By Christian Aid Mission
It’s known as the homicide capital of the world. Shootings on the streets. Kidnappings. Twenty violent deaths on an average day.
We are not referring to Syria’s war zone, brutality between rival drug cartels in Mexico, or even ongoing bloodshed in the inner cities of the United States.
No, this claim to shame is owned by the small Central American country of Honduras, where gang violence, drug trafficking, and extortion has affected the very fabric of its society.
According to the United Nations “Global Study on Homicides,” Honduras had the highest murder rate of any country in 2011—at 91.6 killings per 100,000 inhabitants. For more than a decade, it has ranked consistently as one of the world’s most dangerous places to live.
Gang warfare has taken a particularly heavy toll on the souls of the nation’s young adult population. Out of an estimated 36,000 Hondurans who belong to gangs, more than 4,700 members are youth or children. Some are as young as 9 or 10.
Extreme poverty and fractured families are among the reasons children join gang communities. With no one to take them under their wing, they become easy targets for recruiters, who coax them with opportunities for fast money and “a better life.”
Leaders of Prince of Peace Mission of Honduras (PPMH) believe starting from the ground up is the best place to tackle their nation’s deep-rooted problems. That foundation is the Word of God and a transformed life through Jesus Christ.
The ministry sends out over 220 gospel workers to every corner of the country, from remote mountain villages to bustling urban centers. Through their determined outreach efforts, there are now more than 13,000 believers in fellowship with PPMH, and that number continues to increase. The believers gather in over 220 local assemblies and 75 mission posts.
In addition to planting churches, PPMH holds leadership and discipleship training to equip believers to become evangelists and pastors in their own communities. These Christian leaders, many of whom are younger men, play a crucial role as they model for children and teens what it means to follow Jesus and be a loving husband and father.
Elvin is a 20-year-old man who was immersed in gang life and substance abuse as a teenager. A PPMH missionary shared the message of Christ’s unconditional love with him. He had always taken pride in being tough and self-sufficient, but Elvin realized he couldn’t break free of his addictions alone. He would need a Savior to help him clean up and redirect his life.
“He received Jesus, and the Lord transformed his life,” the missionary explained. “Elvin is eager to learn more about Jesus and is attending all of our congregation meetings.”
In another area where gang-led violence is widespread, a PPMH gospel worker met with local pastors to organize evangelistic crusades, group fasting, and prayer vigils for the restoration of peace to their communities. Fifteen people received Christ recently and are being discipled. After taking a Bible course, eight people decided to be baptized.
The worker was especially encouraged by the testimony of a young man who had been involved with gangs and was considered a juvenile delinquent in the town. He received Christ, and now this new believer shares his story with other young people in the hopes they will choose to follow the Prince of Peace.
As one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras is confronted with a multitude of problems that cannot be remedied easily. The majority of people live below the poverty line. Massive devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 only added to the nation’s economic woes.
Children and teens are the most vulnerable segment of the population. Some are left in the care of grandparents or older siblings so their parents can seek employment in neighboring countries. Others become street kids who fend for themselves by begging for food or stealing what they need to survive. They are easy prey for recruitment into youth gangs.
“Some of these kids have nowhere to go, so the gang becomes their family,” explained Rosa Hart, Christian Aid’s area director for Latin America. “They want to become a part of something, to belong somewhere, and good or bad, the gang is family for them.”
In other cases youth may be coerced into joining a gang. Recruitment isn’t limited to the streets. Sadly, schools are one of the places where gangs use harassment and intimidation to scare students into gang participation. It is not uncommon for gang members to resort to threatening harm against another youth’s family members if he or she does not comply with their wishes.
Hart said the key to steering children away from gang life is found in Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” That’s why PPMH sees the value in planting the seeds of God’s Word in young people’s hearts at an early age, so it will influence their decisions and actions when they are older.
“It’s important for them to not only be taught the Bible, but to learn how God works in their lives, in their own personal situations,” she said. “When they are faced with temptations, they will remember what they learned and hopefully find the courage to make the right choices. It’s crucial that Prince of Peace Mission reach out to the next generation, because they hold the future for their country.”
Christian Aid has sent financial help for several PPMH children’s programs, including hot meals and food packages for needy kids, Bibles, and school supplies. Through these simple gifts, boys and girls receive help for their material needs. Even more importantly, they experience Jesus’ love and know that they are precious children of their heavenly Father.
Although the ministry faces many societal challenges, PPMH is seeing a steady harvest for the gospel as it works in communities throughout the nation. More workers are needed, and the ministry is excited by the success of its Bible institute, called “El Shaddai,” where 600 students are currently enrolled to receive training as church leaders and missionaries. Two primary programs are offered—a three-year diploma and a five-year bachelor’s degree. Supporters of Christian Aid have helped pay expenses for some of the students who cannot afford the training.
Through the inspired efforts of PPMH, both children and adults are committing their lives to the Lord and growing in their faith. Pray that gospel workers will continue to impact lives for eternity as one person at a time, in one village at a time, hears and responds to the good news of true peace that can only be found in Christ.
- For youth as they face temptations to drop out of school, join gangs, and use alcohol and drugs. Pray they will have the love and support they need to make wise choices.
- For safety for PPMH workers and other evangelistic groups as they travel in areas where gangs are active.
- For Hondurans to turn to Christ in the midst of their sufferings as they deal with high unemployment, AIDS, government corruption, and widespread crime. –Christian Aid Mission