Overcoming violence with love
‘It is easy to worship God inside the walls of a church. But, as Christians, we are called to something much bigger than this,’ says Pastor Arnold in Honduras.
He continues, ‘Our church is in the city of San Pedro Sula where every day three, four or five young people are killed. We are losing a generation of young people to the violence and gangs that surround us.’
Years of military rule, corruption, inequality and violent crime mean Honduras is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Unemployment is high and two out of three Hondurans are living in poverty. Many young people are choosing to leave the country in search of work.
In a growing number of neighbourhoods, gangs and drug traffickers rule the streets. They use violence and threats to intimidate and control the population.
The Transforma Joven (Transform Youth) programme provides young church leaders with the theological and practical tools they need to ‘maintain justice and do what is right’ (Isaiah 56:1). After training, the young people inspire their churches to work with the communities around them, bringing about positive change.
Erick, 23, says, ‘In my community we have many gangs and problems with drugs, alcohol and violence. There are also a lot of neglected children. In 2016 I started attending conferences and events run by Transforma Joven, and for the first time I had the chance to speak about the problems I saw in my community. I was able to discuss these problems from the perspective of the Bible and God’s love. It was a really amazing and emotional experience.’
Play for peace
Erick continues, ‘A friend and I decided to develop a community sports project called Play for Peace. We held planning meetings in the community and then we approached the churches in the area. We were surprised that when we presented the project to them, the church leaders said no. They felt they had enough programmes already without adding anything else.
‘We decided to go ahead anyway and we began a sports club on Friday nights for children and teenagers. As well as playing football and basketball, we built trust with the children and talked about things that are important to them.
‘Gradually the number of people coming along increased. We provided a safe space for them where they could exercise, have fun and develop healthy relationships. The children saw that this was something different. We spoke with them about God’s love and we saw big changes in their lives as they began to open up to us, and to each other.
‘Seeing that what we were doing was of great benefit, the local churches started to get involved. Now they are happy to provide spaces for the children to come together to play, learn and talk.’
Pastor Arnold says, ‘The church is going where nobody else wants to go – not even the police or government. But we want to walk alongside people who are caught up in violence and hate. We want to show God’s love to children and young people who have no other love in their lives.’
Transforma Joven programmes were started by Fundación Kairos in Argentina and Paz y Esperanza in Peru in 2010. In 2013, Unión Bíblica Honduras, with financial support from Tearfund, brought the programme into Central America and started to train young leaders in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. More than 300 young leaders have now been trained in Honduras.