Life is cheap in the barrio. Really? No! It's valuable! But this weekend, two were murdered.
Murder used to be something I read about in novels, usually mysteries that I enjoyed. Once in a while, we heard about a murder on TV and, as sad as it was, it was very removed from my life in New Jersey. The two murders this weekend were not related, as in, they had nothing to do with each other, BUT they affected many of the same people.
One very special, God-fearing, Christian family lost their son/nephew/cousin to what at first looked like a heart attack. He was working up in the north of Ecuador and the family received the news of his death. This 20 year old grew up in Block 6 of Bastion Popular. He was friends with my friends: Carlos, Raul, and many others. He grew up in our church and in a strong Christian family- the same family that I visit when I go out to the country-side... The same family that I hand my car keys to and say, "help! something sounds weird". When my friends heard of his death, they were shocked and saddened. "He just got to heaven ahead of us," Carlos told some of the church women who were talking on the street. The tone changed later Sunday afternoon, when the autopsy came back with evidence of trauma/foul play. It was not a heart attack that killed this young man on Saturday. So far, one man is in jail, but no one knows any details of this murder.
A day earlier, Friday, May 7, Ecuador was getting ready to watch the big game Ecuador-Peru. There was a festive feel in the air as I climbed the hill, to Bloque 6/7 to do a Bible study with a friend. I walked back down that hill even happier as my friend had decided to trust in Jesus as her personal Savior! Later that night, my roommate Becky and I went to a friend's house in Bastion to see the big soccer game. The streets were desolate as everyone watched the game and we booked it to get to the safety of his house. As Ecuador lost :( we heard more about what had happened and was happening in Bastion. In the community of Bloque 8, 2 dirt streets down from where we hold Kids' Club/Youth group, a famous gang leader was killed that afternoon. This was maybe in response to a previous killing against the rival gang about 6 weeks ago (Life is cheap???). We knew things were tense and were getting tenser, and apparently this new killing hypes it all up a notch. Newspaper Article (Spanish)
For the past month I haven't been "allowed" to bring my car to our Bloque 8 ministries, since a famous car thief was seen on our Kids' Club street. I've definitely lost some weight trecking that hill 5 times a week, and the walk itself has become an important part of ministry. I pass many of our school kids and moms on my way and stop to chat. I see church youth and ex-church youth and they walk with me, catching me up on their lives. As the situation escalates, I'm now "not allowed" to walk by myself and will always have some escort/body guard. Usually, that means Carlos. Carlos makes it his job to make sure that I know and am known by the gang leaders and various other characters that he knows on the way. We make it a point to stop and chat with potentially very dangerous people whom can actually make my walk much safer. We usually invite these guys to church, and I usually end up holding 1 or 2 kids who throw themselves at me for hugs during the encounter.
I don't mean to be dramatic. I just felt the need to write about this life here. This life here that is a foreign world from the one I grew up in. How blessed am I to experience this as an adult? I didn't grow up hearing a motorcycle and knowing it could mean danger. I was 29 before I had to be told to duck into a side street to avoid a group of men walking towards us- notice I "had to be told". It wasn't a natural reaction.
Verses like Psalm 118:6, Psalm 56:11 and Hebrews 13:6 have a whole new meaning to me. "In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?" My God is taking care of me and providing for my needs. He provides wise "body-guards" and He probably stops a lot of bad stuff from happening that I have no clue about.
Maybe it goes without saying, but I should write it anyway. I appreciate your prayers. Keep 'em coming, for me and my friends. Thanks!