Last September we reported to you on our first interaction with the local gang in Armenia Bonito. Also, we shared with you Mike’s work sharing the gospel with the gang’s leader. Since then we have had regular and sometimes daily interaction with members of the gang. Many of you have asked for an update, so here it is.
Throughout the fall and winter the gang continued to terrorize the community. Extortion, rapes and murders caused many residents to flee Armenia Bonito and at night the citizens stayed locked in their homes. A dozen armed and stoned teenage boys wandered the streets, firing guns into the air and terrorizing anyone who went out-of-doors.
Businesses, families, delivery trucks were all being forced to pay the gang a “protection tax.” During that period our ministry refused to pay money to the gang. That is not to say we did not pay a cost. Almost all of our Honduran employees, students of our school, patients at our clinic and congregants in our church are residents of Armenia Bonito. It would be irresponsible of us not to protect those with whom the Lord has entrusted us. The primary way we have kept our people from harm was by providing free medical care to the gang. This made the gang happy and allowed for free and safe passage for those who frequented our ministry. But, we knew we only had a good relationship with the gang as long as they wanted one with us.
In November Honduras held its Presidential election. The ultimate winner, Juan Orlando Hernández, ran on a platform that he was going to use paramilitary tactics to rid the country of gang violence. On inauguration day, January 27, 2014, the new President sent the highly trained Honduran narcotics police into some of the most dangerous communities in order to send a message. Armenia Bonito was one of the communities to get such a visit. In fact, these visits have continued daily. Each day the community receives an unannounced, quick moving, heavy hitting visit from this paramilitary force. In addition, the local police have upped their visits. Several of the gang members have been arrested, shot at and chased out of the community by the police. The gangs hangout was raided and all its contents were confiscated.
Now, the dozen person gang is down to four boys. The bulk of the gang, including the gang’s leader, has left Armenia Bonito and has said they’re not coming back.
What about the three boys that came to Christ? After Umberto accepted Christ the gang’s leader promised us Umberto could leave the gang without retaliation. That lasted about four months. Umberto, who remains a believer, was being pressured so much to rejoin the gang that he ultimately fled Honduras and is rumored to be living illegally in Mexico. The second boy (name intentionally withheld) rejoined the gang and is active in another community. And, the third boy (name intentionally withheld) is still walking with the Lord and is attending our local church.
The remainder of the gang is still hanging around. The police and narcotics police are still visiting daily and chasing off the remnant. The community is quite, the citizens are calm and the murders, rapes and extortions have nearly ceased. But, we have no idea what the future holds.
Please pray for Umberto and the two other boys. Pray the rest of the gang will come to Christ. And, pray for increased safety in our ministry, Armenia Bonito and Honduras.