El Salvador: Acuérdense de los PresosAmérica Latina
The door shut behind us, and I heard the key locking the door. The guards stayed outside. Surrounding us were about 150 young men dressed only in baggy shorts, with tattoos covering much of their bodies and shaved heads. I sensed tension in the air, and their eyes asked, “Why are you here, and what do you want?”
Pushing through the crowd came a familiar face. Hector — a known gang member from the neighborhood across the highway from our church — was accused of a violent crime. We had helped build his family’s wooden home the previous year.
"Hermano (brother) Kenton, what are you doing here?” Hector asked. I told him we had come to see him. “This is my pastor,” Hector proudly told everyone.
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The tension dissipated, and several of the young men extended their hands to welcome us, but no one was more surprised than I. Hector had never once come to a church service or any activity for that matter. How could I be his pastor? The realization hit me that I was his pastor not because he came to where we were but because I went to where he was.
A Surprising Respect
That was my introduction to El Espino (The Thorn) youth detention center. The word on the street was that if you weren’t a gang member before you were sent there, you would be by the time you got out. Imprisoned youth spent their time tattooing their bodies. Drugs were prevalent. Yet a number of young men in El Espino indicated they wanted to leave the gang lifestyle. We went to the prison to start the faith-based Living Free program, which provides twelve steps to liberation from controlling habits.
For several years, I avoided prison ministry, justifying my decisions by saying that our ministry was helping children and youth, building wooden homes, and administering our Hosanna School. But one day, reading Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself,” I couldn’t ignore the need any longer, especially since the country of El Salvador is noted for having one of the worst prison systems in the world.
El Salvador: Acuérdense de los Presos
Por Kenton Moody