Shaun Groves

“Please pray for my father.”

It was a simple request: one Yanci had made repeatedly over the years through the letters we wrote back and forth.

Yanci’s father was a big, burly gang member—a thug—with a severe drinking problem. He was verbally and physically abusive to Yanci, her mom and sister, causing a constant cloud of fear to hang over their household.

It would be pretty easy to take that at face value and allow hatred to well in my heart over this man’s actions and the hurt he caused his family. But as is often the case, compassion can be found in the details.

I learned joining the gang was not a choice for Yanci’s father. He was told he’d be killed if he resisted. It was the only way he could provide for his family. As part of the gang, he had to rob and hurt others—he was involved with really sinful things. To alleviate the guilt, he began self-medicating with alcohol.

He became progressively more unhappy and angry. He wasn’t able to find other work. He didn’t believe in God. His life was spinning out of control.

Then one day, a neighbor told Yanci’s mom about the Compassion project run out of her church. She told her to enroll Yanci and her sister Pamela. She did. For two years Yanci patiently waited for a sponsor. During that time, Yanci, Pamela and their mom began attending church services there with their neighbor. They became Christians. But Yanci’s Dad wanted nothing to do with church or God.

That’s when I became Yanci’s sponsor. We started writing letters back and forth and Yanci asked me to pray for her dad.

At the same time, this neighbor turned her attention to Yanci’s father. She kept telling her dad that God could help him. Eventually, just to shut her up, he went to the church—drunk. He went drunk the next time, too. And the next. That’s when God answered all of our prayers. Somehow, through the fog of alcohol, God spoke to Yanci’s dad. One Sunday he gave his life—and his addiction—to God. He never drank again.

Now Yanci’s father—once the big, threatening gang “muscle”—has become a gentle giant, maintaining a protective stance between the gang and the people of his town.

For years I had prayed for this man, without knowing what I was praying for—or why. I also had no clue how the sponsorship of one child could so profoundly impact an entire family, and their community.

Read more find out how the gang reacts to Yanci’s father’s conversion.

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