The work of Homeboy Industries, as described in this book, is both beautiful and heartbreaking. I was asked to read this book to discuss with members of the mercy ministry at my church, so my takeaways were different from what they might have been if I’d picked it up unsolicited. The stories are incredibly personal, and the author’s personality is prominent in a way that seems difficult to replicate.
But one story in particular sticks with me, perhaps because the lesson is broadly applicable: at one stage in this work, the church that supports this ministry began opening their building to homeless people, who would sleep in the sanctuary at night. Eventually, the building began to stink, and members of the church began to complain. They held a church meeting to discuss these complaints. (paraphrase follows):
Smells like feet!
Why does it smell like feet?
Cuz homeless men slept here last night.
Well, why do we let that happen here?
It’s what we’ve committed to do.
Why would anyone commit to do that?
It’s what Jesus would do.
Well then…what’s the church smell like now?
It smells like commitment!
“The stink in the church hadn’t changed, only how the folks saw it.”
Confession: until I picked this book back up to find that story, it wasn’t on my “recommend” list. The language is simple, the author’s voice is bold and occasionally off-putting, it’s filled with platitudes and cheesy quotes – I tried to convince myself that it’s not well-written, not worth the time. But this story reminds me that the book IS important, that it speaks to a community and a work that is valuable, and just because they speak in a language that doesn’t impress me does NOT mean that their hearts, their commitments, and their work aren’t admirable.
The real reason why I wish I could write off this book is that it is DIFFICULT to read story after story of teenagers and young men, who are loved by God and known by this author, only to have the chapter end with death by gang violence. It was emotionally exhausting to read this book, and to wonder, each time I meet a new “homie,” whether he’d live to the end of the page. I can’t even fathom how difficult it is to live and work with them. But this is the type of work our world needs – we need people with privilege and with influence to step into places of danger and hopelessness in order to bring some safety and hope to those who need it.