Church protects Cristhian from criminal gangs

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Compassion International
/ Categories: Sponsorship

In one of the most dangerous areas of Ecuador, Cristhian and many other young people live in the shadow of criminal gangs. Their friends are recruited or forced to distribute drugs. Compassion child sponsorship programmes, like this one in Ecuador run by the local church, are providing a place of safety. Despite the constant threat, the church works closely with young people like Cristhian to protect them from gangs and give them a different future.

Shooting guns, self-defence and riding a motorcycle—these are the types of skills that children in Cristhian’s community in Ecuador are learning from criminal gangs. The gangs recruit children and teach them these things, and put them to work, selling and distributing drugs, and even carrying out robberies.

“Children ten years old or even younger sent out with a gun by the gangs. They tell them to keep quiet, and if they are detained, they can’t say anything. And the children do it—if the police ask them something, they don’t speak because they are threatened and scared,” explains Juliana, a youth tutor.

 


Cristhian holds a neighbourhood cat.

 

They recruit children because it is easier to intimidate and control them and since they are minors, their privacy and rights are protected by law, and they can’t be charged with adult crimes.

But in Guayaquil, many children are recruited at school and forced to sell drugs. In exchange for the “work”, gangs offer the children video games or high-end phones. Those who refuse to sell drugs are threatened or even beaten.

The community of Valerio Estacio, located in the suburbs of Guayaquil city, is considered one of the most dangerous areas in Ecuador. Rates of crime, extortion, and drugs are very high, and its inhabitants live in a constant shadow. This community’s children and young people live every day in constant risk and are surrounded by danger.

Most shops and commercial businesses are abandoned because the gangs solicit money from the merchants and intimidate them, causing many people to close their stores or leave them.

 


Cristhian sits on the steps of the church with his tutor Juliana.

 

Cristhian stands strong against drugs

Here in Valerio Estacio, Cristhian, a 13-year-old boy who belongs to the sponsorship programme. He is quiet and shy. Several months ago, at his school, older youths began offering him drugs. Cristhian immediately refused, explaining that he had no interest in trying illegal substances. But Cristhian’s refusal only caused these young people to start bothering him and putting more pressure on him.

“Shortly after I told them I didn’t want to try drugs, those guys told me that if I didn’t want to try drugs, I would at least have to sell them on the street or from my house. And if I do, I will earn a lot of money,” says Cristhian.

Scared and fearful, Cristhian considered stopping attending school because of the constant threats. Several of his friends and cousins were recruited to sell drugs, but he chose not to join the gang.

Terrified, he hid at his home with the fear of being harmed. Desperate and not knowing who to turn to, Cristhian sought refuge at the church.

“I was scared, but I knew that the church was a safe place for me,” he says.

This was not the first time Juliana, tutor of the sponsorship programme in the community, received this type of help. Several young people at the centre were already being intimidated by the gangs.

“As a church, we cannot abandon our children and young people. That is why together with Pastor Daniel, the centre decided to help Cristhian and the other youths to prevent them joining the gangs,” says Juliana.

 


Cristhian is grateful to Pastor Daniel (left) for his support.

 

A beacon of hope in the community

Juliana and Pastor Daniel opened the church doors so youths could go after school, protecting them from being intimidated or persecuted on the way to their homes. Juliana constantly visits Cristhian and many others to ensure they are well and to prevent strangers from threatening them. In this way, the church is helping youths in its care from joining gangs and selling drugs.

Cristhian is out of danger. Backed by the church, the threats and persecutions stopped, and he was able to return to his school to study without fear, even though gangs are spreading in the area.

Juliana continues to work every day to prevent the youth in the Compassion programme from being recruited or intimidated.

“I feel safe in the church. I am very grateful to Jesus, because I know He takes care of me, and now I am part of the evangelism programme of the church,” says Cristhian.

Every month, the church’s youth group, including Cristhian, takes to the streets to speak about God to other young people who are not part of the sponsorship programme but are in danger from the gangs.

Although this area is one of the most dangerous in the country, criminals respect the church very much and have not come close to causing any problems. In the middle of the community, surrounded by drugs and crime, this church is a beacon of hope for all the youth in the area.

“It is not easy. The situation in the community is getting worse. But we will continue here fighting for young people like Cristhian since each of them is worth it,” says Pastor Daniel.

The church and the sponsorship programme clearly exemplify that in the darkest places, the light of Jesus Christ shines brightest.

 

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