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Q: Gangs vs. Evangelicals in El Salvador ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: Gangs vs. Evangelicals in El Salvador
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: deedub-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 11 Jul 2003 02:51 PDT
Expires: 10 Aug 2003 02:51 PDT
Question ID: 227762
Is there evidence of conflicts between Evangelicals and Gangs in El
Salvador? I'm looking for articles, books, web pages, etc., that
discuss anything along these lines: Gang opposition to Evangelical
outreach to gang members, Evangelicas involved in anti-gang politics
or anti-gang social work. Time is of the essence. Spanish or English are OK.

Request for Question Clarification by mvguy-ga on 11 Jul 2003 05:58 PDT
By "Evangelicals," do you mean connected with Evangelical Christianity
as the term is usually used in the United States, i.e., theologically
conservative Protestantism? Or do you mean the equivalent of the Latin
American Spanish word "evangélicos," which is basically non-Catholic
proseltyzing Christianity, including Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and
other non-Catholic sects?

Clarification of Question by deedub-ga on 11 Jul 2003 13:39 PDT
I mean evangelicos. I have a client who went around the streets
preaching to other kids on the streets, urging them to abandon the
gang life and get religion. One eventually attempted to kill him. I am
trying to find out if this has ever happened to anyone else. Or
whether this sort of anti-gang preaching is done by anyone else.
Subject: Re: Gangs vs. Evangelicals in El Salvador
Answered By: cath-ga on 11 Jul 2003 21:18 PDT
Dear deedub,

Thanks very much for your really intriguing question!
The short answer is, “Yes.”  There are a lot of evangelicals
doing anti-gang work in El Salvador.  And I did find "some"
reports of gang members threatening proselytizers.

According to the Transatlantic Education Megasite:

"El Salvador is 86% Roman Catholic . But  there is extensive 
activity by Protestant groups throughout the country; by the 
end of 1992, there were an estimated 1 million Protestant 
evangelicals in El Salvador."

( )

The Assemblies of God are actively ministering to gang members 
in El Salvador. In the incident that hlabadie-ga mentions below, 
teen gang members who were converted by Assemblies missionaries 
were then shot and tortured by the gang. However, the converts then 
converted the other gang members to Christianity, and the new 
Christians also began to proselytize with a program called 
“El Salvador Teen Challenge.” This story is recounted at length 
on the Pray 4 the World Website:

In that article, an Assemblies of God Missionary, Terri Triplett 
says that the gang violence in El Salvador is part of a 
long-lasting “post-war syndrome:”

"The war is over now," Terri says, "but the gangs are destroying 
each other much more violently than the war ever did. The average 
age is 14 here, so youth rule. While these are turbulent days, 
there has never been a finer hour to evangelize El Salvador. These 
young gang members are so loaded with guilt, fear and pain that 
they flock to our altars when they hear that God will let 
them start over."

A paper titled “Saving Souls Transnationally: Pentecostalism & 
Gangs in El Salvador”  by Manuel A Vasquez can be found at:

Vasquez is an associate professor of religion at the University of
so the paper is academic in tone. It gives a good history of the
of gang warfare in El Salvador.  It also includes the personal tales
of some “maras” members who converted. One, Juan Jose, an 18
year old in Morazan, reports being physically threatened by gang
who are incensed that he no longer comes to their meetings.

This article has an extensive bibliography, which you may find useful,
It includes “The Children of War: Street Gangs in El Salvador,”  by
Donna DeCesare, NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. XXXII (July/Aug
(North American Congress on Latin America) 

Here are two other cases of evangelicals doing anti-gang work:

The Baptists have a “tabernacle” in a gang-infested area of La 
Libertad, El Salvador. The article on the Bridgebuilders website 

doesn’t specifically say they are targeting gangs, but the things 
they are doing for kids are designed to prevent them graduating 
to gangs: health care, meals, Bible instruction, education. 

An American, Sonny Arguinzoni, formed a Christian group called 
"Victory Outreach" in LA in 1967 to target addicts and gangs. Since 
then his band of converted addicts have established 100 churches and 
substance treatment the U.S. and 30 abroad. He’s currently
expanding his work in El Salvador.

See his Victory Outreach site at:

The nature of gangs in El Salvador makes it difficult to 
specifically pin any violence on them.  In such a violence-torn 
nation it isn’t always possible to know the causes of death.  
Instead you find articles like the following:

“Alejandro Hernandez, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission worker 
in El Salvador, was shot and wounded after leaving a Salvadoran 
Lutheran Synod youth event. Hernandez, a U.S. citizen, works with 
a Lutheran community in the rural Cha latenango area of El Salvador. 
He is in stable condition after what police suspect was an attempted

The following book turned up in my search of the subject. I do 
not have it in hand, so cannot guarantee that it specifically
addresses your points. But if you are looking for an in-depth look
at the subject, it may provide it.

"Christianity, social change, and globalization in the Americas," 
edited by Anna Peterson, Manuel Vásquez, Philip Williams. 
Publisher New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, c2001

It does include El Salvador in its study of the Church in Latin
You said that time is of the essence, so I'm going to close this out
tonight. However, if you feel this answer is incomplete or unclear,
please don't hesitate to ask me to clarify. I'll be happy to!

Sincerely, cath-ga

search strategy

El Salvador gang evangelical
“El Salvador gang” conflict Evangelical
El Salvador evangelist
“El Salvador” missionaries attacked
anti-gang El Salvador
Subject: Re: Gangs vs. Evangelicals in El Salvador
From: hlabadie-ga on 11 Jul 2003 11:46 PDT
I was able to locate one incident of retaliation against a gang member
who had renounced his gang affiliation as a result of contact with the
Assemblies of God in Salvador. The gang leader later attacked a
service in church, but was himself converted.

That doesn't seem enough for an answer, however.

Subject: Re: Gangs vs. Evangelicals in El Salvador
From: hlabadie-ga on 11 Jul 2003 22:38 PDT
Some additional material (as well as some duplications.)


18, 1999
A teen-ager who braved a death threat to quit gang life to follow
Christ is making a big difference. Sixteen-year-old Elijah was
tortured for four hours, shot in the head and shoulder and left for
dead after renouncing his gang involvement--violating the group's
"leave and die" code. But the attack only made him bolder in leading a
revolution among other members of the violent gang scene reports
Assemblies of God missionary Don Triplett, who works with troubled
youth in El Salvador. At one church service as Elijah embraced a
former rival gang member at the altar to demonstrate their
reconciliation through God, another gang leader stepped forward to
shoot them. Instead he accepted Christ with his gun in his hand. More
than 60 gang members have come to Christ in the city of Armenia, and
plan to paint over all their old gang graffiti around the town. While
El Salvador's war is over, gangs are "destroying each other much more
violently than the war ever did," says Triplett. But the culture of
youth violence makes it an ideal time to share the gospel. "These
young gang members are so loaded with guilt, fear and pain that they
flock to our altars when they hear that God will let them start over."
Source: Charisma News Service"

On-line advertisement for a church-based community organizer. One duty
is to become familiar with the local gang leaders.

Community Organizer

"Risks and Challenges:
The neighborhood has a "dangerous" reputation, mostly associated with
youth violence, but residents are rarely harmed by violence or robbery
within the actual community. None of the former MCC volunteers have
had a problem with this, although a non-European-American might face a
greater risk and receive less respect. In general, the community's
safety is dependent on good relations among friendly neighbors. There
is an occasional police presence, usually on bicycles on the lookout
for "suspicious" youth, with or without orders for arrest."

A Roman Catholic priest who supports evangelism is kidnapped.
Apparently this had nothing to do with religious works, however.

Charisma News Service
El Salvador

"A former Miami priest known for his evangelistic efforts was
kidnapped from his church grounds after Sunday's Mass. According to
"The Miami Herald," Rogelio Esquivel was abducted by three armed men
who waited for him in the parking lot at the Immaculate Conception
parish church in Santa Tecla, near the capital, San Salvador."

"A former Miami priest kidnapped earlier this month from his church
after celebrating evening Mass has been freed after family members
paid an undisclosed ransom. According to the Associated Press (AP),
Rogelio Esquivel, known for emphasizing evangelism, was released after
midnight Sunday near the city of Santa Ana, northwest of the capital,
San Salvador."



There are two main Gangs in El Salvador. The largest is the "MARA
SALVATRUCHA TRECE" the 13 gang. The other is MARA 18. Gang rivalry is
fierce in marginalized zones. Although Gangs have been in El Salvador
for a long time; U.S. Gang influence came from the States starting in
1993. This brought 13 and the 18 gangs. Other smaller gangs are
Mau-Mau-and Mara Tikal. Gang fights in the "penales" or jails are
common. This happens when some stupid Jail keepers or Police put a
member in a jail cell with opposite gang members. Really stupid. The
poor member usually gets torn-apart. I think it may have to do more
with punishment than ignorance on part of the Jail guards. Most
gang-kids get a bad wrap by Salvadoran society and there are not a lot
of public or private institutions that help them out. There are also
gang-extermination Death Squads that work underground. The most famous
was "Sombra Negra" that came to the public eye do to extra-judicial
killings of some youth in San Miguel 1994."

May 2000 El Salvador: Let us see what becomes of the dream

"Aguilares is a violent place now, where the crime rate has soared,
where drug rings have sprung up, some of them spawned by the return of
Salvadoran gang members from the US under deportation orders from the

We met with three men from the organization UCRES, a community-based
network in the region working in a variety of areas, the newest being

There are three main problems, they said, family disintegration,
unemployment and poverty, and "transculturalization" -- the influx of
cultural values from the north through the media, especially

Among youth, they said, unemployment is nearly 100 percent. "There's
no money and they want to eat and dress" the way they see people dress
in the pop culture of the US -- "and that's why many decide to become
UCRES programs include dealing with issues of alcoholism, drug
addiction and gangs. Their work with youth emphasizes values, trying
to recover cross-generational respect, and respect for those who
suffered during the war, combating the "anti-values trap" into which
most youth have fallen."

A Publication of Christians for Peace in El Salvador, CRISPAZ
September/October 1997

"El Salvador's two largest gangs began in and maintain direct links to
gangs in Los Angeles. Some of these gang members grew up in the United
States as children of Salvadoran refugees. Marginalized in their own
country and in their country of "refuge", they never found a path to a
constructive life in the U.S. As young adults, they were ultimately
deported due to their involvement in gangs and crime. Now they find
themselves in El Salvador once again, but an El Salvador that is very
different from when they left, and they themselves different people.
Upon return, many of these young people find familiarity only in
"A number of organizations, both church-based and independent, are
trying to create spaces that provide options for young people caught
in the crises of poverty, violence, and families that have been torn
apart. The Generation XXI Youth Movement is one such project.
Generation XXI provides a space in which young people in the urban
municipality of Mejicanos (on the out-skirts of San Salvador) can
search together for options in the face of these crises."

Saving Souls Transnationally:
Pentecostalism and Gangs in El Salvador and the United States

"In this chapter, we compare and contrast the ways in which gangs and
Pentecostal churches help young Salvadorans to respond to dislocation
resulting from war, migration, and economic change. After a review of
recent social changes in El Salvador, with special reference to the
evolving situation of young people, we turn to the issue of youth
gangs (maras, as they are known in the country), which, according to a
study sponsored by UNICEF, are the "most important and complex
cultural-generational problem in the country in the decade of the
"In light of these contradictions, evangelical Protestantism has
emerged as an alternative space, where the synthesis between self and
community that Erickson saw as key to the successful negotiation of
adolescence can take place. Although Pentecostals are often locked in
a battle for young souls with gangs, the two groups share striking
similarities in terms of their practices and the unintended
consequences of their actions. Both Pentecostal churches and gangs
operate through transnational networks leading to a re-inscription of
locality through the creation of tightly-knit community and a strong
sense of individual identity. Moreover, both groups, perhaps
unintentionally, are implicated in reproduction and expansion of
larger hegemonic dynamics, such global crime syndicates and
authoritarian regimes."
"The case of Agustín, a former gang member from Morazán and now a
theology student at the Assemblies of God, is typical.

'I begun my life in the maras when I was twelve. I was looking for
something that would fill the void left in my heart . . . you see, I
come from a family that has experienced a lot of hardship. My father
died when I was seven years old, when the war started. He was a
soldier in the army, and was killed just like one of my older
brothers. Then, there was a void in my life and knowing that my father
could not fill it, I tried to look for friends. I began to drink with
them, to do drugs and to look for the money I needed to satisfy my
"There is no doubt that the work of Pentecostal churches among
transnational youth gangs is helping to reweave the moral fabric of
post-war El Salvador. Here our findings are in line with a growing
literature that points toward the transformative potential of
Pentecostalism in the Americas (Garrard-Burnett and Stoll1993, Cleary
and Stewart-Gambino 1997, Shaull and Cesar 2000). With its emphasis on
the collective and personal experience of the sacred rather than on
high theology and its capacity to address the most pressing problems
of the poor (i.e., illness, alcoholism, and the violence of everyday
life), Pentecostalism is a truly a grassroots religion. However,
Pentecostalism among Salvadoran youth gangs is not without
contradictions. Pentecostalism offers mara members a disciplinary and
bellicose articulation of self and space which may hinder the
production of a truly participatory and deeply rooted democracy in El
"Eladio, a former gang member in the Assemblies of God in Gotera,
offers a good example of how the notion of the Kingdom of God operates
among mara converts. When asked about his future, he states: 'I don’t
know where I will be. If Jesus Christ has not come yet, maybe I'll
studying in another place or at the university. I really don’t care.
I'm in the things of God [las cosas de Dios]. If God wants something
to happen in my life, it will happen. He is all-powerful in his
majesty. Only that which pleases him happens.' Eladio's sense of fate
is predicated on the surrender of his agency, the exercise of which
has, in his view, only brought him trouble. Eladio sets a sharp
dichotomy between his free will, which has led him to drugs and
suffering, and God's will, which has given him peace and joy. In his
words: 'I lived in the world [anduve por el mundo], but God rescued
me. I saw the things of the world and they were a hell, they were
rotten [podridas] to the core. The world is the path of death [el
camino de la muerte]. But now I abide [persevero] in the God's way
[las cosas de Dios] and fulfill his commandments and his laws

Some works cited in the above:

Alder, Daniel. 1994. "Crime Gangs Replace Death Squads in El
Salvador." San Francisco Chronicle (August 23): A9.

Cleary, Edward and Hannah Stewart-Gambino, eds. 1997. Power, Politics,
and Pentecostals in Latin America. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Danner, Mark. 1993. “The Truth of El Mozote.” The New Yorker (December
6): 50-133.

DeCesare, Donna. 1998. “The Children of War: Street Gangs in El
Salvador.” NACLA Report on the Americas 32/1: 21-29.

Farah, Douglas and Tod Robberson. 1995. "U.S.-Style Gangs Build Free
Trade in Crime." The Washington Post (August 28): A01.

Garrard-Burnett, Virginia and David Stoll, eds., 1993. Rethinking
Protestantism in Latin America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Instituto de Opinión Pública (IUDOP). 1997. Sondeo sobre la juventud
organizada en pandillas. San Salvador: IUDOP/UCA.

Martin, David. 1990. Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism
in Latin America. Oxford: Basil Backwell.

Smutt, Marcela and Jenny Miranda. 1998. El fenómeno de las pandillas
en El Salvador. San Salvador: UNICEF/FLACSO.

Wallace, Scott. 2000. "You Must Go Home Again: Deported L.A.
Gangbangers Take over El Salvador." Harper’s Magazine (August): 47-56.

3.3 Agency, Identity and Youth Violence: the Gang Phenomenon

"Since it is the ubiquitous gang culture that is the most visible,
often the most brutal, but least understood, manifestation of
post-conflict violence in Central America, it is important to provide
a separate section on this phenomenon. Gangs, or maras as they are
commonly called, epitomise the causes of much contemporary violence in
Central America, and reflect the particular frustrations of youth
"The main perverse organisations were those linked to gangs (maras),
bars (cantinas) and brothels (bares/bordellos). Levels of trust in
local institutions were generally low. The most trusted membership
organisations were youth, sports and recreation groups (with 82 per
cent receiving a positive ranking), followed by religious groups (79
per cent viewed positively). Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres –
primarily Alcoholics Anonymous – received the highest percentage of
positive rankings among service delivery organisations."
"In terms of youth violence specifically, an interesting case is the
approach to gangs taken by the Evangelical church. Evangelicalism is
rapidly expanding throughout Central America, and the church has had
some success with 'reinsertion' gang members (as has the Catholic
Church). In Guatemala, for example, a number of young Evangelicals are
involved in outreach work to 'convert' the gang members of their
neighbourhoods. Indeed, it is at times one of the only acceptable
methods of leaving a mara. While this is a positive outcome, the
sentiment expressed by one young Guatemalan member of 'Youth for
Christ' is worrying: 'God, not political movements, solves problems'
(AVANCSO, 1996). What, it must be asked, is it teaching them?"


CrossSearch: Charisma News Service Online

Subject: Re: Gangs vs. Evangelicals in El Salvador
From: answersguy-ga on 13 Aug 2004 17:54 PDT
Any time people enter dangerous turfs to spread the gospel of Jesus
there is a chance of danger/opposition.  Jesus warned the disciples of
his time of that danger, and that still applys to Christians of today.
 The world is full of non-believers and that alone raises the danger
bar, as non-believers are more prone to be directed by demonic
Its awesome that Christians exist, so that the ever so needed word of
God can be told to those who desperately need to hear it.
If any Christians who tread on dangerous paths read this, just know my
prayers are with you, be carefull and go with God on all your
journeys. <><

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