Violence, theft and destruction weigh heavily on communities in bondage to gangs. Fear hangs over the people like a cloud over a rain forest. As if life wasn’t hard enough, this was the case south of Sullana, Peru. The night before SportReach was to come to a particular area, the local pastor wanted to speak with me, (Kelly). As we sat down, he began telling me of the gang influence in the area and how he had been praying for them for over a year. He continued telling me a story that had happened the day before. He said the e3 team member assigned to that area for the week was training the local church members how to use the evangecube so he wanted to give them a live example. He stepped outside to grab the first person he saw. He invited a middle-aged man who looked pretty rough to come inside and he proceeded to tell him the story of Jesus. At the end the man didn’t respond but pulled the e3 campaigner aside and said, “I want you to come to my house this afternoon and tell my mother this story. I think this is the most important decision in my life.” That afternoon the man, the local “god-father” figure of the gang and his mother became new believers in Christ. Now, of course, I was moved by this story and I appreciated the pastor sharing it with me but I still didn’t see how it applied to my team coming the next day, so he continued. The leader of the gang wanted everyone in his group to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus so he had arranged a soccer match with my team and his gang. The pastor had offered to pay to use a camp that had a nice grass soccer field. After we played, they wanted me to share the Gospel with them. Many, many things ran through my mind on how this whole thing could go down but how could you pass up an opportunity like this.
The next morning our team met for breakfast and then a time of prayer. We prayed for strength, humility, good sportsmanship and the opportunity to serve and share our Lord. We headed to the field with spirits high, cautious joking and with a little wonder of what was to come. As we were warming up the gang members began to arrive, most of them ranging from 16 to 23. Playing on grass was a rarity so they too took the field to warm up. The clouds cleared quickly and the temperature rose as the game began and quickly things looked bad. They scored three goals right off the bat. Heads hanging low our team reached deep in order to represent our Lord well. By the time the game ended on this 90 degree “winter” day we had made a comeback. There was no celebration over our 5-4 win as we shook hands and walked over to the shaded benches. Chugging down water we confirmed with the gang leader that now was the time. “Give me the words, oh Lord,” I prayed.
How do you break through the hardness? How do you break through the pride of self? How do you open someone up to hear the truth? I don’t, but God’s word can. Romans 7:7 says “…Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet.”” Galatians 3:24 says “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” I began by asking them if they were a good person. Blank stares came back as if to say, “Are you serious?” Well, let me ask you a few questions to find out. Have you ever told a lie? Few hands came up, then I told them I sure had. Smiles broke out and everyone raised their hands. Have you ever stolen anything? Hands shot up in the air with one guy commenting that it was his job. Have you ever hated any one? Jesus says in Matthew 5:22 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Last one, has anyone here ever lusted after a woman? Oops was the response as hands raised and eyes darted. Then I told them that Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Hands slowly came down, smiles faded and seriousness fell over the young men. If God was to judge you based on the laws you just admitted that you broke, would you be found guilty or innocent. “Guilty” was the response. If He finds you guilty, do you think you’d be sent to Heaven or hell? “Hell” was the response. Now, the moment of truth, are they ready? You see, if they continue to justify themselves and their sins then they are not ready to hear the Good News. “Does that concern you?” I asked. Heads nodded. So I continued on to share the Good News with them that there was an answer to the problem of sin. Jesus paid the penalty for their sins, for the times they lied, stole or hated. At the end I gave them an opportunity to make a decision to follow Christ and start a new life. Heads were bowed and eyes were closed. Hearts were changed and I pray, so was a community.
Over the next hour and a half we played more soccer, chatted, laughed and just hung out. Every one of the members individually, quietly asked for a Bible. I had a great talk with the “god-father” about being a lifelong learning and follower to Christ and continuing to encourage the guys. The local pastor assured me he would continue to pray for these guys and disciple them in their homes whenever they wanted. As we closed our time together my team took off their shirts and gave them to the gang so there would always be a remembrance of what God did that day.
(For more information of this method of evangelism see http://www.wayofthemaster.com/)