Today a colleague related an incident that is common in urban ministry. One of the youth in her ministry painted gang-related graffiti on several areas of the ministry’s campus. The staff was at once hurt, offended and angry.
These acts of “tagging” feel like a betrayal to those of us who pour our lives into troubled youth. On the one hand, it represents the cultural differences between those who offer help and those who are in need. On the other, it is indicative of the high recidivism rate of the people whose lives have been damaged by sin.
The issue must be addressed, the question is how?
One option is to call the police. The problem is that these particular youth are part of a juvenile offenders program. They have had the police called on them before. Justice might be served but it is not a redemptive act.
Another option is to inform the parents. This can cause shame and embarrassment for the parents and the youth. Again, it is not redemptive.
A third option is to relay to the youth how hurtful the action was, appealing to their sense of decency. This addresses the problem directly, which is a definite plus, but it sets up an "us against them" attitude.
In confronting the youth, it is important to make them understand that the ministry’s buildings belong to them. Ask them how the situation ought to be rectified. By taking ownership, the youth can become part of the solution.
Ideally a team of youth and adult volunteers will remove the graffiti together without assigning blame. This is both redemptive and restorative, turning a bad situation into an opportunity for grace.