San Marcos, El Salvador (Friday)
Today we visited a child development center supported by Compassion. Each project is a church because everything supports the ministry of a local church.
I was greeted by Karla with a sign with my name. She's 13 and has been sponsored for 8 years. Her friend Merlin and she danced with the group during the opening program.
The worship band was student led and sang in Spanish and English ("how great is our God"); there was a drama from 2 Samuel about Mephibosheth welcomed to the kings table and a reflection on the passage by a student.
We toured the different workshops which equip children with skills: computer, sewing backpacks which are sold to the other centers, mixing liquid soap, music, and English class where we played twister in English with the kids.
Lots of time to visit with the children and hear the story of Nelson, a gang member who eventually came to Christ because his daughter was being cared for by the church. I sat with him and two current gang members who are fulfilling their community service working at the church but are not tryt Christians.
They talked about life in the gang. You start out as nothing and rise in power and money. Coming to faith has great consequences, and actually experience dramatic change because they are willing to lose their life, respect gang authority (now pastor authority) and are incorporated into a new family.
Pastor Edwin Steve and his wife Sonia told us their story. 20 years as an Assemblies pastor, 12 years began this church with Compassion because of their passion for children and students, and had their first graduates this year.
They discovered the area was surrounded by gangs and was inspired by David Wilkerson's The Cross and the Switchblade, going straight for the gang leadership. The first boss became a Christian and now a pastor.
Sonia said, (paraphrased) "It Is such a great blessing to the children and for the church able to be at the front end of transformation. We could have a different church in better neighborhood, but its a gift to work with gangs. We are called to preach to everyone. We are human and sometimes worried. Thank god he's always comforting us. The One who invited us is faithful. Proud to be his child. Not easy but God has given my husband favor."
We ended our time laying hands on the Edwin, Sonia, Nelson and the two gang members.
We spent a few hours at the national HQ of Compassion, listening the director Guillermo share his passion for changing the reality of El Salvador with the prevalence of gangs, natural disasters and poverty, which he defines as a lack of opportunity.He tearfully shared how his son had a dream, rather announced his dream, at eight years old of being a doctor. His son is now a doctor because he had the opportunity to go to school and fulfill his dream. Those stuck in the cycle of poverty have no hope of the future because the choices are not there.
The staff was so welcoming, competent (administration, child-sponsor letters, special projects, etc), committed and accountable for the spiritual, social and physical development of 46,000 children in 183 projects in El Salvador.