Chapel: Blessings of Boyle's ministry go both ways

Fr. Greg Boyle talks at Chapel on Monday about his work at Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members and convicted felons. (Photo by Slaven Gujic)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Fr. Greg Boyle speaks firmly and deliberately, with an eloquence that is both humble and soothing.

Maybe that’s what it takes to do what he does.

Boyle runs Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, which annually employs more than 10,000 former gang-involved and, often, previously incarcerated men and women and helps them become contributing members of society.

As he told his story at Chapel on Monday morning at Grand Canyon University Arena, the only thing more remarkable than Boyle’s work was his message about the effect that work has had on him.

He started his talk by telling of the time a gang-intervention worker in Houston approached him and asked, “How do you reach them?”

Boyle’s response: “For starters, stop trying to reach them. Can you be reached by them?”

That’s what happened, Boyle said, in Matthew 15:21-28, when Jesus was approached by a woman whose daughter was haunted by a demon. Jesus healed the daughter only after the woman persisted in her request.

“He’s modeling to us how we’re supposed to be at the margins, where we locate this exquisite mutuality where there is no us and them. There’s just us,” Boyle said. “… Jesus allowed Himself to be reached by this woman, and we’re supposed to do the same.”

With a series of rapid-fire, thought-provoking statements, Boyle elaborated on how his ministry has reached him:

“With God and Jesus, imagine a circle of compassion, and then imagine nobody standing outside that circle.

“With God and Jesus, we seek to dismantle the barriers that exclude. And you go to the margins and you look under your feet, and because you went out there, the margins are getting erased.

“And you stand with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless, and you stand with those whose dignity has been denied, and you stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear.

“And when you’re really lucky, you get to stand with the easily despised and the readily left out.

“You stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop.

“And you stand with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

To anyone who suggests that trying to rehabilitate former criminals is a waste of time, Boyle points to Jeremiah 33:11, which suggests that doing just that will create places that have “a voice of mirth and a voice of gladness.”

“We don’t go to the margins to save or rescue anybody,” he said. “But go figure – if we go to the margins, we all find rescue.

“You don’t go to the margins to make a difference. You go to the margins so that the folks at the margins will make me different.”

Boyle talked about all the things the “homies,” as he affectionately calls them, have taught him in the last 30 years, including some of the abbreviations they use while sending text messages.

He talked about how his workers who used to shoot bullets at each other now shoot text messages back and forth. “There’s a word for that, and the word is ‘kinship,’” he said.

But, in a most touching fashion, he talked about the stories of Lisa, a troubled woman in her 30s, and two former members of rival gangs, nicknamed Puppet and Youngster.

Lisa came into Boyle’s office unannounced and told him she needed help. Boyle’s voice cracked as he laid out her history of drug use. “I am a disgrace,” she told him.

“Suddenly her shame met mine, because when I had seen her step into my office that day, I had mistaken her for an interruption,” he said.

Puppet and Youngster had a longstanding hatred of each other when they first started working together, Boyle said, but then Puppet was ambushed by a rival gang and died two days later.

While Puppet was on life support, Youngster called Boyle.  Again Boyle’s voice cracked as he told the audience what Youngster said:

“Is there anything I can do? Can I give him my blood?”

Boyle went on:

“Choking back his tears, he says with great deliberation, ‘He was not my enemy. He was my friend. We worked together.’”

Boyle said that kind of thing happens all the time at Homeboy Industries. There can be only one reason for that.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s own dream for us, that we be one, just happens to be our own deepest longing for ourselves. For it turns out, it’s mutual.

“And Youngster reached me, a trustworthy guide to get me to the kinship of God – God’s dream come true. The only thing that can quench God’s thirst is our kinship with each other.”

● For the complete Chapel replay, click here.

● Next Monday’s Chapel speaker will be Terry Crist of Hillsong Church Phoenix.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

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