In the blockbuster film The Chronicles of Riddick, Richard B. Riddick (played by Vin Diesel), says this on prayer, “Prayer is for those who think they can change the world on their knees.” Though intended to mock, Riddick’s statement couldn’t be more accurate.
From 1977 to 1998, Cali, a city in southern Colombia, was home to the Cali Cartel a criminal gang described by the Drug Enforcement Administration chief, Thomas Constantine, as “The biggest, most powerful crime syndicate we’ve ever known.”
The Cali Cartel ruled the streets of Colombia with cocaine, intimidation and the barrel of the gun, until the concerted prayers of Christian leaders and churches led to the demise of this notorious gang. Under a bout of city-wide prayers, the law enforcement agencies in Colombia and USA, successfully investigated and arrested the Cali drug dons – who had evaded the law for decades.
This remarkable breakthrough in history has been recorded in the Transformation series of videos. Prayer works.
In the past week I marvelled at the Lord’s grace and absolute power. I spent the morning with a group of young men in Bellville South, Cape Town. I was interviewing them for the Family Policy Institute television show, Watchmen on the Wall.
These men I spent the morning with were riddled with bullet marks, knife scars and tattoos. They had tattoo markings on their shoulders signifying their ranking in the gang world and they bore the brands of their gangs and their prison numbers.
Once youths are initiated into gangs they receive tattoos on their faces and bodies, which defile their innocence and their childhood. The tattoos record the wearer’s personal history—his skills, specialties, affiliation, accomplishments and convictions. The tattoos are also used by the gang members to express themselves; and to make an impression or to intimidate.
Lured into ganga
Innocent boys are lured into the gangs by older men who are senior gang members and sometimes by other boys in the schools whom the learners look up to.
At-risk youth often desire power, respect, money and protection. These factors are very influential in the luring process and largely contribute to the reasons why youths join gangs.
Joining a gang is the only way to obtain status and success. Some youth feel ostracized from the community, while experiencing peer pressure to fit in. Upon joining a gang, they instantly gain a feeling of belonging and identity as they are surrounded by individuals whom they can relate to.
Once a boy is initiated into a gang he is coerced to perform merciless acts of violence and to engage in criminal activity to prove his allegiance. Gang members are typically jumped in or have to prove their loyalty by committing crimes such as theft, rape or murder.
Boys in Gugulethu, Crossroads, Khayelitsha and other townships around the Cape often have no choice, but to join a gang. Gangs are defined by the street address or an area within the townships. A boy who lives in that area is automatically associated with that particular gang and becomes a consequential enemy to the opposing gang members.
Township gang violence
Gang violence in the townships has claimed many lives since the emergence of gangs such as the Ntsaras and Adalis in the 1980s and the current American-music- video-styled gangs. In Los Angeles, 58 percent of murders in 2006 were gang-related. On the Cape Flats, 164 gang members were killed in the past 6 months.
Gangs on the Cape Flats and Cape Town’s townships have ravaged the community and disrupted schools. At the beginning of 2012 schools in Khayelitsha and Makhaza came to a standstill as gangs terrorised learners and educators.
Lavender Hill, on the Cape Flats, is one of the areas affected the most by gang wars. This is where Kurt, one of the ex-gangsters I interviewed, hails from. Kurt, talked openly about his decorated past in the gangs, and about his newfound love for the Lord. I also spoke to Joburg, who received this nickname because he came from Eldorado Park in Gauteng.
Testimony of grace, might of Lord
Kurt and Joburg, are a living testimony of the grace and sheer might of our Lord. These two told me that they were from opposing gangs and that previously they would have killed each other, just at the mere sight of the other. Now they live together in the Samaritan House, a halfway house set up by Ivan Waldeck, a born-again pastor and former gang leader. Today, Joburg cooks for the other ex-gang members and his former enemies.
This testimony playing out at the Samaritan House is a contemporary rendering of the revelation that the Apostle Paul received when he recorded Ephesians 2: 13-14, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.”
*To view the Watchmen on the Wall programme on gangsterism in schools, tune-in to TBN, on DStv channel 341, on Tuesday November 6 at 7pm.