Refusing to be Looked Down On
Jogging through the city of Tegucigalpa in the early morning seemed like a normal activity, until a pastor frowned: “We are the number one killing country in the world. Best you find another way to exercise.”
Even so, as I met leaders and pastors, I discovered that Kingdom life, like salt, is doing its work in bringing transformation to this Central America country of Honduras.
In San Miguel, a barrio of 98,000, two years ago there were 115 killings a month: now fewer than four a month. Too many still, but a stunning shift. Two years ago 64% of its population experienced some kind of violence: everything from extortion to killings. That has been reduced to 34%.
Honduras was not always so violent. But as a land bridge from drug producing countries of the south to the United States, it became a crossing point for drug cartels. High unemployment and few vocational or recreational opportunities made crime here a juggernaut of domestic life.
But Christians, rising in faith, refuse to let this tide of crime and its accompanying violence wash over its people.
Right in the center of this barrio is a youth center, designed for young people. Here they learn to operate and fix computers, do music, become skillful in operating a beauty salon or barbershop or tuning up the physique in a workout room. World Vision, (with its national staff of 500 and 75,000 child sponsorships, here in this one area have targeted violence. Partnering with 9 Evangelical congregations and its one Roman Catholic Church, along with USAID and community organizations it is creating a social inversion, upsetting the status quo of violence. Their insightful strategy has been to introduce a sense of pride and dignity, highlighting human value, all resonant with a distinct and clear expression of the Father’s love and trust in the power of Christ to transform people and society.
Foundational to this moral transformation is embedding in its people a sense of pride. This isn’t a psychological trick such as “mind over matter,” a social pretend. Rather it is a radical shift in people who know their reputation is the murder capital of the world. There is nothing magic about what World Vision and its partners are doing. Money alone won’t do it and grand ideas won’t either. Instead they nestled into this world of violence, incarnationaly, instilling hope to aid in the reaching of their dreams. As they knit these strands of rethinking life, they do so with a conviction that hope resting in Jesus’ life, rejects the notion that life has to go on as it was. Reducing violence called for restoring pride, driving out fatalism of throwing up your hands. Crossing the Red Sea is child’s play to the boldness this required.
Pastor Galedro said, “They helped us get outside of the walls of the church, onto the streets, into the lives of teens. We had to recover the space we had lost with our youth. We spent so much time on church life that it robbed us of time with our children and that’s when gangs filled in with our children what we had left empty.”
A mountain village
Honduras’s capital, Tegucigalpa, is nestled among high hills, with hilltops mostly populated by the poor. The SUV, shifted into 4-wheel drive, ground its way up the mountainside, bouncing over lava rock, as Bolívar and Karla Sánchez, took me to meet pastors they love. Leaving paved roads we drove in the barrio of New Capital. Here homes are shanties, buildings strung along the hills sides, no running water, and rocky streets the means of travel. Home to 100 Evangelical and one Roman Catholic church, most are small and pastors eke out a living caring for the their flock and working side jobs. Its churches are mostly small, constructed by shiplap lumber, covered by tin roofs, or whatever material is available.
We met pastors and sometime their wives in seven of their churches, hearing stories of conversion, faith, along with joy mixed with struggle as they love their flock of God. Many have come together in what they call, “Pastors United in Love,” which began when Bolívar and Karla heard a pastor say, “I’m an orphan. No one pastors us.” Ministering down in the city, they began to gather often-desperate pastors every Monday. A bus picks them up, and for the day, encouraging each other, finding time to worship together, they are taught how to teach the Bible, how to preach, what it means to care for their own family, learning to nurture their marriage, all issues core to their own life and ministry.
Where does one start in a country, wrestling with political infighting, suffocating corruption, extortion, killing out of control and children recruited as drug runners?
Maria Alvarez knows. She and her engineer husband Felsio, church planters, as a volunteer she serves on the national board of Opportunity International (OI), a micro enterprise ministry, helping people build their own business. Enthusiastic and passionate about those they serve, she told me of Maria Los Angeles. Wanting to change her life, she started making bracelets at home, but knew the future was in making what men would buy. OI helped her with a small loan, enough to get started. That was paid off and she moved to a next level: her own shop. Then 2009 came, an economic calamity for the country. She lost everything, but OI knew she could be trusted, so they refinanced her loan and off she was again, working with the loan officer, now a councilor, rebuilding.
Where money isn’t available, where does a person go for help? OI, now has 10,000 people as its clients. Built on a Christian understanding of stewardship and honesty, 94% of loans are paid off on time. 75% are women. Records show they are good at working together with others, pay on time, and profits go back into family. Once a week they meet to pay on their loans and meet on business training: such as, how to treat clients; how to live a happy marriage; accounting.
I did retreat to the gym to work out. But I saw here in Honduras Christians refusing to give in to humiliation, instead investing their lives in the heart of their society, believing in the Gospel promise that the gates of hell will not prevail.
Here is what I saw: World Vision in its creative, on the ground collaboration, national, influential and trustworthy presence. “Pastors United in Love,” linking hearts in the midst of poverty, caring for each other and living where their people live. Opportunity International, lifting those with will, from poverty, offering capital to start and weekly nurturing to success.
Person-by-person, day-by-day, community-by-community, Christ’s kingdom is salting this heart-catching country called Honduras.
Brian C. Stiller, Global Ambassador
World Evangelical Alliance