Tomes, Fogarty share experience ministering to gangs
Ministering to gang members can be dangerous but spiritually fulfilling, said Brother Bill Tomes, who has worked with gang members for more than 17 years. Tomes and Brother Jim Fogarty visited the basement of Fisher Hall Wednesday night to talk about their ministry.
"I started this project even further back than 17 years," Tomes said. "Twenty years ago, Christ spoke to me. That spiritual experience laid the groundwork for what I do today."
He is convinced that his work is done in accordance with God's plan for him.
"If God wanted this done, he'd have to force it on someone," Tomes said. "Most people wouldn't choose to do this kind of work."
Tomes and Fogarty spend their days in decidedly volatile surroundings. Every day, the two interact with inner-city youths in various Chicago housing projects.
According to Fogarty, tenacity is of great importance.
"When violence is all around you, the sensible thing to do is walk away," he said, "On my first day, I wanted to get out of there, but I thought `if I walk away, I'll never come back.' I stayed, and things got more peaceful."
The brothers discussed the danger of working in the projects. Both recounted stories of violence between rival gangs and heroic measures taken to prevent such violence, including the practice of stepping between gang members during shootings.
In spite of the danger, the brothers stressed the importance of connecting with gang members.
"People in the neighborhood see you," said Fogarty. "Bonds are built through tragedies. Visiting gang members in the hospital, visiting families when someone gets killed or hurt and stepping between gangs shooting, it's all about proving yourself."
Paris, a 24-year-old gang member and former drug dealer who accompanied the brothers to their talk, confirmed the strong community connections made by the brothers.
"When I started hanging around Toomes — that's when I started believing in God," Paris said.
When asked about Tomes, Paris, responded, "He's like a father to me ... I respect him."
Tyrese, a 14-year-old who has also been a part of the brothers' ministry, also discussed Tomes' impact; he plans to finish school and has no plans to join a gang.
For Tomes, the concessions of selfless ministry are not necessarily tangible ones.
"The reward is obedience; we are doing what Christ wants us to do. It's what we're supposed to do," he said.
All News Stories for Friday, April 7, 2000