April 27, 2011

12 CN: Adventist Ministers to Gang Community

Adventist Ministers to Gang Community
Former drug addict now calls himself “advocate.”


A Seventh-day Adventist lay member in Bermuda wants the island nation’s churches to shut their doors. For a month.

“The Bible says ‘Go ye therefore to the world,’ not ‘Go ye therefore to church,’” said Scott Smith, who is gaining recognition in Bermuda for advocating unconventional ministry to gang members and victims of gang violence alike.

The 44-year-old native Bermudan isn’t against corporate worship; he’s a member of the Pembroke Seventh-day Adventist Church. But he says many people won’t set foot in a church—not even one like Pembroke, situated in a neighborhood notorious for gang violence.

To connect with their neighbors, Christians should visit them, Smith says—a simple, obvious solution, but one he’s observed is more likely to generate talk than action.


INTO the COMMUNITY: Adventist lay member Scott Smith stands alongside Rambling Lane in Pembroke, Bermuda, the site of recent gang violence. For a year Smith has visited families grieving after gang shootings and provided support for at-risk young people. [PHOTO: The Royal Gazzette, Bermuda]

If churches in Bermuda closed their doors for a month, members and leaders could channel energy, time, and resources into a concerted effort to change the atmosphere on Bermuda’s streets, Smith says.

Parts of the Atlantic Ocean island nation have experienced escalating gang violence in recent years, leaving many Bermudans bracing themselves for the next shooting, Smith says.

In late March Smith met and ?prayed with a mother whose 16-year-old son had been shot in the family’s front yard in what she described as ?an act of gang retribution. Among the lucky ones, her son is recovering in ?an area hospital, Smith says.

For a year now Smith says he has ?visited the family of every victim of gang violence. “I hear about a shooting, I go,” he says. “I know not everyone will accept Christ, but if I can share His love, that’s something. You can’t show people the second coming of Christ until you show them the love of Christ.”

Smith, who introduces himself as “an advocate for a better Bermuda,” often asks, “Where did we go wrong?” It’s a question he’s used countless times as a conversation wedge with gang members, families mourning a loss to gang violence, and government officials. It generates a sense of shared responsibility, he says.

Admitting that church members can and have made mistakes is key to getting community members to open up, Smith says. And when they do, be ready to listen, he says. “You’ll develop relationships; you’ll build trust.”

Smith’s background is one many he ministers to can identify with. As a troubled teenager, he was introduced to the Adventist faith, but for a time maintained parallel lives: one, as a drug addict flirting with gang affiliation; another, as a young man fascinated by the Daniel and Revelation seminars held in his neighborhood.

Smith says his past on the streets lends him credibility, but his lack of academic credentials makes entering and financing full-time ministry difficult. While he studied briefly at church-run Oakwood University in Alabama, United States, Smith dropped out when his father’s painting business floundered and finances evaporated.

His efforts to enlist the support of local churches in his ministry earned him a March 30, 2011, front-page feature in Bermuda’s national newspaper, The Royal Gazette. Smith says that by the next day he’d gotten 50 calls, most from concerned parents in the community.

“They’ll say, ‘Scott, can you help me? I have a son who’s involved in a gang. Can you go talk to him?’ ” Smith says.

He’s happy to provide spiritual support and, when he can, advocacy, Smith says. He has vouched for numerous former gang members seeking employment, matching several with area employers.

Talking is free, but Smith hopes local churches will contribute resources toward his ministry to help provide the tangible needs—such as food, clothing, shelter, and education—that community members face.

Smith’s pastor, Stefan Burton-Schnüll, applauds his passion, but says closing Pembroke Adventist Church’s doors for a month may not be the answer. Many church members are ill-equipped to work with gang members, and a month’s show of support may be just that—a short-lived gesture rather than a sustained effort. Schnüll said he would prefer devoting an entire Sabbath every other month to ministry in gang-affected communities.

Smith says he would welcome the opportunity to speak at area Adventist churches. He has previously accepted invitations to share his ministry in several area schools and businesses, as well as Bermuda’s senate chamber.

He now serves on a committee ?brainstorming ideas for community improvement.