When it comes to crime and imprisonment, prevention is better than a cure. One church in Honduras has been helping to change the local culture of violence and criminal behaviour.
It was 11 o’clock at night, and Pastor Joel’s car came to a halt in the empty street. A threatening figure stood in the middle of the road, blocking his path.
After an anxious few moments, a voice came from the shadows: ‘Come here – that’s the pastor!’
It was the local gang leader, calling off the attack. With the tension broken, Pastor Joel rolled down his window and chatted easily with the gang members before driving safely home.
That was just one of Pastor Joel’s stories from his 20 years ministering in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Honduras’s capital city, Tegucigalpa. In the early years of his ministry, the greatly feared Mara 18 gang was active in the community. Violence was common, with two or three deaths every week.
‘It was a period that was just horrible,’ says Joel. The community was torn by poverty, drugs and family breakdown – widespread problems in Honduras. But gradually, the gang disappeared from the area and life began to improve. When asked the reason for this change, Pastor Joel has a simple answer: ‘It was not the police station – it was due to the church’s work.’
‘God put this feeling in my heart to work with these people,’ Pastor Joel explains. He began by talking to the gang leaders, and little by little he earned their trust. Knowing how much the young people loved football, he started a football tournament that also featured a talk on biblical values.
‘They started to see us with respect,’ Pastor Joel remembers. Eventually, he was even able to lead the gang leader to faith in Christ.
The church started working with the younger children, too. They set up a kindergarten where children from the poorest homes could receive tutoring, healthy snacks, medical and dental check-ups, and teaching about biblical values. Every few months the church also ran parenting classes. The aim was to break historic patterns of family breakdown and violence.
The children from the project are now growing into young adults. Many are succeeding in ways no one had thought possible. One young woman, Jasmine, became the secretary of the church, and recently completed a degree in Public Administration with top marks.
‘I come from a broken home, and the church has really helped me,’ she says. ‘There are very few people who actually get to study at university from this community. I am who I am today thanks to the church.’
Pastor Joel Rosales Matute is a member of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme.
Using football to change lives
Football is a great tool for preventing violence and building life skills among children and young people. It gives them a positive way to spend their time, and teaches them to work as a team and build good relationships.
If your church or organisation is interested in starting a football group for young people, here are some tips:
- Find helpers and coaches who have a love for working with young people and a vision of a better future for them.
- Look for materials relevant to your context that teach biblical values, such as what it means to be a good citizen, equality between men and women and the need to avoid violence. Use these in talks and discussions when the club meets.
- Do not get discouraged when you face challenges. At the beginning it is very difficult, but the love of helping young people will produce great results.
By Rosibel Martínez and Sara Chamale, who work on a football and crime prevention programme called Viva Sport with Red Viva Honduras.
Please contact Executive Coordinator María Luna on email@example.com for more information.