A Christian Chaplain Learns About Jesus from Gang Bangers

On the left, Chris. Grew up in Southern California, worship leader in his church. On the right, Neaners. Joined a gang at age 10, spent most of his life in prison. Can you believe they’re best friends? (CBN News)
On the left, Chris. Grew up in Southern California, worship leader in his church. On the right, Neaners. Joined a gang at age 10, spent most of his life in prison. Can you believe they’re best friends? (CBN News)

Gang violence is increasing in the United States as activity spreads from inner cities to rural communities. While that may sound alarming, some in Washington state see it as an opportunity.

Chris Hoke
“I love going to the jail. Like that’s where I really feel God’s pleasure,” Hoke explained.

“They were on to what Jesus was doing very quickly. And I just liked them; they were just like my best theological conversation partners,” he continued. “They’d never provide churchy, dumb answers, and their language is full of profanity, but very honest.”

Hoke has served as a jail chaplain for 10 years. He found an authenticity in the jails that eluded him in church.

Gang Banging In the Valley
“I was soaked in biblical language growing up,” Hoke confessed. “I was a worship leader, but I wanted to find Jesus and touch Jesus, not just sing songs about it.”

And Hoke found what he was looking for with some of the most hardened criminals: gang members.

Looking at the beautiful Skagit Valley with its rolling hills and miles of farmland, it’s hard to imagine gang activity plagues the community.

“Gangs can happen in any community, anywhere,” Lt. Chris Cammock, with the Mount Vernon Police Department, told CBN News.

“In the early 90s, we saw our types of crimes changing. We saw them straying away from, say, property crimes to more violent crimes, like assaults, drive-by shootings, and things like that,” he said.

Cammock points out that Skagit County is on the I-5 corridor, running from Mexico to Canada.

“Some individuals are trying to leave the gang lifestyle, so they come here; some are branching out to do their criminal activities in areas that they’re not known for,” he explained.

Peer Pressure and Racism
Migrant workers who come here for seasonal work often stay. Their children can have a hard time fitting in.

“There was a lot of racism going on,” Jose Garcia, known as “Neaners,” recalled. “Like, kids used to make fun of me.”

“And so I think that’s kind of pushed me to, like, ‘Yo, I don’t want to mess with these guys; these are not the people that I want to be around,’ and I started hanging around with other crowds,” he said.

Neaners, a charming man in his early 30s, has gang tattoos covering his face and neck. He says he was just 8 years old when he started hanging out with members of one of the most violent gangs on the West Coast.

They gave him the name “Neaners,” a slang word for “baby.” Neaners was swept up by the gang lifestyle. He committed dozens of crimes, spending 20 of the next 25 years behind bars.

“I didn’t have no feeling; I just didn’t care; I’d get back out and be right back to doing the same thing,” Neaners recalled. “And everyone would be just like, ‘Man, that boy’s heartless.'”

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SOURCE: CBN News
Dawn Goeb

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