Listening to Jerry

    Jerry Bush grew up in East Capitol Dwellings -- one of the toughest housing projects in Washington, D.C. By age seventeen, Jerry was pushing drugs, and it wasn't long before he was serving time. Jerry sounds like the kind of young man I see all the time -- the kind for whom the prison gate becomes a revolving door. But Jerry's story doesn't end that way. Thanks to a faith-based program, Jerry ended up outside the prison gates -- permanently. Soon after his release from prison, Jerry was sitting in his front yard when a stranger approached. It was Curtis Watkins of the East Capitol Center for Change. "Would you like to turn your life around?" he asked. Watkins invited Jerry to visit the center and see about getting a job. Although skeptical, Jerry showed up a few days later. Almost before he knew it, Jerry found himself promising to abstain from drugs and violence and to perform community service in exchange for a job. A year later, Jerry was studying to become an electrician and coaching a neighborhood football league. As he told Insight magazine, "These same kids used to see me doing bad stuff. Now they listen to me." If our public policymakers are smart, they'll listen to Jerry, also -- and to folks like Curtis Watkins, who run urban ministries. They're the real experts on the problems that plague the inner city -- and how to patch up broken lives. As my friend Joe Loconte writes in his book God, Government, and the Good Samaritan, "The problems of urban America are ravaging minority populations. Out-of-wedlock births, incarceration rates, illiteracy, unemployment -- all disproportionately affect Blacks and Hispanics. But policymakers have largely turned a blind eye . . . to the best place for help in turning things around: the Church." Many who lead minority churches agree. Last year, when Senate and House Republican leaders held a faith-based summit, more than four hundred religious leaders -- mostly African-American -- took part. And a study of 1,200 congregations revealed that nearly two-thirds of pastors from black churches were thinking of applying for government funds for social-service projects. These numbers ought to surprise no one. Surveys indicate that "African-Americans are among the most religious and socially conservative groups in America," Loconte writes. "They tend to support traditional marriage, oppose abortion, and endorse school choice. Many have built extensive social-service ministries saturated in religious instruction." Simply mailing government checks or blaming a bad environment doesn't work: Changing people from the inside out does. But accomplishing this isn't easy. Says Bob Woodson, founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprises, changing people like Jerry requires "people who are in their lives twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." It requires a willingness to make judgment calls about behavior and lifestyle choices -- and to address what Woodson calls the true causes of youth violence: moral, spiritual, and social emptiness. I hope you'll read Joe Loconte's book God, Government, and the Good Samaritan. You'll learn why we ought to be promoting faith-based efforts, because the real answer to our cities' needs lies in ministries that restore urban neighborhoods by reshaping human souls. For further information: Aimee Howd, "Youth Violence: How to Stop Kids from Killing Kids," Insight on the News, 24 April 2000. Joe Loconte, God, Government, and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and Peril of the President's Faith-Based Agenda (The Heritage Foundation, October 2001). Founded in 1981 by Robert L. Woodson, Sr., the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise provides effective community and faith-based organizations with training and technical assistance, links them to sources of support, and evaluates their experience for public policy. Charles Colson, "America's Way Is to Help Thy Neighbor," The Los Angeles Times. "Remarks by the President in Visit with East Capitol Center for Change," St. Luke's Church, Washington, D.C., 26 February 2002. "Prepared Testimony of Mr. Curtis Watkins," Director, East Capitol Center for Change, to the House Small Business Committee, Washington, D.C., 11 May 1999.


Chuck Colson



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