While National Geographic calls MS-13 “America’s deadliest gang” and Trump calls them “animals,” Christian revival has broken out among the youths who tattoo their faces, and hundreds are turning to Jesus.
“Every day in this country, dozens of men are leaving the rank and file of the gang and looking for the right path, the arms of the Lord,” says Pastor William Arias, who is a converted ex-MS. He’s pastored for six years in San Salvador, El Salvador, in a neighborhood so taken over by the gang that public service employees are afraid to enter.
Ironically the MS — and fierce rivals 18th St gang — got their start in Los Angeles, according to The Guardian documentary video. During El Salvador’s guerilla war, thousands headed to the U.S. fleeing the carnage in the 1980s. Many settled in the poorest neighborhoods of L.A., where they found themselves caught between African American and Mexican gangs.
To stand up for themselves, they formed the MS — or Mara Salvatrucha — and became fierce rivals. Crackdowns on gangs in L.A. largely tamed warfare between Mexican Americans and African Americans, but the Salvadorans got deported.
When they returned to their native land, they brought the gang with them.
That’s the story of Wilfredo Gomez, of 18. After being deported to El Salvador, he was arrested for armed robbery in El Salvador.
It was in jail that he found God.
“We are not your typical Christians. We have done a lot of bad things,” Wilfredo says.
When he finished his sentence, he had no family, no friends and nowhere to go.
So he was surprised when the guards told him that “friends” had come to pick him up when he was released. Who could those “friends” be? he wondered.
As he peeked out of the prison, he spied them timidly. They were church members, and they took him in and fed him and gave him a place to live while he transitioned to freedom and could stand on his own two feet.
“We heard what God is doing in there and we’re here to help you. I was like, ‘Whoa, I never had a family. I never had nobody waiting for me when I got out of prison,’ he says. “The way they received me inspired me and gave me strength to continue on the right path.”
Today, Wilfredo is a pastor with the Eben-Ezer church and runs a halfway house for ex-gang members. The youth get a mat on the floor in a common room and three meals a day. They have strict rules against drugs and crime. Wilfredo runs a bread bakery to give them work and pay for the house.
When Wilfredo got saved, he estimated there were 90 or so ex-gang members that had become Christians in the nation. Today, he says there are 1,500. Read the rest about revival in the MS-13 gang and the 18 Street gang.