Danny Garza remembers the day vividly.
The youth pastor at Templo Calvario, Garza recalls the day where several gang members came into the youth service.
Had they stayed and listened, the story may have had a happy ending.
But instead, they grabbed one of the guys from the youth service and, according to Garza, “took him to the restroom and beat him.”
“Thank God we got there in time and we were able to help him,” Garza said. “It’s all over the place. Even in the church.”
The gang presence is just one of many subcultures that makes the upcoming Festival de Esperanza on June 25-26 that much more critical. For the first time, Franklin Graham will proclaim the gospel specifically to the Hispanic community on United States soil.
Over 1,000 Gangs
In Arturo Fierros’ mind, it wasn’t that long ago.
OK, maybe it’s been a few decades, but when he was growing up in Los Angeles, sure there was a gang problem. But not anything like today.
“In my days, there was only like about 40, 50 gangs in Los Angeles,” said Fierros, who grew up in the 1970s. “But now they’re saying there’s like a little over a thousand, maybe more.”
The most recent number is 1,108 gangs and counting, a staggering number even for a city with the scope of L.A.
“The gang life is not what it used to be,” Fierros said. “It’s an entirely different thing. An entirely different world.”
And an entirely different kind of Festival.
“It’s a very important crusade that’s being brought here,” Fierros said. “Because there’s a lot of Latinos who do not have the slightest idea that Jesus is the answer.”
The Missing Father
Pinpointing the root cause of the growing gang presence is about as easy as making out what some of the graffiti-riddled walls are saying.
But one factor that can not be overestimated is the lack of a true role model.
Specifically, where are all the dads?
“There’s no role models for ’em and they get into using drugs because they wanna be accepted,” said Ryan Ries, member of a youth movement to spread the Gospel called The Whosoevers. “That why there’s so many gangs in L.A. because there’s so many fatherless kids running around L.A.”
According to Ries, who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, gang leaders recruit young kids, encouraging them to drop out of school and get involved in drugs, alcohol and violence.
And whether it’s one or two parents in the household, youth often succumb to the need of feeling accepted.
“These parents are totally bummed out,” Ries said. “They’re crying. They’re weeping and they don’t know what to do.”
‘Save Them From The Fire’
As complicated and serious as the gang epidemic is in L.A., there is an answer and it comes in the saving grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
“It’s like that verse in Jude [1:23],” Reis said. “It says you gotta snatch them by pulling them out of the pit, you know, save them from the fire.
“That’s where my heart’s at is to literally go there right where those kids are and snatch ’em out and give them the Gospel.
Reis, the son of Calvary Chapel pastor Raul Reis, grew up as a skateboarder, eventually was heavily involved in a variety of drugs and alcohol, before God rescued him.
“God saved me and pulled me out of that,” Reis said. “He changed my heart and my mind from reading the Word and now my heart is to go back to those kids right where they’re at because they’re empty.”
Watch the Billy Graham Television Special and see how BGEA is “Sowing the Seeds of the Gospel” from Japann to Los Angeles, Haiti to Liberia. Or click on billygraham.tv to watch online.