Southern IL church spreads message of love with 'Hug a Thug' ini - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Southern IL church spreads message of love with 'Hug a Thug' initiative

(Hank Cavagnaro, KFVS) (Hank Cavagnaro, KFVS)

Churches sharing their religion with others in their community is not uncommon. But the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, Illinois has a little different approach.

They call their program "Hug a Thug." 

The idea is much like any other ministry's; church members walk the streets and talk to people about their religion. But the people that they talk to are "those far from the church" as pastor Lawrence James put it. 

One of the first people Pastor James talked to when he began the program was a man in his neighborhood who someone described to him as a hit man. He went and talked to him and what happened after was what led to the name.

“I noticed that when I would hug them they would smile," James said. "As if it was something in that [hug] that touched them. Something that was missing in their life, and then that’s when I started to call it "Hug a Thug Ministries.”

Some of the men that now walk the street's with James, all wearing their "Hug a Thug" t-shirts, were once on the receiving end of the ministry. Mike McKinney and Timmothy Washington are two of those types. 

“I was thuggin', I was bad, and I was in the streets,” Washington said.

Part of the ministry is telling those they talk to about their lives before joining the church. Pastor James told a group of men about McKinney's past. 

"A woman once said that if she saw mike walking up she would cross the street," James said. "You didn’t know what he might do, who he might rob. You didn’t know what he might do, but look at him now."

Pastor James and the ministry owns the copyright to the name "Hug a Thug Ministries" and have been asked by churches as far away as California for help starting up their own group. These other churches, some much closer to home in Bowling Green or St. Louis, see the good the program has done in Mt. Vernon.

“It helps Mt. Vernon because a lot of these young men here would be out there doing the things that they were doing if it hadn’t been for god coming into their life,” James said.

If you would like to donate to the ministries you can here.

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