In a place ruled by gang violence, God is bringing hope to El Salvador's youth at risk.
As a green-streaked ball bounces down a concrete field, youths’ feet thunder close behind. This is a typical soccer match. But here in El Salvador, it’s much more than a game.
All around the field, gangs control the territory. They operate openly. Murder isn’t just common, it’s daily. The decision over what side of the street to walk or what color to wear can mean life or death.
Caught in the middle are El Salvador’s children and youth. “Gangs thrive on marginalized and confused youth struggling with poverty, broken families, and abuse,” said John,* one of our local partners. Police trying to keep them from the gangs also target them. “Many are taken to jail without any trial,” John said. “Leaving the house is a big risk. Many are captives in their homes.”
This is a hard place to share the Gospel, but one where it must be shared if these young people are to have any hope of peace. With your support, Samaritan’s Purse is working with our partner, Project Arrow, and local churches to give them that chance. Soccer is the tool. The Good News of Jesus is the life-transforming message.
“Soccer is very popular here, and most youths are extremely excited to play,” John said. “Project Arrow gives them an opportunity to get out of the house, release some energy, have fun, exercise, and enjoy a social and spiritual time with friends and staff. What’s more, the gangs have given permission to the soccer projects in these, some of the most marginalized, vulnerable, and violence saturated communities on earth. God opens doors.”
Brother Simon* leads one of these soccer outreaches. He remembers when the field where he now hosts friendly tournaments and Bible devotions was the scene of deadly shootouts between gangs and police.
“Sometimes, we all had to throw ourselves to the ground,” he remembered. “It is difficult to speak about when I had to go identify one of our children or young people who were killed in the crossfire…remembering them saddens my soul.”
But here, on this small patch of land, this concrete soccer pitch, God is doing something new. As girls and boys, children and teens—some even current gang members—come to play soccer, they are learning a way of peace in Jesus’ Name.
“We talk about zero violence when we are playing soccer or during the discipleship program,” Brother Simon told us. “Everything started to change. That established the foundations of the peace that is lived in this place today.”
Project Arrow is also helping youth with other challenges. They can receive job skills training, help with school, and even support to grow household gardens to overcome rising hunger. “The church has been able to develop a program that has been a blessing here,” Brother Simon said. “The church could not enter this place without Project Arrow.”
Thirteen-year-old Lucas* is one of the young men whose life God has touched. He lives in an apartment block known as “Sodom and Gomorrah” because of all that takes place there. Through tears, he told us that he has lost many friends to the gangs. The danger often keeps him indoors.
This past December, Lucas gave his heart to Jesus through the Project Arrow ministry. He is now growing in faith and striving to be an example to his community. “Everyone thinks badly of those of us who live here. But it’s not like that,” he said. “Today, we are learning Biblical passages from the New Testament. Brother Simon takes us to church on weekends, and everything is changing here. I can perceive it.”
Lucas also wanted to say thank you to partners like you who make it possible for him to be a part of Project Arrow. “Really, thank you very much for everything you do for us here,” he
said. “Today, we are examples for other communities, and God in Jesus Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit, is with us today thanks to your support.”
Please keep supporting this work and praying for our partners and the churches leading Project Arrow across El Salvador. They face enormous challenges and risk their lives every day for the sake of the Gospel. Much work remains.
“I always believe there will be gangs here,” Brother Simon said. “Today, they also play soccer with us; they recognize that they need God. They have respected the field. The most important thing is that our young people do not get involved in gangs and manage to grow healthy lives by the hand of God. Our love must also be for those who have made mistakes… Jesus Christ also came for them.”
*Name changed for privacy