The Words of the Yakawich Family
Fighting crime by helping families was the focus of a conference drawing 15 speakers and 51 Montana community activists on Saturday, March 21. The 6th Annual Montana American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) met under the theme of "Spiritual Solutions to Violence in our Community" at the War Bonnet Inn in Billings.
Under the cosponsorship of the All Nations Christian Fellowship Church, the Chapel of the Diamond Heart, the Black Heritage Foundation, the Billings Family Church, the Ambassadors for Peace, the American Leadership Conference and the Universal Peace Foundation, the conference featured spiritual applications, common sense, and memorable words of wisdom. Speakers shared situation reports from the Billings Police Gang Taskforce, the United Way Roots of Promise, the Elks Club Anti-Drug team, the Peace Institute, and the Peace Corps as well as local churches and foundations.
Pastor Mike Yakawich opened the program by explaining how ACLC was founded under the inspiration of Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and supported by interfaith leaders from all over North America. Rev. Melvin Terry, pastor of the All Nations Christian Fellowship Church, led us out with a blessing for a successful conference.
The speakers provided a wide array of "tools" and solutions to violence in our community. Many hailed the value of good parenting and being good role models for the youth. The fact is, we need to be involved in our families and in our neighborhood, whether the youth are our own or not. Sister Eunice Terry, Evangelist of the All Nations Christian Fellowship Church, emphasized the importance of the spirit as she quoted from the Holy Bible. Billings Police Sergeant Curry of the Gang Taskforce encouraged the audience to see that there are many solutions to gang problems, including talking with and listening to your children, and getting to know your children's friends and their parents.
The value of education was emphasized more than once. "We must model the correct behavior for our youth for they rarely model the lecture they hear," observed Cindy Kuntz from the Peace Institute. Dr. Dennis Briggs, head of the Chapel of the Diamond Heart, led us in an interfaith prayer prior to lunch. He has been a cochair for seven years of the Montana ACLC and formed a monthly prayer vigil that has been going on for three years.
Our program was in many respects a Montana Global Peace Festival. We had presentations on the Ambassadors for Peace by Mr. Paul DiLorenzo, an elder of the FFWPU of Montana. Mr. Clint Woods, an official of the Universal Peace Foundation (UPF) of Montana, gave an excellent presentation on UPF and later led a break-out session on the Ambassadors for Peace (APF) Association. Both gave inspiring videos on AFP and UPF. The audience was highly supportive of the nomination and awarding of several Ambassador for Peace certificates. Recipients included the State Director of the Elks Anti-Drug Program, the Director of the Not In Our Town national program, a president of the Latter Day Saints for this area, a former Peace Corps volunteer and a youth minister, a veteran, and two other community leaders.
Our keynote speaker for lunch was Eran Thompson, founder and director of the nationally known Not In Our Town (N.I.O.T.) antiracism educational project. He has been working on human rights issues, organizing "eat-ins" to address racial attacks, and has been involved in social-justice activism for more than 17 years. He encouraged the audience to stay involved and keep in mind that even small acts of social justice build social momentum.
Jerri Tate, a retired social worker and Board member of the High Plains Women's Museum, did a great job in coordinating the break-out sessions. The focus was to seek and identify solutions to violence in the community. Some practical solutions proposed included starting Neighborhood Watch programs, day camps for children of incarcerated parents, support of the Boys and Girls Clubs, attending local churches and taskforces, and encouraging citizens to contact the local police the minute they see violence taking place. All the presentations were recorded and were aired on Billings Community TV.
The Martin, DiLorenzo, Woods, and Yakawich families worked very hard behind the scenes to help make this program a great success. We, too, are indebted to Rev. Larry Krishnek, our District leader, who provides a great deal of prayer, guidance and wisdom for this program. We are grateful for announcements in the local Billings Gazette and the Outpost, both of which helped bring people to this conference. Through such events we feel like we are truly building "One Family Under God." As a president of a local Latter Day Saints church summed up the day, "I really enjoyed the conference. Having the police department present on how gangs are present in our communities was enlightening. I always enjoy the interaction with others from both community organizations and also other faiths and churches. Thank you for organizing this conference."
It was a full day, and we felt deeply the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Written by: Pastor Mike Yakawich, Montana