Wise, gentle, and tough as nails

Rev. Daughtry's reflections on his ministry to Tupac Shakur show us the patience and tolerance for ambiguity required in the task of ministering to those wrapped up in what some call the "thug life." These young adults have carved out a precarious foothold for themselves on the razor’s edge between destructive rebellion and positive revolution; many, while having legitimate intentions of becoming freedom fighters for the benefit of their communities, haven’t quite developed the ability to extricate themselves fully from the madness of the streets—not without the help of others anyway.

For Christians, the challenge of working with street youth is to require from them the highest level of personal behavior, while at the same time, leaving the door open to them—even when they fail to live up to what we expect and know is possible. This is truly a situation in which we must live up to Jesus’ call to be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16).

The modus operandi of those who minister to youth at risk must first of all be love and compassion. Grace is a rare commodity on the streets, yet it should always be a defining characteristic of Christian ministry. This doesn’t mean we should be pushovers. Street youth have learned from experience to be as tough as nails, and the same is required of those who work with them. Especially in the inner city, young people learn at an early age that it’s survival of the fittest on the streets, and they need those with more experience to set the standards of cooperation and human community.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1997
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