El Salvador (MNN) — This past year, murder rates in El Salvador have skyrocketed. In the first nine months of the year, 4,930 were killed. With the population standing around 6.5 million, The Economist News reports the murder rate is 20 times larger than in the United States. This increase in violence has caused the country to be named the most violent country on earth, aside from those at war.
What caused it?
The last time the country saw this peak of violence was during the civil war, which ended in 1992.
“We saw migration and civil war creating a situation of the break down of families,” Edouard Lassegue of Compassion International says.[SIC] “No male role models in the family, and that has created such a vacuum, especially for young men growing up in the country, with anger in their hearts because there is no justice to them and then also hunger for them to have a role model in their homes.”
As many families without male role models were forced to leave the country, organized crime started among gangs. After committing the offenses, they were sent back to El Salvador, where organized crime continued on.
In 2012, the government backed a truce between the two gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, which promised to stop killing rivaling gang members. Murder rates dropped considerably, and police stopped putting constant targets on their backs.
But, the truce did not remain a permanent solution.
“The gang leaders evidently used that time, when they were no longer targeted by the police,…to organize themselves and become better armed.” Though murders between the gangs had lessened, killings of civilians hadn’t.
The arrival of elections last year and pressure from the population pushed the government to drop the support they gave and turn against gangs once again. Now, gang members are becoming more and more violent.
“The month of August saw over 900 murders in the small country of El Salvador. The day of August 23rd, which happens to be my birthday, saw 52 murders that day,” Lassegue says.
With a warzone just outside the home, families barely take a step outside, and parents won’t let kids leave the house unaccompanied, as gang leaders target young people to recruit. Children as young as seven or eight may be recruited. But the central age to begin gang work is 14 to 16 years old.
But that’s not the whole story of El Salvador; it’s just part of it.
The other side of the story
“Men and women are standing in the gap. [They] are doing what is right and have dedicated themselves not to let their community, their family, their country, go down in the path of violence,” Lassegue says.
“There is one institution in the midst of all of this that is still respected in the country by both the good guys and the bad guys. And those people who have decided to stand in the gap, and that institution, is the church.”
Pastors and their families have remained in violent communities to continue their ministry work, to continue sharing that there can still be good, and to continue being a shield for children to survive and develop.
This is where Compassion steps in.
“We walk alongside of those pastors. We hold their hand of support, of prayer, and providing for them and their church members so that they can minister adequately to those children and young people in their communities.”
Compassion reinforces the ministry work the church does, and their sponsorship program introduces kids to Jesus and prevents them from joining gangs and violence.
Recently, the Compassion Director for El Salvador spoke with a man after a church service. Both his daughters were in the Compassion-sponsorship program, and he was sharing his appreciation for what was being done. Through the sponsorship, his daughters were able to stay out of any violence or ricochet of violence. That man was a gang leader and said if he’d had a program like this, he wouldn’t be where he was today.
“That’s what we are doing in El Salvador: rescuing children and young people from joining gangs and giving them the opportunity for their lives,” Lassegue says.
“The media portrays the situation as hopeless, as something that is such a dire situation; but at the same time, I want also this side of the story to be told regarding the heroes of the faith who are turning things around in their community one person at a time.”
Pray for the country of El Salvador. Pray that violence will stop and people will look to the Lord for justice. Also pray for children to have peace in their hearts and avoid becoming gang members.
To invest in a child in El Salvador, click here to explore sponsorship.