Gangs are known for the murders and violence that spread hopelessness and poverty and make El Salvador one of the world’s deadliest nations. But surprisingly, they have respect for the church. Gang members will often tell each other, “God is strong. Don’t get on his bad side.”
As we reflect on Easter and Jesus’ death and resurrection, I think of the criminals who hung beside Jesus on the cross. One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). And despite his crime, Jesus welcomed him into paradise.
Before he was crucified, one of Jesus’ final prayers was for unity among his followers. Jesus said, “I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
In El Salvador, the church is united for the well-being of children.
The church is following Christ in welcoming former gang members and criminals and making a direct, life-giving impact in the lives of men, women, and children. For the first time, Protestants and Roman Catholics are coming together to help heal and protect their communities.
World Vision is at the heart of this work through the church. We are mobilizing churches to act and help their communities. World Vision developed resources for pastors, priests, Sunday school teachers, and youth leaders. These are used with their skills and support to lead clubs, classes, and small groups for parents and caregivers as well as for children and teens.
Through our Creciendo con Jesús (Growing with Jesus) program, we are training thousands of pastors and priests to help them become our indispensable partners in protecting children.
As part of this program, church leaders learn what Scripture has to say about parenting, marriage, family, and discipleship. Our motivation is to help parents raise their children with kindness instead of perpetuating the cycle of domestic and societal violence. They also learn how to train their congregations to put these values into action.
The vision of a peaceful El Salvador — held by staff as well as of Salvadoran pastors and priests — is dramatically expanding. “The government cannot solve the problem alone. Nor can the police or schools. It is the church, which is in every community in El Salvador, that can change our country,” says Edwin Alberto Mira, World Vision’s Christian discipleship coordinator in El Salvador. “Our goal is to catalyze the church to change this country.”
The impact of these efforts? Churches and leaders are equipped to help further reduce violence faced by families. Churches are coming together to learn, pray, and to make a life-saving difference in communities. Parents are improving their marriages and parenting skills. Children are learning how to protect themselves. Youth are learning options to avoid gangs and violence. Young lives are being saved. Hope is being restored. God is honored.
And what does this mean for us in the U.S.? We who follow Jesus must commit anew to work together with other believers so our communities will see him as they see the love between his people.
Pray with us for World Vision’s work around the world.
Torrey Olsen is the director of Faith and Development for World Vision’s U.S. office.