Faith for the Generations

by Hector Zetino

Table of Contents

Risky Faith

There are some scary gangs in Guatemala, and I want to tell you a little bit about the experience I had with one of them on my last trip to the country. For security reasons, I cannot tell you which one it is, but I can tell you that I had this experience through a pastor friend who is also a former gang member — a very unusual combination.

Every gang member makes a covenant of belonging when they join: a commitment. Everybody does this, but some of the members are more involved and get to hear more information. My pastor friend was one of these people. In the past, they were a bit more open, but in recent times, they have clamped down: nowadays, nobody is allowed to quit. And if you are someone like our brother — someone who is more involved — you will almost certainly be murdered if you try to leave.

This brother found Jesus and then renounced the gangs. At that time, the elite got together to decide his fate. By the grace of God, they let him leave, on one condition: “If you fool around, if you are not committed to your religion, we will kill you.” He couldn’t just use Jesus as an excuse.

Thank God for this brother and the transformation in his life since then! He now co-pastors a local church, works as an evangelist around the country, and looks after a home for people coming off drugs, or who are in gang-related problems. He helps them by faith, and let me tell you: he is something else! There can be no doubts about his commitment to Jesus.

You need faith to say, "Jesus es Senor," especially if you are leaving one of the main Guatemalan gangs.
If you come from the gangs, it takes courageous faith to declare, "Jesus es Señor."

An Open Door

Through this brother, the Lord opened the door to a prison in our country. Trust me when I say it is a miracle that we were able to go in:  typically, they do not welcome preachers, as the gangs don’t want to lose any of their members. Preachers are a threat. Even so, this brother has been ministering in that space for the last year.

When I was there, he invited me to come too. At first, I was hesitant: even though I used to live in the criminal underground many years ago, there is no comparison to the kind of crime they are involved with today. What I was part of was like being in the Boy Scouts compared to the culture they have now. It is very demonic, very violent.

I told my friend, “I don’t want to preach. I just want to see and get to know people and maybe pray with them individually, because I don’t know the culture. I’ve heard about them, I’ve read reports about them, and I’ve seen testimonies, but I don’t know them personally. It’s a different thing to be there, to be among them.”

God had other plans. I ended up preaching. The Lord gave me a message to share with the 160 people who came. When we first entered it felt very heavy, but when the time came to speak, God’s presence was so sweet. I could feel it in the atmosphere; I knew it was God. It was His time.

As I shared, the Lord encouraged me to get closer to the people, to walk among them. I looked them in the eye — eyes that belonged to very dangerous people — and I saw them almost well up with tears as I spoke. They are not allowed to show emotion: it’s a sign of weakness. But I could see that the Lord was dealing with them. And as I taught from the scriptures, I could see they knew what I was talking about: they knew the Bible for themselves.

Spontaneously, I asked them, “How many of you come from Christian homes?” To my surprise, the majority raised their hands. It broke my heart. Here were some of the most violent people in the world, but it could have been so different. Now, they were trapped in a system of terror and banned from leaving their “covenant family.” To leave the gang would be to desecrate it, to dishonor it… a death sentence: “We stuck our necks out for you, and now you have to do the same for us. You made a covenant for life. That means life.

Man behind bars in Guatemala who longs for a hope and faith that can only be found in Jesus.
Can hope and faith live behind bars? Can light shine in darkness?

Powerful Names

Predictably, when we gave the altar call, nobody felt brave enough to come up. But after I finished, I walked among them and talked individually with a few. I was even able to pray with those few, privately and to the side, so that nobody else could hear. They all whispered the same thing, “Please pray for me. I want to get out of here. I want a new beginning. I need God to change my life.”

There are two men in particular that I ask you to intercede for today: Joshua* and Ezekiel.* Both are finishing very long sentences, and will be released soon. After Joshua is released, he will be extradited to the United States, where he will probably receive a life sentence for a crime he committed in America. He has already spent a lot of his life behind bars, and is well into middle age. He told me wanted to change, to leave the life. Ezekiel shared much the same.

As Joshua told me of his desire, I felt like telling him that his name was not a coincidence: God had a special call on his life to lead people into the “promised land,” so to speak. The enemy had tried to pervert this call and use him to influence the wrong places, but God was saying that he would restore him, and bring him back to His intended purpose. His eyes lit up at these words, and he told me this was the third time he had heard this message. He was encouraged, and asked me to keep him in my prayers.

*Names changed for security reasons. Remember: God knows them by name.

Christians gathering to pray in faith for the nations
There is Power in the Name: Faith for the Nations

Counting the Cost

We are not the only ones who work among the gangs. Another friend of mine told me this story: there was a high-level gangster who was involved in many “cliques” in different parts of the city, and who found Jesus through my friend’s ministry. My friend discipled him while he was in prison, and then one day, he got out. A few days after, he called my friend and said, “You know, I’m calling to say goodbye.”

Naturally, my friend asked, “Oh? Where are you going?”

And he replied, “Well, they want to kill me. They won’t let me leave… so I called to thank you for introducing me to Jesus, and for teaching me about Him. He is the best thing I have ever known. I am so glad, and I cannot wait to see Him soon.”

My friend was distraught, and he pleaded with him, “No! They can’t kill you! I will hide you. I’ll take you somewhere safe.”

But there was nothing he could say to change his mind: “No. If you do that, they will kill you too, and then they will kill your family.” And then he hung up, leaving my friend on the line. Two days later, his body parts were found scattered around the different areas he used to patrol.

I share this to help you understand that for people like Joshua and Ezekiel, the threat of death is real. The risk that comes with giving your life to the Lord is huge, and so is the fear. Most people are trapped by this fear, even if they want to change, to get out, to follow Jesus. We must pray for them, and we must pray for those who have open doors to minister to them.

Crosses arranged in a circle in a Guatemalan town square. Do you have faith to take up your cross?
Do you have the faith required to take up your cross, even if it means death?

A New Hope

My experience in the prison changed my perspective. I now know see there is hope, even in the darkest parts of our nation. God is moving. Prayers are being answered. The next time I visited the prison, I saw Joshua again. On this occasion, he brought a dozen others with him. He was already living up to his name. These guys weren’t part of the gangs yet, but they were being groomed as “candidates.” He asked me to pray for them, like I had prayed for him. I now have their names, and I believe God can work in their lives too. It will be hard, but God can do anything.

The younger generation in prison are not the only ones we need to pray for. At ASOFE, we work with at-risk youth in “red zones:” the most dangerous places in Guatemala. We teach them about their identity as children of God, and we give them the practical tools they need to live a better life: English, computer skills, music, and help with school. We also help some of them financially with the cost of school. I am more motivated than ever to pour into their lives and to disciple them to follow Jesus.

We cannot lose them to the forces of darkness. Those guys in the gangs I mentioned earlier grew up in Christian homes, and they even went to church, but they ended up in the wrong place. I know things could have been different if people had come to them earlier, rescued them, and taught them — like we are trying to do for our ASOFE kids. It is not enough to expect them to come to you. We have to go to them.

When I look at our kids, I see leaders. I see doctors, I see lawyers, I can even see government leaders, by faith. God is changing this generation, in prison and outside of it, so that they might change Guatemala. They are world changers. They are our future. 

How do I know this? Because I have seen them living it already. We take our kids on outreach to broken neighborhoods to minister the love of Jesus to people who need it. I witnessed them laying hands on other young people and adults all over Guatemala. They aren’t just learning theory; they’re practicing their identity as children of God, as ministers of the Gospel.

Faith in action: ASOFE youth on outreach to Guatemalan families living in garbage dumps.
Faith in Action: ASOFE Ministry to Families in Garbage Dump (June 2023)

An Invitation

God’s hand and provision have been with us to prepare this generation, and to reach those we once thought were lost. God’s presence is with us to break the cycle of poverty, violence, death and fear — and to see Jesus formed in the lives of his precious Kingdom family instead. And as our kids our transformed today, I believe they will change Guatemala’s tomorrow. 

Will you believe and pray with me?

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.”

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