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Pastor, missionary teamwork multiplies outreach to gangs

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (BP)–His head was splitting. Just moving was painful. Armando Meza crept slowly from his bed and turned on the radio to get some music to soothe his aching head.
But the music didn’t help.
“I knelt and asked the Lord to pardon me, that I had failed to stop drinking before because I was a sick alcoholic. But I asked him to please help me,” Meza recalled.
“I turned on the television and found the answer I was seeking,” he said. A former alcoholic, now a pastor in Costa Rica, was giving his testimony on a broadcast of the “700 Club.”
At the end of the program, Meza prayed: “Lord, if you could change that man, I want to be like him. Lord, help me. I want to be like him, I want to be a pastor.”
Little did he know that not only would he become a pastor, but God eventually would team him with a Southern Baptist missionary to transform youth gangs and neighborhoods in Honduras’ capital city.
Ten years later, Meza became pastor of Cerro Grande Baptist Church, a congregation in Tegucigalpa that missionaries Tim and Dorcas Patterson had helped start. The Pattersons learned Meza had a burden for the youth of the Cerro Grande neighborhood. Even before he was pastor, he had tried to evangelize the youth of the area, many of whom were gang members. Nothing proved very successful.
After a heart attack in 1997, Meza was praying about how to reach the youth. He felt led to approach the coach of a soccer team in the area.
The coach told the pastor he needed help getting uniforms for the team. Meza promised to help and began accompanying the team to their games. The boys, already involved in crime, were leery of the pastor at first. But gradually, they began to warm up to him.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t the proper time to talk to them about Christ. But I was praying that God would be preparing their hearts,” Meza said.
Finally he was able to get the boys to come to the church once a week for Bible study. As time went by, the boys began to accept Christ. But they didn’t integrate well into the church.
Patterson gave Meza an idea that cracked the gang ministry wide open.
“I shared with him some things that I had learned about church-planting movements,” Patterson said. “I introduced the concept of autonomous reproducing house churches with home-grown leadership.
“We discussed the idea of evangelizing a natural grouping of people and to allow that to become their church. We discussed the possibilities of raising leaders from the new converts and allowing each natural social grouping [gang] to become a church in itself.
“Armed with this new concept, Meza had no barriers to deal with such as buildings, established church programs and protocol,” Patterson said. “This would be a missionary movement that would help wherever it could.”
The new approach worked, and God began moving so dramatically among the gang members that a profound change was being made in the Cerro Grande neighborhood.
Meza’s work among the gangs was making such a difference, in fact, that it attracted the attention of a local television station, which aired a program on the outreach. The publicity generated invitations to start groups in other parts of the capital city.
Now, less than five years later, the gang outreach has multiplied to 30 groups with 1,100 youth in 15 neighborhoods of the city. Meza also works with 800 other young people in city schools with a “True Love Waits” program promoting sexual abstinence until marriage.
Editors Note: Tim and Dorcas Patterson are now ministering through community development projects in Mexico. Johnson is an International Service Corps missionary in Honduras. Poor is an overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board.

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  • Wally Poor & Rebecca Johnson