Erin Pettengill is a missionary nurse through Mission to the World (MTW), the mission sending arm of the (PCA). I have been a Registered Nurse for over 20 years. My family and I served in Honduras for 7 1/2 years where we were involved in Medical/Mercy Ministry, Street Children, English classes, Kids Club, and Church Planting. We are now serving in Equatorial Guinea, Africa in medical/mercy ministry and biblical teaching.
In recent months a new gang moved into the 3,000-person community of Armenia Bonito. They are associated with the notorious MS-13 transnational gang. In their first few weeks in the community the number of murders increased. The community is frightened. Some families are keeping their kids inside and avoiding the streets.
Mike and Jesús, the pastor of our new church plant, felt it was important to open a dialogue with the gang. Mike and Jesús went looking for the gang’s leader. They asked the other gang members where they could find the leader. Word got out and this spooked the gang. Two gang members approached our truck with guns pointed at Mike and Jesús. They flung the doors open, dragged Mike and Jesús out of the truck and shoved them to the ground. After searching the car for guns they kicked Mike and Jesús repeatedly and put their guns to their heads. “Why are you here?!? What do you want?!?” screamed the young men as they pressed the guns tighter to their heads. With hands raised, Mike and Jesús replied in a calm tone, “Relax, we are not here to bother you. We only want to introduce ourselves and talk to you.” “Who are you?” The gun wielding men continued. Standing up, Mike said, “This is Pastor Jesús, he is the pastor of the new church, and I am Mike. I am the missionary who owns the new medical clinic.”
Calming down a bit the gang members put away their guns, lit up a few joints to calm down and said, “We are sorry we hurt you, but we are here to protect this community and we didn’t know why you were looking for us.” Jesús responded, “Don’t worry. We understand.” Mike asked, “Can we buy you guys some Cokes and sit down and talk?” Within minutes Mike and Jesús were surrounded by a dozen, Coke drinking gang members. During a 30-minute talk Mike refused to pay a “protection” fee, but offered free medical care to any of the guys at our clinic. Everyone was content and everybody parted ways.
A week later Umberto, one of the gang’s members, approached Jesús and said he wanted to talk. Mike and Jesús talked with him several times over a week. They gave him a Bible, talked about Christianity and Umberto became a Christian. But, he was scared. He wasn’t sure if the gang would let him leave.
Mike and Jesús agreed to meet with the gang with Umberto and ask if he could leave the gang because he was now a Christian. They brought plenty of Bibles and gave one to each member of the gang. After Umberto announced he was a Christian, Jesús asked the gang leader if Umberto had his permission to leave the gang. The leader looked at all the members and said, “If any of you want to leave the gang because you want to follow God, you have my permission.”