Pictures: Left and middle, pictures of San Pedro Sula; Right: Eliezer Banegas. We trained Eliezer a few years ago, now he reaches out to violent gangs across the city.
San Pedro Sula, where our Honduran headquarters are based, is a town with quite a reputation. It is situated in the North West of the country and is surrounded by high, misty forested mountains. It is in many ways a beautiful city. But nestled within these beautiful mountainous walls is a pan of death.
Many years ago Honduras was one of the safest countries in Latin America. Locals remember the times, even 30 years ago, when communities trusted each other and people were friendly and kind. Marybel, GLOMOS coordinator in San Pedro Sula reflected the times when no-one even bothered locking their doors. However this all changed in the 1980’s when plagued by gang violence and burgeoning jail populations in Southern L.A., the US government decided to free up spaces in their jails by deporting all the gang members.
Gloria explains: “they literally lined them up and asked, where are you from…OK Honduras…you’re going back to Honduras, Guratemala?...Ok you’re going back to Guatamala…El Salvador…OK…back to El Salvador. Whether or not they had any connection with the country of their ethnicity. Many of them didn’t even speak Spanish!’
‘Overnight, we suddenly saw graffiti on walls that never used to be there before. Then they started establishing their gangs in our cities. They even started recruiting children by getting them addicted to drugs, so that they were forced to do what the gang members told them to do.’ “
Now San Pedro Sula has the unfortunate reputation as being the most violent city in the world. In a city with 500,000 inhabitants, over 125,000 of these are gang affiliated. Each night over 15 people are murdered, and many others are injured, traumatised or bereaved as a result of this epidemic.
However, in this city we are training pastors who are working amongst some of the most violent communities in San Pedro.
While I was visiting the training I met pastor Eliezer Banegas, someone we trained a few years ago. He is a young man with a great vision to change things for the better in his community. He works in El Carmen, one of the more violent communities in the city. He calmly told me how he reaches out to some of the most violent gang members each day. He told me that although it was dangerous, you had to trust God as you approached the gang members to speak with them and, as he put it, “own your pair!”
God has been blessing his ministry. This year he started a small business selling fruit smoothies as a way of giving gang members an alternative career. He showed me pictures of himself alongside a tattooed man, who he told me was the former leader of the San Pedro chapter of the MS-13 gang, one of the most vicious and bloodthirsty gangs. Both people in the picture were smiling. He told me that he had brought this man to Christ and employed him to work with him in his business. As they worked together Eliezer was able to disciple him and bring him forward in the faith. Now the man has another job with a better salary. But more importantly, he is following God and is further away from the clutches of the gangs.
It is people like Eliezer, who risk their lives working in the world of these violent gangs, that are bringing into the Kingdom some of the people we would least expect to become Christians.
Please pray for the continued work in San Pedro Sula, and across Honduras.