After getting down at the Bus station in San Pedro, I headed toward the exit which is always bottlenecked by a buzzing hive of taxi drivers. “Taxi! Taxi Señor! Taxi mai friiend! Taxi Miister!” are all the typical lines used to accost unsuspecting clients - especially foreigners who are used to fixed prices and can sometimes be convinced to pay twice the actual fare. I made my way out of the exit with a tail a taxi drivers following behind, all offering different prices to go to the airport (the video above is from a different trip to Nicaragua but you get the point). After getting the fare nearly cut in half with one gentlemen, he escorted me to another taxi driver (business partner?) and told him the price we had agreed on. This taxi driver, Juan José, was an older gentlemen who instantly won my heart with his huge smile. He told me to hold on and ran to get a broken down cardboard box to put down in his uncarpeted trunk so that my suitcase wouldn’t get dirty : )
Let me pause here to give some context. San Pedro Sula is the murder capital of the world. Highly organized gangs called Maras wreak havoc all over the country and especially in San Pedro. They practice satanic rituals and have no value for human life. This is not new information to me but honestly (and ashamedly), it’s easy to get callused in Central America where gangs and delinquency seem to run rampant in all of the cities. Those with resources live in gated neighborhoods and all chip in to hire armed security guards. But from time to time, I run across somebody that snaps me back into reality and I’m filled with grief and compassion - the same kind I think Jesus felt when he looked out at the multitudes because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Juan Jose in his CarollaJuan José and I first started talking about his 90s model Corolla and how reliable of a car it’s been. Then he told me he was hoping to replace the windshield, which was badly cracked and spidering out in all directions. “The Maras in my neighborhood did this to my car. There are gang members all throughout our barrio.” I asked him some more questions about how that has affected his neighborhood and his answers were shocking and horrifying. All of the taxi drivers, general stores, bookstores, pharmacies, bakeries, and mechanic shops have to pay a weekly “war tax” to the Mara that controls that area. All of these small business owners pay the tax because gang leaders have a known history of killing any owner who doesn’t readily agree to their extortion. “I had one friend, Juan Jose shared, who owned a bread bakery and paid a big percentage of his profit each week to one of the Mara 18. Then the Mara Salvatrucha came to extort more money. He told them that he couldn't because he was already paying the other gang and wouldn’t be able to make any money if he paid them too. So they shot and killed him. He was a good man….very kind.” The next part was what really broke my heart. He continued, “The maras took my wife from me 6 years ago. My wife was coming home from work at night when a gang member told her to hand over her new blackberry phone. She didn’t want to give it up so he pulled out a gun and shot her. Our youngest daughter was just 1.5 yrs. old then….she had to go and live with my oldest daughter who was just 17 at that time so that I could keep driving this taxi and provide for them. Only God should have the power to give and take life.”Juan Jose’s story is just one small glimpse into what’s happening on a global scale - believers are being beheaded in Iraq, churches and Christian homes are being burned in Nigeria, preachers are put in solitary confinement for more than a decade for preaching openly, whole families are being murdered in North Korea because somebody they knew crossed the border, and the list goes on. The question then becomes do we CARE? Do we feel COMPASSION for these people as Jesus did when he looked out over Jerusalem and wept for the people that he longed to help. Do we suffer with our persecuted brothers and sisters as if we ourselves were in their shoes? (Heb. 13:3) I confess that I often don’t. But I want to. Maybe if we all remind each other and challenge each other, it will become more a part of our lives as believers who strive to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
Last week, one of the Go to Nations missionaries, Nathan, reminded me that prayer is our most powerful and effective weapon. Angus Buchan said, "There is power in prayer. When men work, they work. but when men pray, God works.” In my human strength, I can’t go up against the highly organized gangs or corrupt regimes…..BUT GOD can. Let’s prioritize prayer to see the maximum move of God. As we swim against the current of indifference and our own pursuit of happiness, we will make room for God’s spirit to work and actually cause us to care more about others than ourselves and our stuff. Thanks for praying for Honduras and all those who are suffering around the world.