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The road to redemption

18 Feb


El Rosario is one of those troubled neighbourhoods where nobody wants to live. Located about 20 miles east of El Salvador’s capital city, the roads are unpaved and uncared for. Between huddles of shabby houses are paths leading to the hideouts of men wanted by the law. Many are the tattooed members of the vicious gangs or maras that terrorise the country with drug, gun and people smuggling, theft, hits for hire, arson and of course, strong-arming the locals. Ironically, this country named in honour of the Saviour has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

We stop at a whitewashed elementary school in the centre of El Rosario and meet the principal, José Atilio López Erazo.

“I’ve seen every kind of problem here,” states Erazo after showing us around. “There’s much poverty and violence and sexual abuse within families. Our teachers often have to counsel abused kids, but sometimes nothing is done to help them. Some who live here follow occult practices, like going to a medicine man when they’re sick. People don’t know how to spend their money wisely or make the best choices. Most parents have little education, but if we offer a programme to teach them to read and write they don’t come. “

The principal has been a Christian for eight years. Six years ago, he admits, he was ready to quit because of problems and threats from gangs. Then Mauricio Hernandez, OM Country Leader and a pastor in San Salvador, decided that El Rosario needed to witness more of the power of God.

“His church began to come here and bring help and pray for this community,” relates Erazo. “For the first time I felt we were not alone. I began to hope. In our school we began to talk about the gospel and teachers started praying before the day started. At first parents objected even though we don’t talk about religion, we just talk about Jesus. But now they’ve seen what a difference it’s made and they’ve changed their minds. Some students and their parents have accepted Christ and attend Pastor Mauricio’s church in the city because there’s nothing for them here.”

OM’s involvement included practical distributions of food to families in need. And aware that youth as young as 11 or 12 were being recruited by gangs, students were offered the chance to take English, computer classes and Bible studies in a San Salvador private school. A team also held a series of “Life at the Crossroads” classes in the community to encourage the confidence and self-worth of young people.

According to Principal Erazo, only about 80 per cent of children who enter first grade in his school continue to the ninth grade. By the age of 15 most girls are already coupled with men; at least one of them has a child of her own attending school with her. “But in the last two years we have more students going on to high school because we’ve convinced parents that an education is important for getting good jobs.”

Daniel Caballero, who took over the leadership of OM El Salvador from Mauricio in 2012, is resolved to continue the good work already begun in El Rosario. One strategy is a scholarship programme for promising young students, allowing them to attend a Christian high school. Seventeen-year-old Eber, the first recipient nominated by Principal Erazo, has a goal of becoming a computer engineer. Besides receiving a much better education in a private school, Eber will benefit from the mentoring of OM staff.

How do you change a community like El Rosario? By giving it hope: one person at a time, one day at a time. Pray for OM El Salvador as it walks this rough and often lonely road.


No evil befall you

29 Jan

    I’ve learned that following God in Guatemala can lead to the unexpected! IMG_0210

A quarter of Guatemala’s population call themselves evangelicals and churches are as plentiful as tortillas. But for many of the indigenous population of this Central American country, ancient Mayan beliefs lie just below the surface. Jesus and Mary are equated to the Sun God and Moon Goddess. Shamans or witches wield great power as healers and casters of spells in rural communities, and it’s not uncommon to see individuals wearing protective amulets against the “evil eye”.

When four OM volunteers were assigned to work with the pastor of a tiny church in the mountains of Guatemala this past November, they had little idea of what they’d be up against.

God had led Pastor Noé Godoy to the town of Trapiche ten years before. He was aware that that the territory had already been claimed by the Prince of Darkness: Violence, drinking, sickness and death oppressed the residents. A number of young people were using insecticides to take their own lives. During his first years there, local witches performed supernatural “miracles” and incited people to attack the pastor with boiling water and machetes. Evangelism was forbidden. And even though the roof of the tiny building he used for a church was ready to collapse, it wasn’t until after his main opponent’s death that he was allowed to make repairs.  

“Yet,” affirmed Pastor Noé, who has elected to remain single rather than bring danger upon a wife and children, “our church has seen great miracles of healing and protection as well. And as our people shared the evidence of God’s power with other families, they too came to Christ.”

Although church members owned very little, they actively began to help some 200 widows and single mothers as well as 225 orphans. “We have the vision and even the plans for a dormitory, kitchen and dining room to help these women and children, but so far no way to make it a reality. Meanwhile, we do what we can in the midst of the difficulties and keep trusting that God will accomplish His purposes here.”

For OM’s four Love Guatemala volunteers, Trapiche provided a dramatic first exposure to spiritual warfare. At night villagers threw stones at the house where the girls were trying to sleep. And while going house to house during the day, one of the men, Otto, found himself in the home of two witches. What could he say to them? After silently asking God for help Otto opened his Bible. His eyes immediately fell on Revelation 22:14-15, a passage condemning those who practice magic arts. Otto boldly delivered God’s message.

The Lord had a very different message for the team: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place –the Most High who is my refuge –No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (Psalm 91: 9, 10; ESV). Swiss team member Nathan Schmutz was one of the few non-Guatemalans to take part in the outreach. He admitted, “I wasn’t prepared for such a confrontation with evil! But I learned a lot about the power of prayer.”

Guatemala’s ten million people suffer the highest chronic malnutrition rate in Latin America and the fourth-highest rate in the world. On average, about one out of two residents are malnourished. Concerned by the obvious poverty of Trapiche church members, OM Guatemala staff made an extra trip to deliver used clothing, shoes, food parcels and even toys for Christmas. The pastor couldn’t hide his personal delight at finding a suit that fit. A young mother named Nora had given her life to the Lord through the team’s visit a few days before. She had five children and they were barely subsisting in a nearby hovel. The unexpected provision of food, clothing and toys gave the family new courage.

At the end of the outreach Pastor Noé voiced his gratitude. “Some unbelievers opened their doors to the OM team, and we hope they have helped to change the mind of this community. They have been a big blessing to us. We have no way to pay them back, but God will!”     IMG_0344