September 13, 2013

Violence and Poverty

Violence is like a cancer. When it is present, it slowly tears down your defenses, leaving you vulnerable to a host of other problems. Poverty and violence go hand in hand. Those without power and resources struggle for hope and direction. More often, the quest for power and control is manifested in a culture of violence. 

Crime is a problem in El Salvador. The Civil War of the 80s and early 90s has given way to a new wave of violence as street gangs now claim their territory and seek to exert their power.

What does this have to do with Compassion? Compassion works at the center of three concentric circles: The local church, Compassion International, and those facing poverty.

This summer, I had a chance to travel to El Salvador with MOPS and Compassion International. I've spent time in other countries in the past, and there's always an element of "culture shock" when you visit a new place.

There were times where times when I felt a little uncomfortable. I'm not accustomed to having police armed with automatic weapons following us around for our protection. I felt somewhat awkward and out of place, not quite sure how to process the poverty and the masses of people crowded onto buses or sitting together in groups at the local plaza.

Why does helping the poor matter? Why is the work of Compassion International important?

Raise your voice for the voiceless! Defend the rights of those that do not have! Raise the voice and do them justice! Defend the poor and the needy! Proverbs 31:8-9

El Salvador has known its share of bloodshed, but this is a new day, a season of hope. The country director, Guillermo Munoz, spoke with passion for his country and those trapped in poverty. Compassion is striving to bring that hope to the communities where their projects are located and to the thousands of children participating in the sponsorship program.

A recent UN study in Asia brought to light the high precedence of rape in many impoverished countries. The researcher draws an interesting conclusion. 
"There's been quite interesting research to argue that men come together in gangs and then get involved in a whole range of violence and antisocial activities as a way of trying to assert their masculinity, to make themselves feel like strong and powerful men. The conditions of poverty that they live in prevent them from having access to more traditional manifestations of manhood, such as being a provider. Their energies get directed rather into demonstrating sexual success with women, demonstrating dominance and control over women, and fighting with other men."
While in El Salvador, I had the privilege of visiting several different project centers. At one of the locations, the pastor was telling us a little bit about the community they live and work in. There are two major rival gangs in El Salvador, and their violence accounts for a large portion of the crime within the country. The amazing thing is that Christ is making a difference in the lives of the people in their community. Two men from rival gangs now work alongside each other serving the local body of believers - one as a youth minister and the other as a building caretaker. 

This is where Compassion offers such hope. Instead of young men needing gangs to find power and identity, they find identity in the positive environment of a Compassion project center. They encourage things like the power of an education, making plans for the future, and fostering a community of brothers and sisters who learn together. It's a built-in community that offers life and hope rather than crime and death.

Many of the children come from broken families plagued by gang violence, what a blessing to be able to make a difference in the lives of children who might not otherwise have a hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and violence.

I sponsor a little girl in El Salvador. I had the opportunity  to spend some time with her at her local Compassion project center. I wasn't able to visit her home because it was to dangerous for me to go there, and yet, that's the world she lives in every day. I pray for Andrea, that God would keep her safe, that he would change her community, and that God would use the church volunteers and compassion staff to be the hands and feet of Christ in her life. 

I sponsor a child because I want to offer hope where hope is hard to find. Compassion is a tool that God is using to make a difference in the lives of children. Will you be a vessel of hope to a little boy or girl living on the other side of the world? It really does make a difference for these kids to know that someone out there thinks that they are special, that God has a plan for their life, that through hard work and perseverance they can break the chains of poverty and change their family for generations to come.

Chains are breaking. Can you hear it?

Read more about my trip to El Salvador:


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