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Churches use edgy, ‘street-savvy’ evangelism to reach communities

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — Malcolm McIntosh was a living nightmare.
The leader of a violent gang known as Murder One Family, he spent his days recruiting children — many from broken homes, some as young as 8 years old — on the streets of Del City, Okla.
“When their moms sent them to the park, I was there receiving them,” McIntosh said. “I would give them lunch money. That was my bait.”

For McIntosh, 34, ganglife was a way of life for nearly 20 years. The lure of the streets remainsstrong. “I still feel the gang stuff in me,” he said. But today he warnschildren about the dangers of gangs and tells them about his new family — theNortheast Church of Christ.
“I was a Blood,” hesaid. “I tell them we still use that blood, but now we live for the blood ofChrist.”
McIntosh’s lifeinspired three of the church’s college students, Je’ Char Carey, Dwayne Caseand Christina Thompson, to write Overcome or Die Tryin’, thestory of a young man’s transformation. The play’s name and poster refer to the2005 film Get Rich or Die Tryin’ starring rapper 50 Cent.
A cast of more than30 church members presented the drama recently as part of Northeast’s annualBlack History Month presentation. Guns, drugs and a host of words not usuallyheard from the pulpit highlighted the performance.
“Our kids are livingthis stuff,” said Rosalind Crenshaw, who coordinated the event. She knew somechurch members would find the performance edgy, even offensive, but “we wantour message to be as bold as 50 Cent’s.”
Unconventional meansreach an unconventional society, said Benny Nowell, who works with Dry Bones, achurch-supported ministry for homeless young people and runaways in the Denver area.
Dry Bones rents apool hall on Thursday nights and as many as 100 street kids play for free.Staffers don’t get upset when they curse, but they don’t allow drugs oralcohol. The ministry, nearly five years old, has gained a reputation among thehomeless youths, who police themselves, Nowell said. Transformed lives — andbaptisms — have resulted.
“We call it‘hang-outreach,’” he said. “We love these kids like friends. We heal theirphysical needs. Once that takes hold, they start asking, ‘Why?’”
At Northeast,evangelism minister Tommy Palmer sported a bandanna and toy pistol as he waitedin a church office during a dress rehearsal. His character, Tray, dies early inthe production at the hands of a gang leader.
Tray’s son, J-Dub,eventually joins the gang and narrowly escapes his father’s fate before turningto Christ.
McIntosh watched theperformance from the pews. At its conclusion he symbolically swapped placeswith J-Dub, played by Orion Palmer, and walked to the front of the auditorium,telling the audience about his real-life struggles.
He laid down his redbandanna, representing his gang life, and picked up his Bible as the audiencecheered. One shouted “God bless you, man!”
McIntosh startedlooking for Christ because gang life “got way bigger than me,” he said.
“I got tired oftrying to be God.”
He said he must havevisited 100 churches before he found Northeast, which appealed to him mostbecause “everything they said was Scripture.”
Rather than shun himfor his newfound faith, some of his friends started following him to church.
“He would show up atchurch with 10 to 15 of his guys,” said A.C. Christman, one of Northeast’sministers. “It would be a little intimidating.”
Since his baptism,McIntosh has slowly pulled away from his old life, Christman said. And theauthenticity of his story has helped the church reach people it otherwisewouldn’t encounter.
“We’re not asstreet-savvy as we need to be,” Tommy Palmer said. “This is not a book we haveread. This is not a seminar we’ve attended. This is a man’s life.”
During his monologue,McIntosh said he wants to give children hope instead of dope. Nine-year-oldQuinton Carey, who played a God-fearing character named Shorty, said that he’slearned a lot from “uncle Malcolm.”
“He had the choice tostay in the streets,” Quinton Carey said. “It’s like he erased all of it. Nowhe’s a good guy.”

Hesaid that one day he may be faced with that same choice, and he knows that “Ihave to choose … so I can get to heaven.”

Filed under: National

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