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Steve Lunetta: Corralling stray sheep

Right Here Right Now

Posted: February 14, 2010 10:01 p.m.
Updated: February 15, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
A lone white man walks down the street in the heavily Hispanic side of Newhall. His skin color sets him apart from the brown-skinned residents. He carries no Watchtower tracts, nor does he wear a name badge announcing his church.  

Groups of young men, arms decorated with tattoos, view the newcomer warily. A gringo on this side of town usually means parole officer, police officer or bounty hunter — none of which are welcome on this street.

But the fearless stranger has nothing more than a Bible in his hand. His words bring news of caring, hope and a chance at a better life.

Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Dave Rentz goes where few missionaries dare to tread — the tough gang-infested streets of Newhall.  

Rentz is the founder of StraySheep100, a ministry that seeks to reach gang members with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He believes that to turn a life around, one must begin from the inside-out. Rentz says, “We need to see where God is working and join Him. Not the other way around.”

Rentz’s remarkable journey to become a beacon of light in a dark underworld began in October 2004, when he befriended a young gang member who desperately needed help and guidance. At 13, “Octavio” was already wise to the street — drugs, violence and fear were his daily companions.

Most young men in Octavio’s situation see only one way out of their situation — gangs. After being kicked out of their homes, these boys see gangs as the family they never had — or lost. According to Rentz, gang families offer a shared purpose, protection and provision.

Gangs make money through a variety of avenues, but the most popular is the sale of illicit drugs, specifically crystal meth. Rentz said that it’s the most fashionable drug these days, since the user remains largely coherent and recall is mostly unharmed. This is not true with alcohol.

Meth is also easy to get across the border. However, the 97 percent addiction rate both aids the gang drug business and hurts it.
Gang members who use are severely disciplined. Strangely, gangs often check their own members to prevent drug abuse within their ranks.

The amount of money spent on anti-gang programs is staggering. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, $119 million was spent in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 budget years on “Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act” grants.

The irony of it all, Rentz pointed out, is that more and more gang members keep coming. The programs are largely ineffective.

We need a new paradigm.

Rentz believes the way to help these young men is by befriending them through a meal, getting to know a family or helping someone through a crisis. In that way, defenses are lowered so that a teachable moment can occur, showing the young person there is a viable alternative to gangs and life in the street.

This technique has enabled Rentz to create a network of friends and acquaintances who accept and trust him. He makes it clear he is not a police officer, informant or narcotics officer. He is not about law enforcement but changing hearts.  

Rentz’s Web site contains several stories of the young men and families with whom he interacts. Often, Rentz provides a ride to a hospital or a connection to a social-service organization that can help prevent a youth from falling into the hands of a gang.

Rentz hopes that one day, StraySheep can provide a “halfway” church and house to help these young men make the transition back from gang life into mainstream society.

He envisions a place where sober living, good nutrition and spiritual guidance will enable youths to lead productive gang-free lives.

One time, Rentz approached a group of young men and they invited him to sit with them and talk. Pointing to a pair of missionaries from another church, one of the homies remarked, “See those guys? They show up once and are gone. You are different. You come back.”

That is what sets Dave and his ministry apart. He comes back because of his commitment to the mission of saving young men from a lifetime of gangs and the street.

If you’d like to be part of what Rentz is doing in the tougher streets of our city, visit www.StraySheep100.org or e-mail him at Dave@StraySheep100.org.

Steve Lunetta is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. He can be reached at slunetta63@yahoo.com. “Right About Now” appears on Mondays in The Signal.

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