I’ve been to Honduras, I think, four times in my life–twice that I can remember and a couple of trips when I was an infant. It’s where my parents were born, my mother grew up, and a majority of my extended family still lives. My mom still goes back regularly to see our family in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and I’d love to take my wife there one day to meet them as well. It’s a beautiful country with a rich culture and generous people. Of course, to me the best part of Honduras is my family, but I’d have to say the food is a close second; everything just tastes better down there.
One thing about Honduras that isn’t so great is the murder rate: it has the highest per capita murder rate in the world with 87 killings per 100,000. While Central America hasn’t been the most politically-stable region in the world over the last 40 years, the crime-rate in Honduras wasn’t always this bad. With the rise of the drug cartels however, two warring gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18, have risen to dominance and are at the forefront of Honduras’ recent descent into violence. My abuelita used to come visit us every summer until I was a teenager and I remember her telling me stories and legends about the horrors these two gangs would perpetrate without impunity against each other, the police, and the general populace. ‘Sad’ isn’t the right word for it–it’s truly appalling.
That’s why reading this week that on Tuesday, leaders from these two gangs announced a truce with each other and the government made me exclaim at my computer screen with shock and delight. Issuing differing statements from within San Pedro Sula’s prison for violent criminals, representatives from the two gangs announced that they were moving forward with a plan to bring down the violence in return for rehabilitation and jobs.
“Today we’re agreeing to zero crimes, zero violence on the streets,” the member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang said of the nationwide ceasefire. “Both inside and outside, the boys know what we’re talking about.”
Apparently with the support of President Porfirio Lobo, Bishop Romulo Emiliani helped broker a truce between the two gangs after doing similar work in El Salvador. The Bishop, who has a history of working with the cartels and trying to organize rehabilitation programs, said of the gangs: “They want to reconcile with Honduran society and ask for forgiveness from the Honduran people, and I think it is a step forward.”
This is a beautiful, Gospel-inspired hope for the people of Honduras. And very quickly, no, I am not confusing social reconciliation with the unique, sin-bearing, cosmos-rectifying work of Christ (Col. 1:20). I realize this is not the full hope of the Gospel, or a fully-restored New Heavens and New Earth as we are promised in Revelation 21.
At the same time, after a similar deal was reached by the Calle 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs in El Salvadar, the murder rate has since been cut in half there. For my family–grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins–to gain their country back from the gangs is still a glimpse of reconciliation; a small preview of the day when “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” (Isaiah 60:18)
It is “gospel-inspired” because when the Church acts as peacemakers, just as Jesus taught them to, calling sinners to repentance, leading people who were alienated and hostile towards each other to turn from their wickedness, it gives witness to the fact Christ himself has become our peace. (Ephesians 2:14-17) When drug-dealers and murderers ask for forgiveness, rehabilitation, and honest jobs, it is a flash of light from the coming day when swords will be beaten into plowshares and nations forget how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4)
And yet, since it is still not that final coming day, indeed, only the beginning of a long process of healing, stabilization, and forgiveness, I would ask you to pray for the people of Honduras. Pray for the leaders who need wisdom administering justice that not only rectifies but restores. Pray for criminals who want and need to learn a better way. Pray for a church that continues to stand in the gap, working for justice, and most of all, preaching a Gospel about a God who reconciles the world to himself in Christ, for that is the ministry he gave us. (2 Corinthians 5:18)