International Ministries

The Church on the Other Corner

March 18, 2013 Journal
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Dear friends,

The picture he painted was bleak: 75% of children and youth living below the poverty line; 15,000 cases of AIDS in youth 15-24 years old, children leaving home as early as 7 years old to escape abuse and hunger, moving to the streets of the capital city where they experience more hunger and abuse as well as rape, violence, drugs and rejection.

The setting was formal and academic, in sharp contrast to his photographs: Daniel was defending his Master’s thesis, The Church on the Other Corner, before the examining board (including me) and the public. He has been working with children and youth who live on the streets of Tegucigalpa, Honduras for the past 10 years. But he needed to step back and evaluate what he was doing, to think through the theological and sociological foundations of his ministry. So, for the past 2 years he has been at the UBL in the Master’s program, Theology and HIV-AIDS, a continent-wide effort to deal with the theological and pastoral implications of the AIDS epidemic.

Daniel spent many years trying to “rescue” street kids and reintegrate them back into society. He had zero success, not one. Finally, he had to rethink what he was doing. He realized that the street is a subculture that is totally incompatible with mainstream culture. The youth he works with are unable to adapt to “normal” life. They are all addicted to crack cocaine, which is the way they survive the terrible suffering, violence, isolation, self-hatred, illness and hunger of the street.  The local business owners hire death squads to rid the streets of this “menace.” If they aren’t killed by the death squads, it’s a rival gang or a drug deal gone wrong or a violent client in the sex trade. Their life expectancy is under 30 years.

So Daniel stopped trying to “rescue” them and has developed a ministry on the street, a “church on the other corner.” He explained that the street is a place of epiphany, of God’s presence being revealed, if we have eyes to see.  In this culture of immediacy, God is always revealed in a concrete human action: a listening ear or a hug, a meal, a place to sleep, medical care, protection. These lost children begin to understand that God loves them, even though the “good people” hate and fear them. They meet in a park or under a bridge to worship a merciful God who understands their suffering. They give testimonies of how God has helped them. They talk about how to relate to one another with less violence and more dialogue. They express their explosive emotions in art. They sing hymns and choruses and popular folk music. They are accepted and heard.  This new model of “church,” with no building or doctrine or requirements, clashes with all we know. But as Daniel’s passion and love for his “flock” came out, it was clear that God is working in and through him.

This is why we offer a place for study and reflection at the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana. This is why I know God has called me to work there. This is what your support is making possible. Thank you.

In God’s love,