Four days after our tour of Homeboy Industries and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the testimonies we received from Marcos and Omar. I can’t begin to recount them here because I could never do them justice, but I can say that I was very touched by the way both of them spoke to us, with gentle countenance despite their harsh realities and deep scars, in real and humble ways and ultimately conveying a message of hope and healing.
One thing that they both shared in their testimonies that completely blew me away was Marcos and Omar’s stories about the founder of Homeboy Industries, a Jesuit who goes by Father Greg. Marcos explained to us that, years before, Father Greg had sought out gang members in the community asking what it would take in order for them to escape their deprecating lifestyles. What he heard from a solid majority of people he talked to was that they were in need of stable jobs in order to become independent and sustain healthier lifestyles. Since gang members usually have to get tattoos all across their bodies, getting a job is difficult for them; employers tend to think they’re intimidating and not fit for the workplace. If I were Father Greg, I would have been extremely discouraged about the whole situation—faced with an entire community of reluctant employers, I would’ve been so lost as to where to start, and I also undoubtedly would’ve considered giving up, feeling small and powerless in the face of everything.
Though I’m sure Father Greg experienced the kind of doubt I would’ve experienced, he thankfully had the strength of character to press on despite it and animate his vision. Father Greg determinedly resolved to get gang members jobs. Since no local employers would take gang members in, Father Greg created small businesses for them and eventually started Homeboy in order to rehabilitate many of them from their addictions and lead them out of their personal struggles, through love, by classes and counseling and training. Marcos and Omar told us that he would make rival gang members work together to force them to develop relationships with each other. I think that takes some serious character; I definitely wouldn’t want any kind of backlash from anyone who has anything to do with gangs. But they’re just people, and Father Greg knew to see them that way. Clearly, he wasn’t very concerned about repercussions for him, and would’ve given anything of himself in order to bring truth and goodness to these strangers’ lives—an awesome illustration of God’s real love in practice.
But before beginning all that, he clearly established what he was all about by relentlessly and courageously pursuing broken individuals in little but powerful ways. Marcos and Omar both mentioned in their stories that Father Greg would invite them out to lunch individually and often, apparently an attempt to get them away from their gang lifestyles as much as possible, according to Marcos. I can only imagine what kind of ridiculous psychological warfare he must’ve experienced as a result, how many sleepless nights he must’ve experienced after the first encounter—wondering how God could possibly reach others through him, a mere man; whether he was actually capable and equipped to complete the work set before him; whether love can actually save someone who is so deeply rooted in a broken lifestyle. Fearing failure. Experiencing rejection. Especially rejection of the deepest part of your being: your spiritual convictions, because they were likely not common among the people he worked with—in fact, he was probably scorned at first. That’s an insane undertaking, and an insane vision to try to pursue with undying faith. It must’ve sucked so much.
With that being said, I can totally imagine Father Greg being completely filled with joy despite everything, knowing that he was doing the work Jesus died for. And what’s more fulfilling than being able to watch as someone’s life is completely turned around as a result of an experience of true love? Father Greg is awesome and thinking about what he was able to accomplish through his sacrifices makes me really happy and excited for my future adventures.
Life with God is rad.
THE END WOO HOO
P.S. the other night when we were staying overnight on the roof of the Union Mission in Skid Row, a guy from some Christian student group came over and told us the last time his group was there, they got their faces eaten by the cu cu ra cha (cockroaches) and Moser assaulted (SALTED) him so bad about it later behind his back because cockroaches apparently don’t actually bite.