Emilio, 10, displays a rare smile as he sits between his mother and Compassion President Wess Stafford. A gang shooting left Emilio paralyzed and his father dead. Thanks to a Compassion church partner, children like Emilio are seeing light in the midst of darkness.
Emilio Josue Lopez Martinez dreads bedtime. Each time the 10-year-old closes his eyes to go to sleep, terrible, violent images flood his mind. The violence rivals that of any horror movie. But Emilio's nightmares are real.
Just two days before Christmas 2004, Emilio and his father were returning home to Chamelecó®¬ a bustling area of 75,000 people. The two rode a city bus, the popular mode of transportation for this poor community where most families live on just $4 a day. Emilio liked being with his father who often accompanied him to Vision (HO-301), the Compassion-assisted project Emilio attends in Honduras.
Much Worse Than Firecrackers
While riding on the bus the two heard a burst of shots. They sounded like firecrackers. It wasn't until after he went to the hospital that Emilio discovered he was shot and paralyzed, and his father had died in the worst gang shooting in Honduran history. The massacre left 28 people dead and dozens wounded. The shooting took place just steps away from the Vision project.
Deadly Violence Affects the Poor
Years ago, robberies were the most frightening crimes in Honduras. But since the mid-1990s, crime has gotten worse because of gangs.
Research shows many Honduran gang members learned their trade by illegally immigrating to the United States. After deportation back to Honduras, the gang members took to terrorizing the poor and unprotected. They routinely threaten families with chimbas (homemade guns), traffic in drugs and extort local businesses.
David and Goliath
With more than 30,000 gang members in the country, even the Honduran government is having a difficult time stopping the violence. But Pastor Obdulio Romero and his fast-growing 600-member church have met the violence head on by ministering to children in the Chamelecó® £ommunity for the last 10 years.
"I have never before had such an awakening as I have now," says Pastor Romero, head of Foursquare Gospel Church, the church that oversees the Vision project. "I am not willing for our children to get lost. We want to do a preventive work with the children attending the project."
With the help of sponsors, the project offers youth-oriented cell groups, literacy classes for parents, bilingual classes for children and vocational programs for youth. Project workers visit the homes of each of the registered children each week. The church has also helped Emilio cope, giving him a wheelchair, counseling and assistance to his mother.
"Our desire is to help them turn into a productive family," says Pastor Romero. And he has the same vision for all the children caught in this culture of violence.
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