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Michigan Church Prays After Gang Threatens Neighborhood


“I don’t want to get shot,” thought Carena Shannon as her eyes darted around her church’s neighborhood.

Rev. Reggie Smith leads his congregation in prayer around a house occupied by a Mexican gang. Adam Miedema

She, along with about a hundred other church members, encircled a house just three doors down from her church in order to pray during a Sunday morning worship service.

Her eyes stopped on a couple on the porch, who “taunted and stared intensely” at her.

The house is a center for Mexican gang activity in the neighborhood, said Reggie Smith, pastor of Roosevelt Park Community Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“We were jeered and mocked,” he said. “Gang signs were thrown up to us, but we still prayed.”

The church was responding to a recent series of shootings and crimes, all of which happened in the span of just one week.

The trouble began when police arrested 11 people in the neighborhood for producing counterfeit green cards for undocumented immigrants. The next night, there was a four-hour standoff with an armed man. The following week, two men were shot within two days of each other.

“I just was praying,” said Shannon. “I could feel the tension and uneasiness; I wasn’t too comfortable. I opened my eyes a few times just to see: what if they do a drive-by [shooting]?”

But as they continued praying, Shannon became more comfortable. “I was confident in what God was doing, and I became more peaceful about it,” she said. “That helped me a lot to be more courageous.”

Smith, also the president of the neighborhood association, knew the violence had to stop. “We said, ‘This is our neighborhood. It belongs to God and we’re not going to let it go so easily,’” he said.

“I knew that was the right thing to do. I wasn’t afraid at all,” he continued.

The police have told the landlord to remove gang members from the house.

“I think it kind of opened their eyes to . . . why we are here,” he continued. “So we’re still trying . . . to not just be a church that happens to be in this community, but to be a church of this community. And sadly, a lot of our churches don’t do that.”

Shannon agreed. “It’s easy for a church to hide and not do what we are called to do . . . and that is to take these risks,” she said.

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