I can still vividly recall the first time I watched not one, but two of the young men from our youth group ride off on a motorbike. I was not ready for it then and I am not ready for it now. It depends how well you know me as to whether one might want to call me a hypocrite right now, because many people know that I am partial to a motorbike and have often jumped at opportunities to ride them.
However, context is everything. I have come to understand what a motorbike here can represent, what it can imply.
So, when a young man, known to us as having gang related dealings, came to our centre to collect two of our youth, alarm bells began to chime.
Let’s just say there is no way he has a job that pays well enough to buy a bike, and one of the ways he might have come to have it is through gang related favours or tasks.
I stood in the doorway of our centre as one of our boys got in the driver’s seat and the other took his place on the back, as the third person on the bike. Before I had time to decide whether to say anything or not, they were revving up and off they went.
Mother instinct kicked in and I called down the street, ‘be careful, be safe.’
I am not their mother, and I cannot tell them what they can and cannot do. I realised in that moment I had no control, no real authority, no right. All I had was love and care. All I could do was offer words which reflected the love in my heart. These boys are growing, and they will make many decisions some good, some not so great, and I will be powerless to stop or protect them.
But I can love them and show them I care. I can hope and pray that they learn and grow and that they make more good choices than bad. We, as a team, can walk alongside them to guide them in their lives as they try and navigate their way through their teens and into adulthood in one of the most complex and challenging environments I have ever come across.
Life in ‘la terminal’ isn’t easy for anyone. All demographics face challenges, some more obviously than others. Of course, we all want to help the children; innocent and vulnerable, the women; taken advantage of, desperate and turning to things like prostitution. But what about the men? They are harder to want to help, because unfortunately in this context they are often, not always, the root of the problems.
They run the gangs, they create the demand for prostitutes, they are the abusive parties. The men are the ones holding the power and making the rules in this macho society and when you add in poverty and depravity, the results are heartbreakingly destructive. So of course we often don’t want to help them. They get forgotten, neglected, blamed.
However, there is something far more complex to consider. The cycle of poverty and immorality runs deep, generations upon generations deep. It takes generations of misguided mindsets and abusive behaviours to create the lifestyle so prevalent in ‘la terminal.’ Perhaps instead of viewing men as part of the problem, we should be viewing them as part of the solution. And where better to begin than with the young men, the present young generations and the future leaders.
Many people look at the youth we work with here and see ‘naughty’ boys, young men causing problems and getting involved in bad things, and that might be partly true, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be different.
There is so much potential for change, it only takes one person to transform a generation. Old behaviours can be broken, attitudes changed.
Value can be given, purpose found.
I don’t see young men with problems I see young men with potential.
With Christ all things are possible, generations can be redeemed, and a generation can be transformed.