ambition and purpose for their lives. And we should support the parents, teachers, police officers, youth workers, social workers, and all those who engage with young people on a day-to-day basis. 

We also need to continue to pray for God’s divine intervention in our communities; whether it’s knife crime, drug abuse, loneliness, or a lack of financial investment, all our communities have challenges. When not just young adults but children are routinely taking part in violent action, we need to trust our all-powerful God to bring miraculous healing and restoration to their lives. For, as the psalmist of Psalm 77 remembered in the midst of distress: Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” 

And, of course, we must stand alongside those who are grieving. While we can not comprehend their pain, we can demonstrate God’s love to them through our ongoing practical action, emotional support and prayers. 

About the author

Abi Jarvis is the public leadership coordinator at the Evangelical Alliance, seeking to equip Christians with the skills and confidence to be leaders in the places where God has called them. She has a BA in Ancient History and a MSc in Political Communication. Abi loves going to the theatre, watches too many American TV dramas and somehow became responsible for daily office exercises despite her hatred of all things sporty. Much to her dismay, she ticks the box for pretty much every stereotypical feature of a PK - a pastor's kid.

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