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SW Houston Church Offers Alternative to Gang Membership

September 13, 2010

The Rev. Alejandro Montes, rector of Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo Episcopal, a Jubilee Ministry in Houston, is poised to save the youth in his community.

With one of his parishioners sentenced to 50 years for murder, two sons of another member’s family dead and another young adult out on bail, accused of murder, he is determined to fight local gangs with the power of prayer.
“I want to be very positive and offer an alternative,” Montes said. “I’m putting my life on the spot but we need to do something! You can’t hide. We need to say, ‘We don’t know what you have in your heart but God loves you and can change your life.’”
He recently led a prayer walk through San Mateo’s Bellaire neighborhood in Southwest Houston to give gang members that message. The area has one of the highest gang-related crime rates in Houston.
“I baptized him and gave him his first communion,” he lamented about the young man serving 50 years. “It’s terrible for the families,” Montes said.
While gang members acquire area by creating fear, Montes said he wants to invite them to change their lives. “Some of the kids in our congregation are in gangs. We want to support them, encourage them to have a more spiritual life, call on their parents to be home for them after school. It’s more important than making more money,” he said.
Montes is a member of PACT (Police and Clergy Team), a group of Houston police and local pastors who work with youth in the apartment complexes in the area. They have started programs for the youth and provide ways to redirect their energy away from gangs.

According to Sr. Police Officer Barry Curtis, Montes is a valuable member of the team. “He’s putting his faith into action,” Curtis said. “I admire and applaud him. This is a work in progress,” he admits. “The effort reflects Nehemiah, one hand with the tool, another with a weapon, trying to rebuild the neighborhood.”
Montes said they talk a lot about the gang violence in church and notes that it’s getting worse. “It’s a very volatile area,” he said. He is working also with local news media and law enforcement to combat the rise in gang presence.

“The police are meeting with students in schools and in the community,” Montes said. They attended the prayer walk in a mobile unit donated for the use of local clergy and police.

See a video of PACT’s work featuring the Rev. Alejandro Montes and Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo at http://www.policeandclergy.com.

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