Amy Williams, a half-black, half-Irish youth ministry leader born in Maine, was living in North Carolina when she decided to pack her bags and find a new home in Chicago’s Puerto Rican-dominated Humboldt Park, the neighborhood otherwise known as the motherland, or birthplace of the notorious Latin Kings street gang.
But Williams, a certified gang intervention specialist who founded the platform A Hope Dealer for her ministry work, said the decision to move was not so much hers as it was God’s.
The transition to a new home came after what Williams said was God speaking to her frustrations about a burden she felt to reach young people in the streets. At the time, she was a youth pastor at her church in North Carolina and was mentoring kids, but that just wasn’t enough.
“I was a youth pastor for years and wanted to be out on the street,” Williams told The Christian Post during the Urban Youth Works Institute’s RELOAD event on Sept. 12. “I was still loving and mentoring those kinds of young people but I wasn’t…full-time pursuing it. But I wanted to.”
“I thought I had the backing of the church to do it. I had the backing of the pastor, but I just couldn’t get anybody to join me. So I became extremely frustrated because I wanted a youth ministry that would hit the streets with me. A youth ministry that cared more about that kind of stuff,” she added. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. So when I finally said, ‘OK, God, what would you have me to do?’ That’s when He was like, ‘I need you to move into a gang neighborhood.’ And from there it was just full-on, 24/7.”
Before she knew it, “I’m in the middle of a gang war trying to help kids — how did that happen? From Young Life to gang life,” she mused. But Williams “loves it,” and does not think it a coincidence that her calling also hits close to home.
“I also have a younger brother, when I was in college, out of college, who was a Crip out in Los Angeles. Best friend in the entire world,” Williams told CP. “So I think that when I look at young people, I’m always like, ‘That’s like my baby brother…’ I just think it’s full circle, you know as well to say, ‘Well, I felt like I couldn’t save my baby brother and I couldn’t be of any worth or value to him. Maybe I can to the young people God brings into my life. And I love it. I love it.”
Williams’ love, or at least her excitement and passion for her ministry, is obvious in conversations and during presentations when she’s teaching others best practices for working with youth who are affiliated with gang culture or who could not care less about Jesus.
During her presentation at the Urban Youth Workers Institute’s RELOAD gathering in Brooklyn, Williams laid out her description of “outreach,” which she defined as a “privileged opportunity to introduce Jesus Christ, intentionally demonstrate His love and passionately share the news of hope to young people who have not heard this Good News.” Outreach is a continual process that demands passion and consistency, she added. “Outreach isn’t an event. It’s a lifestyle.”
William also challenged her listeners when she touched on the “domesticated” or more celebratory aspects of Jesus with which some Christians identify.
“We as people of color and people that work in under-resourced communities, we can relate and understand more to the Jesus of suffering than we can the Jesus of celebration,” said Williams.
She added, “We can relate to the Jesus that is with us in our pain, with us in our darkness, with us in our struggle…not always the Jesus that’s…on a [fluffy] cloud.”
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SOURCE: The Christian Post