In a part of the world that has the highest global rate of criminal violence, sponsorship has saved countless young men from the grip of gang culture.*
Here are the stories of five guys who have been kept safe thanks to the persistence and love found at their local Compassion project.
Pablo, Dominican Republic
“My lifestyle was based on gambling, drugs, assaults, women and alcohol. I did not have any respect for anybody and I considered myself very strong and macho. I was called Androide [android] in the neighbourhood because I had no heart, no compassion, no feelings and no tears. In my mind, I was always thinking about homicide. I was an evil machine,” says Pablo.
What is perhaps most alarming about this statement is that Pablo was a police officer, serving his community in the Dominican Republic.
“I didn’t care about being a police officer. To me, [crime] was better. As I knew I was not going to get caught, I could carry my drugs in my uniform and commit assaults to buy, sell and consume drugs,” he says.
Pablo’s children were registered at the local Compassion project, and the ladies from the church gathered to pray for Pablo almost every day. One evening, drunk and high on drugs, Pablo and a friend ended up in the church, asking for prayer. Little by little, his life started to change as Pablo was invited to activities through the project.
Today, he is a pastor, counsellor, friend and an example to the community. He’s also the project director of the Compassion project where his children were registered before he came to know the Lord. “I am so grateful to the ladies from church. They always prayed for me. I so appreciate the church because they prayed to God to save my life, and He heard them,” says Pablo. When everybody around rejected him, the church saw Pablo’s potential and faithfully prayed.
Shootings, extortion and gang threats plague families living in one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in Honduras.
Kevin was just 12 when his beloved father had a sudden and fatal heart attack. Even though the family lived in the perilous Chamelecon community, where teenagers were regularly dragged into drug-dealing and gangs, Kevin chose to honour his father’s memory.
“After he passed away, I blamed myself because I could not help him. In the midst of my brokenness, God healed me and showed me that there is more to life. Church pastors, the project director and tutors were very supportive while I was grieving. I was comforted by their company and prayers,” he says.
Kevin had been sponsored through Compassion since he was five. He says of his sponsor, “I have saved all the letters that Mrs. Rose has written to me. She told me that she loves me, and I treasured those words. I have a picture of her and her dear family. Every time I look at it, I feel like they are close to me.”
Determined to become a mechanic, Compassion enabled Kevin to attend vocational school. Within a month of his graduation in November of 2015, Kevin found a job in a local mechanic shop, enabling him to help his widowed mother. Kevin regrets that his father was not able to see him graduate as a mechanic, but he’s confident that God is watching over him.
“Many of my friends are not around anymore, because they were killed by gang members,” says Jean-Pier, with sadness in his voice. “When I read in Luke 15 about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I wonder why my friends were not aware that God was always there, with arms wide open waiting for them. I don’t take any chance for granted, and I spread the Word of God to kids my age, so they can find hope.”
This young man from San Pedro Sula was sponsored at the age of five and his story shows the incredible value of sponsorship for a child.
When hostility reigns, and gunshots and gang fights seem to be the norm, his mother Carolina says, 'My son’s destiny is different, as he has hope regardless of the violent environment that we live in.'
“My life wouldn’t be the same without the project and the Bible teachings,” he shares. “I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I’ve found here, like caring tutors and a supporting sponsor.”
Regardless of living amid constant danger, Jean Pier became a successful barber at the age of 15. Some of the local gang members seek him out for styled haircuts, and he’s even taken some to church, as he doesn’t hesitate to take every chance to share the Word of God with them. Once a month, he also gathers all the children from his project to cut their hair for free. And he doesn’t intend to stop there! Jean Pier is saving so that he can go to university to pursue an engineering career.
Vulnerable and burdened by grief, Enoc was an easy target for the local gang following his father’s murder. At the age of 13, he was recruited into a world of drugs and violent crime, and started to miss classes at his Compassion project.
But Enoc was known and loved, and Compassion Project Director Anilda noticed the change. Project staff intensified home visits and started private counselling in an effort to fight for his life. They also visited him in the dark places where he would take drugs along with other gang members.
“In the midst of Enoc’s struggle, we did not leave him alone. We acknowledged that we were putting our own lives in danger every time we chased Enoc. Then again, we were certain that our God was higher than any obstacle he was facing, and we decided to pursue his life for Jesus, as Enoc and all the registered children in the project are worth saving,” shares Anilda.
In Honduras, the only way a gang member can leave the group is dead. But Enoc was a brand new member and he had not had the chance to get involved in gang operations. He was miraculously freed.
In August 2015, Enoc quit drugs and started a process of physical and spiritual healing. Enoc says, “During my free time at home, I started doing daily devotional times. I also got involved in the youth activities at church, and I like to help in the project’s kitchen and wash the dishes!”
Eilyn, Enoc’s older sister, says, “Even though temptation and bad company are around the corner, Enoc is stronger than ever.”
Enoc dreams of serving in the military like his father.
Lucas, El Salvador
Lucas recalls the most difficult year of his life: “I was influenced by the wrong people in my community and lost a school year because of that. I made poor choices that almost dragged me deeper down a path with no return, but I was pulled out right on time.”
The trouble started when his sister left the family because of her involvement with a local gang member. “We couldn’t stop her,” Lucas remembers. “So we only prayed that things didn’t get complicated or dangerous, but things were not that easy at home.”
Then some of Lucas’ attitudes turned into red flags before the eyes of the project staff and the pastor. “Lucas hid from us many things that were happening in his life, so we were worried. And then we found out that he was skipping school,” Pastor Francisco Osorio explains.
“At home, my parents make a $70 monthly income and I thought that if I was not around, they wouldn’t worry that much to provide me with things, plus, the guys from the gang paid for my food while hanging out," Lucas recalls with regret.
They invited me to parties and showed me different things, but now I understand they only tried to slowly take me into their world; a bad and dark world.
But things began to change when Youth pastor Alexis Coto invited Lucas to attend a football workshop at the Compassion centre. “We’ve witnessed true changes in other youth and their families through this sport,” explains Alexis. “Since the first time Lucas joined us, we could tell his soul was longing to come back to Jesus and to real friendships.”
Lucas didn’t have second thoughts about returning to the project for refuge from his gang friends in the community. His time on the football field was an eye-opening experience, confirming his faith and belief in God’s promises for his life.
A brand-new Lucas emerged, and this young man has now graduated from the Compassion programme. He’s even invited all of his family to church and, according to Lucas’ mum, Maria, “we’ve all invited Jesus into our hearts, including Lucas’ sister and her husband, who now currently serve at the church!”
*Source: U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime