Westmont Magazine A Vision of Hope
An excerpt from a Chapel address by Father Greg Boyle
The prophet Habakkuk writes, “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint. And if it delays, wait for it.”
When you hire one kid in my office from one gang, rest assured you’re gonna get a phone call from about eight other guys from the same gang who want a job as well. I got a phone call once from a kid named Chico. He says, “Kick me down with a jale,” which roughly translates “Do you think you could locate gainful employment for me?”
So the next day I find a homeless resource center downtown that has a whole bank of new computers. I said: “Here’s the deal. I’m sending you a kid. I want him to work for you Monday through Friday, from 1:00 to 5:00. He’ll go to school in the morning. Every Friday, I will pay him a salary, and you teach him everything you know about computers. We’ll call it a job.”
They said, “Fine.”
So I call Chico and I say: “You start on Monday. You’ll have two bosses. One of them you’ll meet on Monday. The other one you’re talking to right now. So if I find out you’re hanging, banging, or slanging, I’m gonna fire you.” “Hanging” is hanging with the homies. “Slanging” is selling crack, which is what most of them do. And “banging” is gangbanging activity, which is anything from writing on the walls, at the low end, to shooting people, at the high end, and anything in between.
He says, “I won’t let you down.”
Well, the week goes by, and by Thursday I start thinking, “How come Chico hasn’t called me to say, ‘I went to the job’?”
Just as I’m thinking the worst, the fax machine starts to hum. Out comes chugging this hand-written faxed message from our pal, Chico, at his new job:
“Dear G. I am learning how to use the fax machine. Love, Chico. P.S. I really love this job. Thanks for getting it for me.”
Two months later I walk into my office, and the first phone call I receive is from Chico’s mother, Rosa, to tell me that the night before, Chico had been standing not far from his front porch. And a car slowly pulled down the street, and mad-dogging glances were exchanged. Then words were volleyed back and forth.
And finally, bullets flew from within the car. And one of them lodged very high up on the back of Chico’s neck. He was in intensive care at General Hospital in Los Angeles.
I can still see him, to this day, sitting on his front porch waiting for me to arrive every Friday afternoon. We’d talk and talk, and he’d always ask me questions about God. “What does God think about this?” And “Is God mad at us?” “Does God listen to us?”
And far more valuable than the measly paycheck I would hand him was the time I spent with him. I regret, even to this day, that it wasn’t more time.
Chico died a week later. As I blessed the cross on the coffin and handed it to his mother, I realized that this was the eighth kid I had buried in a three-week period. Yesterday, I buried my sixty-seventh kid. On Tuesday, I will bury my sixty-eighth.
Gangs are about despair. Too many kids in my community plan their funerals, and not their futures. They cannot imagine and conjure up an image of what tomorrow will look like, and consequently their present isn’t compelling enough to hold them there. And consequently, they sometimes don’t care whether they inflict harm and they sometimes don’t care whether they duck to get out of harm’s way.
Thomas Merton writes, “We must become the fire of a wild, white sun, eating up the distance between hope and despair.” That is our task. Not just those who happen to be privileged enough to work in the inner city, and to do ministry there, working with gang members. Everybody must do this.
For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint, and if it delays, then wait for it—choosing to become that fire that eats up the distance between hope and despair.