Recently I had a team of students on mission in Central America. We were working in a country known for lot of gang influence and activity. On one particular day we were supposed to go to a prison, but were held up by government red tape and arrived about 2hrs later than planned. For a while it looked like we might not get in. However, God can bring good out of any bad situation. Because we were late, we were invited to eat with the prisoners in the mess hall. This allowed us to interact casually, and gain trust. When the guards saw us interacting, they invited us to do music, so we ended up doing a little church service with around 40 young men. They were from a gang that our host church had never worked with before.
Gangs in Central America have a “blood in/blood out” rule, meaning you have to shed blood to be initiated into the gang, and the only way out is by your blood being shed. Because it is a Catholic culture with a great respect for Jesus, there is one exception to this rule. Some gangs will allow members to leave if they want to become born-again Christians. The blood that Jesus shed on the cross can free you from thug life. But you had better mean it, because the gang is watching you. If it is a fake, “jailhouse” conversion, you won’t last long.
I tag teamed the message with a guy from our host church who used to be a gang member himself. They listened and responded to me, but when he spoke he obviously had an authenticity and authority with this audience that I will never have. And he was not shy about getting them to act. I had prayed and asked them to repeat a prayer after me to accept what Jesus had done on the cross for them. And they did. But then he got up and basically said, “if you really mean it, you have to take a public stand in front of everyone.” And they did. We saw 14 gang members come and stand up in from of everyone, declaring that they wanted the new lifestyle that Jesus had for them. It was an awesome thing to witness. When we proclaim the gospel boldly, God acts powerfully, and people respond decisively.
We ended our time by playing “soccer” (it is actually “football” everywhere else in the world). Then we said our goodbyes with lots of hugs and handshakes. The sense of God’s presence lingered as we rode to the mission base in the back of the truck.
” I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16