Our entire YWAM DTS team jammed into one van and drove out to a community named Gerado Barrios, renowned for housing one of the biggest communities of gangsters in El Salvador. The police are constantly on the look out for gang members, meaning that many members of our team had to cover up tattoos to avoid being confused for different rival gang members.
As we pulled off the main road onto a rocky side street, everyone in the van went quiet. A drastic change occurred. No longer were the houses made out of cinder block, but instead there were shacks made out of tin roofing and any scraps that could be found. The road was so rough that we slowed the car to walking pace.
This was to be the location for a majority of our ministry in San Salvador, in an area that the YWAM base has been working in for years, aiming to develop and reach the gangster community.
YWAM is the only foreign group that can venture into this particular community. The gang members only permit YWAMers to enter because they can see that our goal is to improve their neighborhood. If someone else tried to enter, they would rob them or worse. I was a little nervous as we arrived at the church building in the center of the community to minister. Many of the gang members were walking by, ‘patrolling’ the surrounding area as we ran a church service. God reminded me of the many visions and words that we had received as a team that He was going with us, that He had prepared the way for us to bring His kingdom to this place. We were able to share the love of Christ and encourage the local church, which is largely made up of an army of smiling grandmothers.
Preparing the land
The next time we visited this community we came ready to work! We walked down to the neighborhood soccer field ready to fix and dig a trench to help drainage. The grass was 6 feet tall and half the field was waterlogged with what appeared to be rain runoff, but actually turned out to be sewage draining from the surrounding houses onto the field. Our job--dig a 100 foot long, 1 foot deep trench… Oh boy, here we go! This is outreach, I thought! So we got underway, digging through the trench. About 30 minutes after we started, a large group of gang members came down to help, armed with rusty machetes. It didn’t seem like a big deal to us until the base director later told us that this is the first time they have showed any initiative to help improve their community, the first time they have done anything to help outside of their own needs! Praise Jesus! We are making a difference.
After about 5 hours of digging and 10 red blisters later, one of the ladies from the church brought down some Pepsi for us to share. A perfect opportunity to share about Jesus, I thought. So as everyone sat down--exhausted from the work--I built up my courage and started to share about the love and forgiveness of Jesus with the 15 or so gangsters that sat around me. I thought they would be distracted, or that maybe they would mock what I was saying--maybe they would laugh at me--but they didn’t. They sat there, listening with eyes focused, hearing about this great love that we have in Jesus, some nodding their head in agreement when I talked about my Savior!
Sowing the seed
I could tell that my message had significantly impacted two young guys in particular. Afterwards, I went up to talk more with them and pray for them. I shared some prophetic words that God put on my heart and one of them told me, “I have goosebumps”. I knew in that moment that God had not just called us here to spend hours digging through the mud, but had used this time to share His love to one of His precious children.
What a privilege to be able to share Jesus with these young men in one of the darkest, ugliest parts of El Salvador. To see them standing there with their marijuana in one hand and their Pepsi in the other, listening about a man named Jesus, who doesn’t judge them but forgives and died for them, I am so thankful. I am grateful for the seeds that I got to plant. These guys seem fiercely tough on the outside, but really they are just lost children, and God so desires to encounter them with His great love