Breaking the Cycle

Sunday, October 4, 2015 @ 08:10 AM

Dave with neighborhood baby

Earlier this year I took a full-time job as a drug counselor at a Texas state prison near Houston.  I was somewhat discouraged to take time away from the ministry at Hope Houses Houston to work at the prison. Little did I realize that God had a plan in all of this.

For years we have worked with single-parent families in our neighborhood. Almost without exception, the husbands and fathers in these families are in prison, or have prison records. Many are repeat offenders who return home only to be incarcerated later.

How does this impact the children in these families? Generally speaking, they become emotionally numbed or hardened at a very young age. You can see this in the way they avoid eye contact when you talk to them, and how make light of events that would crush other kids.  Over time, these young ones begin to open up and express their feelings to us.  Teen girls share their pain and the need for a father figure in their lives. One night during a Bible class, a 9-year old boy crawled under the table and began crying uncontrollably When we finally got him calmed down, he shared that he was told by his mother that he will not see his father for years because “daddy is in prison.”

The mothers have little education or technical training, and are forced to be the sole providers of financial and parental support. Needless to say, these women feel overwhelmed. They are often preyed upon by loan sharks and disingenuous suiters. They are faced with precious few viable options. Over time, some mothers take out their frustration on their children. The 9-year old mentioned above was recently caught with a stolen smart phone. When I went to his home to speak to his mother, she immediately struck the boy and called him every curse word and racial slur imaginable. Now ten years old, the boy had no more than a hint of a tear in one eye after his mother’s tirade. His young heart was becoming hardened.  Without miraculous intervention, this boy will be behind bars himself in 10 more years. He will be hard-hearted like the prisoners I work with.

Working with the men in prison has helped me see the completion of the cycle.  The prisoners were, just a few years ago, the boys in our neighborhood.  And the children in our neighborhood, without intervention, will be the prisoners or the parents left at home with their children, who will become the next generation of prisoners and single parents left at home with the children…..and on and on the cycle goes.

How can the cycle be broken? The Gospel is God’s way to redeem individuals, families, neighborhoods, and cultures. The Apostle Paul tells us that, in the first century, the Gospel was “constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:6)

The early church was full of redeemed thieves, prostitutes, orphans, and slaves.  The world was “turned upside down” by such people (Acts 17:6).  Jesus was criticized by religious leaders for spending more time with “sinners” than with the religious people (Mark 2:15-17). His half-brother, the Apostle James, tells us that God chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him” (James 2:5).

One would conclude, based on these the teachings and actions of Jesus and the early church, that the Church of Houston would be investing a large part of her resources in the inner city.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.  The prison I work in has 1 or 2 evangelical services a month.  Many of the men are hungry for a mentor to work with them. The part-time chaplain is unable to meet with all of the prisoners who want spiritual guidance. Urban kids are eager to join Scouting programs, but we don’t have the adults to lead them.  They desperately need after-school programs, but there are few adults willing to invest the time to drive down to the inner city and render those services. Men and women early in recovery need a safe place to live and get back on their feet, but the Church of Houston shows little interest in providing sustained, long-term support for such efforts.

Long ago I was told that the Suburban Church of Houston wants to serve the urban world, but doesn’t know how to do it. I believed that for a long time. Now, I am not so sure.

Where are you, Church? The children need you. The prisoners need you. The “target market” that Jesus, James, and the early church were so eager to serve needs you.




One Response to “Breaking the Cycle”

  1. Paul says:

    If anyone is reading this message from Dave and doubts the accuracy let me add another voice.

    The poverty in the area is staggering. It’s very much ‘third world’ in our world. Large trash piles strewn about, dilapidated abandoned buildings, broken families, and broken people.

    God has given a wonderful opportunity to be used by Him. If you haven’t seen much growth on the soil of the souls around you, why not come cast some seed here?

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