No doubt you have given ear to a bit of the rhetoric being proclaimed throughout the Memphis community concerning the mission to reclaim our fair city from the clutches of crime. The highly publicized collaborative efforts of the District Attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Memphis Police Department’s “Operation Safe Community”, with its goal to make Memphis/Shelby County one of the safest communities of its size in the country by 2011 is to be commended. The crack down on governmental corruption is long overdue, but welcomed. And, by the way, it is an election year. So I guess this is a good time to discuss the issue of crime in Memphis.

One of the topics at the top of the discussion board is the topic of juvenile crime.

The Problem: Young people, especially African American children are flooding the halls, lobbies, and detention centers of juvenile court. In point of fact, Juvenile Court saw nearly 23,000 youth cases in 2005. Of that number 16,000 or 70% were recorded for delinquent or unruly offenses, and nearly 14,000 were African American.

Additionally, the number of violent crimes committed by young people in Memphis has increased significantly. Although, the most recently published national statistics indicate that the Violent Crime Index has fallen for the past 9 years, Shelby County juvenile crime statistics have done the opposite.

When the numbers listed above are combined with the fact that over 52,000 suspensions were imposed in Memphis City Schools during the 2004-2005 school year, and that only 1957 of the 22,857 cases process by Juvenile Court came from two parent homes, and that juvenile court had to legitimate (who’s my baby’s daddy?) over 5200 children last year, and that our city’s five-year average for high school dropouts is 22%, and that various national research reports suggest 80% of previously incarcerated juvenile offenders will re-offend, you begin to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem facing our city; and these are just our juvenile statistics!

Needless to say, the topics of discussion center on the “why”, “where”, what” and “how” questions, and the myriad of answers that follow:

  • Why is there so much juvenile crime?
  • Why are there so many African Americans being arrested and locked-up?
  • Why are there so many school dropouts?
  • Where are the parents in all of this?
  • Where is the Church?
  • What’s the deal with so many school suspensions?
  • What’s being done to address these alarming statistics?
  • How did things get so out of hand?
  • How are we going to stop the high crime rate in Memphis?
  • How are we going to rescue the youth trapped in these destructive cycles?
  • And what about Maryloo?

The Solution: First, allow me to acknowledge that these issues are not new to Memphis or any other large metropolitan area for that matter, but they are deadly serious and demand our utmost attention. Many philanthropic, entrepreneurial, and dedicated Memphians have put their hands and resources to the plow in a sincere effort to address crime in Memphis, as well as the many systemic issues perpetuating the problem: failing school system, poverty, fatherless homes, neglected neighborhoods, and the like. Although we may be quick to infer their efforts have failed, it would probably be wiser to consider what Memphis might look like without these noble efforts.

While looking for solutions to crime in Memphis, especially juvenile crime, I believe there are 3-3’s that must be considered for maximum impact:

  • Three approaches (suppression, prevention, and intervention)
  • Three institutions (home, church, & school)
  • Three factors (risk factors, protective factors, & the God factor)

Although time and space do not allow me to develop each of these points, I believe these 3-3’s are of strategic importance as our city seeks solutions, and that each component needs to be viewed as an integral part of the whole. Meaning, each one needs to value the role of the other. Each of the components listed above are of great importance in the effort to reclaim our city from the bondage of crime. However, I do not view each component as equal in the solution. I am unashamedly convinced that there is one true and ultimate solution to what ails us, and that is found in the person and work of Jesus.

The JIFF ministry, (a non-profit juvenile reentry and intervention program serving the Memphis community), is based upon the conviction that crime and violence are in essence a spiritual problem, and while there may be other “factors” at work in a young offender’s life that need to be addressed, and are being addressed, ultimately these young people need a Savior to transform their lives and homes from the inside out. That Savior is Jesus, the Christ. God has stated in His Word: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Herein lies the hope for all of Memphis.

Now, as you are aware, this is where the buck stops in collaborative community efforts. The exclusiveness of Christ and the assertion that Jesus is the answer does not sit well with those outside of the body of Christ. Believers that voice this position are considered narrow-minded, arrogant, and simplistic. Even though many of the community players claim to be “Christians”, and some have even told me, “you may be surprised at how closely our belief systems align”, the proof is in their actions (having a form of godliness…); better stated, the proof is in their model. A secular solution to a spiritual problem just won’t work! What will work is a model that is founded upon God and His Word - because God’s Word will not return unto Him void.

The Bible presents the story of a middle-aged man who, having been crippled from birth was carried each day and set down at the gate of the temple in order to beg from those who entered. One day, when the Apostle’s Peter and John were headed into the temple the cripple began asking them for money, to which Peter replied: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth walk.” Immediately, the man was healed and began walking and jumping around praising God. This story emphasizes the motivation for birthing the JIFF ministry rather than just embracing one of the secular “Blueprint” programs presented in the Public health or Juvenile Justice arenas.

The JIFF ministry has been developed under the conviction that intervention into mankind’s fallen condition will be little more than carrying cripples to the nearest gate or giving them a few monetary tokens to help ease their suffering, unless God is guiding and empowering the intervention. Theologian G. Campbell Morgan, in commenting on the aforementioned Biblical passage wrote:

“To give silver and gold to a cripple is a good thing indeed, if that is the best you can do for him. But it only maintains him in his disability. To give him strength to walk is to set him free from the need of alms. This is the difference between Christianity and all merely humanitarian efforts for the relief of the incapable.”

Although statements of this nature may seem arrogant, it should be quickly pointed out that Christians are not claiming to be the solution to the juvenile crime problem, but rather firmly believe that redemption through repentance and faith in Jesus is. God’s mission is the redemption of human beings; He is in the business of delivering mankind from both the root and fruit of sin, which is ultimately what is being recorded in juvenile court records.

A Russian novelist, addressing his country’s spiritual demise once wrote: “If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more bluntly that to repeat: ‘men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” This is where JIFF, our ministry partners, and the Church come in; spiritual solutions are God’s work through his people, they are not the responsibility of the Government. Real Human change takes place from the inside out through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Note the clarity with which Jesus describes his mission: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”

It is this mission of redemption through faith in Christ, and the belief that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved”, that drives the JIFF ministry team. JIFF is not just a social non-profit offering structure and therapy to young offenders and their families; it is a strategic evangelistic mission. Although our intervention efforts are highly structured and have therapeutic elements, we are first and foremost a redemptive ministry offering troubled urban families a brand new life in Jesus Christ.

However, as we labor, we must do so along side of the entire Memphis community. Jesus instructed his followers to be, “shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves”, to be “salt and light”, and “not to hide our light under a bushel”. As one author framed it, “there’s no impact without contact”. We as believers cannot remain silent in the Battle for Memphis Youth and remain isolated from the market place; we must boldly represent.

Winston Churchill once said, “When the eagles are silent the parrots begin to chatter”. Well, the parrots are making a great deal of noise. What we need right now is for the entire church in Memphis to rise-up and wisely speak the truth while putting their hands to the plow out in the field. This letter is a call to arms in the Battle for Memphis Youth; Rise up oh people of God!

Become informed, volunteer with one of the numerous Christian non-profits laboring in the city, redirect some of your resources, join the fight for the souls of men right here in your own city. If you cannot go yourself, then pray for the floodgate of God’s blessings to be opened and poured out upon urban ministries in Memphis as we take the unadulterated truth of God to the market place and drown out the parrots! As the old mission adage states: “Give, Pray, and Go” and if I may add, “vote”. Don’t give way to fear, paralysis, and apathy because of the rhetoric of the enemy as he seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Lift high the banner of Christ in your circle of influence and hold up the arms of others as they do the same. He is still Jehovah-nissi - The Lord our Banner! He is Worthy of our Best Efforts, Rick

Rick Carr- JIFF, Inc.
254 S. Lauderdale St., Memphis, Tn 38126
(901) 522-8502