Warning: For the protection of the people in this story, their names have been changed.
MS-13 has a long history of terrorizing the neighborhoods of El Salvador.
A trail of tears and pain for families who have been ripped apart has been left in the wake of gang violence warfare.
But under a blanket of darkness, the light of Jesus is penetrating through in the most amazing way and is causing an entire neighborhood to be transformed.
And because of one simple act of obedience by a former gang member, redeemed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead the charge for transformation in his neighborhood, a ripple effect is taking place across an entire community.
It was just another typical day in the dusty and crowded MS-13 controlled neighborhood of El Salvador.
Heavily armed police patrolled the streets, aimed and ready to shoot or break up any hint of chaos or tension. Some law enforcement officials were so terrified of the gang members they covered their faces with black ski masks hoping to hide their identity.
In contrast, the people of this neighborhood carried on like it was just another day, because to them it was.
Store owners opened up their shops hoping to earn a few dollars to feed their family. Traditional Salvadorian food stands prepared breakfast for local patrons, charging as little as .35 cents per item. Children peeked their curious eyes out through the barred doors of their home, almost as if keeping a watchful eye on the streets themselves.
And in the middle of it all, nestled down a tiny side street behind a sturdy metal door, nearly 50 children gathered to learn about Jesus Christ.
The fruit of this local church was evident, as both children and adults alike were found faithfully serving with joy.
Like a lighthouse illuminating the way to a dying world, this local church holds kid’s programs nearly every weekend. Children gather to sing songs, eat a free breakfast, and learn about the Gospel.
Entering through this sliding metal door was almost like being transported to another world. As if this building was somehow hand-picked and cut out of another neighborhood and pasted in to bring light and truth to the people.
And you won’t believe the story behind the man who envisioned the entire children’s program and then brought it to life.
Once inside the church if you looked closely, nestled in the background was one man, who was busy working on various construction projects for the church, but often took a break from his work to oversee the children’s program and experience the joy and laughter of the children.
This man didn’t demand to be the center of attention. He watched as the church leaders served the children well, but also kept a protective eye over all those in his presence. It was obvious from the reverence both children and adults showed him, he had earned the respect and love of everyone in the room.
And this man wasn’t a pastor from the United States or some high-ranking public official.
This man was a former MS-13 gang leader himself.
And 20 years ago, Jesus Christ changed his life forever.
But God didn’t just want to free him from MS-13, God wanted him to be His hands and feet bringing God’s freedom to others.
We’ll call him Miguel, but for his safety, his name has been changed.
After God transformed his life, Miguel began to study God’s word fervently and became a Pastor, so he could preach the Gospel without apology and “leave the 99” to go back for the 1, just as Jesus commanded.
And by the grace of God, his testimony and preaching have led other gang members out of the gang lifestyle and into the arms of Jesus.
And now, his simple act of obedience almost two decades ago is saving lives in his own community.
In El Salvador, being a member of a gang is considered an act of terrorism. In fact, the police can shoot and kill gang members on the spot, if they so choose. And with the influx of Salvadorians being forced out of the United States and back to El Salvador, the gang problem is rampant.
But nonetheless, this Pastor has a thriving church inside gang territory with multiple services a week. He’s even planted other churches not too far down the road!
Faithfully, and without apology, Pastor Miguel preaches the Gospel with authority and conviction every single week. And as a result, church attendees are turning their lives over to Christ, as gang members leave the brutal gang lifestyle behind and instead choose to follow Christ.
If there was any doubt of the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives, this man is a living example in the flesh.
His heart is genuine, and he winces in sorrow at those still trapped in darkness. With faith unwavering, Pastor Miguel dedicates his life to preaching the Gospel with boldness.
He doesn’t make excuses or waver from the truth. He doesn’t water down the Gospel and pretend it is okay to be a “lukewarm” Christian. No, instead he has earned the respect of the church body as his sermons convict his attendees to be all in and dedicate 100 percent of their lives to Jesus Christ.
And serving beside him each day is his faithful and loyal wife. A bright and beautiful light for Christ who supports her husband’s role as Pastor, this woman helps run the children’s program of the church, hoping to plant the seed of truth in young children to encourage them to embrace Jesus and not choose the gang lifestyle. The heart of this couple is to have children learn the truth and power of Jesus at an early age and start a new generation who is no longer tempted to join the gangs.
And while this couple is a powerful force, they’d be the first to tell you their power comes from Christ alone. Humans will never be able to break the chains of darkness in their own strength. The power is through the Holy Spirit, and it comes from God alone.
You see, the power of Jesus Christ is real and a comforting reminder that light is stronger than darkness. While gangs use coercion, bondage, and threats to exert control and terrorize neighborhoods, the light of Jesus Christ can break through strongholds and penetrate even the hardest of hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that does the work, our Heavenly Father just asks us to obey, whatever the cost.
While this story is incredible, the best part of all is you too can contribute to Christ’s plan to fill the world with His light.
You may not be in a gang-controlled neighborhood, and your life might not be threatened by physical violence on a daily basis, but you can still spread the light of Christ in the darkness wherever you are.
Perhaps you work in an environment engulfed by coworkers living out worldly passions and desires, and flat out denying the very Creator who puts air in their lungs each morning. Or maybe your family member or child has walked away from Christianity altogether, and is trapped in addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Wherever you are, and whoever is in your life, remember it is not by accident.
God put you in your very situation, for a moment like this. And He’s given every Christian the supernatural power to break through the strongholds of darkness by walking in the power of Jesus.
So use your faith to be a lighthouse to those trapped in darkness. Your life is a walking testimony, and whether you realize it or not, people are watching you and how you respond to life’s difficulties.
This man could have ignored or delayed the call of God when the Holy Spirit drew him into the light many years ago, but instead, he simply chose to obey Jesus, not knowing his small act of obedience would later transform an entire neighborhood into believers of Christ.
So, brothers and sisters please be encouraged! Lives are being transformed through the power of the Gospel. You can read more about our past report on gang members leaving everything behind and choosing to follow Christ, and take comfort in knowing the power of Jesus is stronger than darkness.
Please remember to pray for this Pastor and his wife as they live in the trenches fighting the good fight and running the race for Christ. While there are many gang members who have abandoned the gangster lifestyle to follow Jesus, some are still trapped in gang violence and lives are still being taken too soon from needless gang-related violent tragedies.
And make it a goal in 2019 to be sensitive to your surroundings and pray as you read His word for guidance on who you can reach out to with the life-changing truth of Jesus Christ. Who knows, God just might use you to save lives, just as he used the Pastor and his wife in El Salvador. God uses ordinary men and women to accomplish big things for His kingdom, all we have to do is obey the call.
What encouraging words would you like to leave for this Pastor and his faithful wife?
Can you think of anyone in your life who God has put on your heart to reach out to?
If so, leave a prayer request, whether specific or general in the comments below, so other believers can join you in prayer!