GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)–In crime-heavy Guayaquil, Ecuador, where more than 60,000 youth are involved in gangs, the scene at the public park looks like something to avoid.
A dozen young men lounge around the concrete, outdoor amphitheater. One guy — wearing a backward New York Yankees hat, shades and chains — sits hunched over. Another with tattoos and dreadlocks drops down next to a youth sporting a carefully carved beard line from his bottom lip to his chin.
Years ago these men might have been plotting an operation with guns and violence. Today these one-time rival gang leaders are planning to bring the Good News back to their “hoods” through Christian Latin rap.
“Every one of these guys, the Lord has called them to different parts of Guayaquil,” said group leader Byron Garcia. “We join together to be able to assist in their part of the city. Before we knew Christ, we used to get together and beat up on one another with our gangs. Now we gang up together to evangelize.”
Poverty, a desire for family stability and curiosity often are the carrots that draw the city’s youth to gangs. Each young man around the circle had his reasons.
For rapper and former gang leader Jose Luis — also known by his stage name, “Poetico” — drinking, drug addiction and sexual promiscuity marked his life. But problems with his kidneys and liver plunged him into despair. He lost the will to live. Finally he realized Christ wanted to redeem his life, and he accepted that invitation. It’s a decision his old gang refuses to accept.
“There are many of us who have been persecuted, shot at, for coming over to Christ’s side,” Luis said. “We have enemies in the world. But thanks to God, we’re all still alive. Nobody has lost their lives yet.”
Garcia, Luis and their new brothers in Christ have banded together to bring Guayaquil to a saving knowledge of the Lord. They host neighborhood concerts of Christian hip-hop and reggaeton (a form of Spanish-language music popular throughout Latin America). At each performance they invite the youth to accept Christ.
“It’s like the Lord comes to them and helps them to remember their own pain and suffering,” Garcia said. “They can see through my life what they, too, could have lived. Seeing me in this wheelchair shows them that this is no game.” Garcia was paralyzed in an altercation with police in which he was shot five times.
The ministry team, under the training and mentoring of International Mission Board missionary Guy Muse, pull together new believers to form house churches. By offering discipleship plans, Muse provides ways for the evangelists to enhance their efforts.
Each Sunday night the rappers gather with friends for fellowship and Bible study — a house church that sometimes meets on the sidewalk of a busy city street. Songs of praise rise above the very neighborhood once terrorized by these young men, who now call themselves “Jesus Rappers.”
“We all have the same ministry to reach the unevangelized,” Garcia said. “We throw out nets and see what we catch. Those who believe, we disciple them and a whole series of events happen. We’re confident God is going to do great things in Guayaquil.”
Dea Davidson writes for the International Mission Board.