Written by Alyssa Esparaz
Warning: This article mentions domestic violence and substance abuse.
The pangs of hunger in his stomach and the stench of sewage around him were the farthest things from Seth’s mind as he lay down in a pipe on the streets of Uganda. He had just sniffed some glue—something he’d learned from fellow gang members—to help numb the pain.
Soon he was asleep, the drug overwhelming his body. Little did Seth know, there was a team searching for him tirelessly. Even after he had rejected them and run away, the staff of the Compassion centre at a church in his community had never given up on him.
Around the world, Compassion’s church partners work in vibrant communities that also experience some of the world’s highest rates of poverty and violence. Compassion staff and volunteers work to be peacemakers; they strive to bring hope, healing, and justice to children, families, and entire communities.
This was true in the lives of Seth in Uganda, Gabriela in El Salvador, and Eva in Guatemala. Their stories are just three examples of many in which a Compassion centre’s presence helped cultivate peace.
A family restored: Gabriela’s story
By the time she was five years old, both of Gabriela’s parents were in prison for gang-related activity. They saw selling drugs as the only way to make money.
It was an isolating time. But one thing kept Gabriela encouraged. “I couldn’t exchange letters with [my parents],” she says. “So receiving letters from my Compassion sponsors kept me going.”
Gabriela worried constantly, especially for her dad, who had a longer sentence. There were times she didn’t know if he was even still alive. The day he returned home from prison was a joyous one. “We couldn’t believe that he was back, that he was even alive!” Gabriela says.
By then, Gabriela had started a small business selling soap and hand sanitizers, using skills and resources gained at her Compassion centre. She was thrilled when her father decided to leave the gang and join in her business venture. He saw that selling drugs was not the only way to have an income.
“This is thanks to the support of our church,” Gabriela says. “Instead of rejecting our family, we have received so much support.”
Rescue from abuse: Eva’s story
In neighbouring Guatemala, Eva’s family was plagued by a different form of violence: domestic abuse. Eva’s father Nelson was abusive.
“He made me cry because I wished my father loved me and told me beautiful words,” Eva says. “But he never did.”
Things went from bad to worse one night when Nelson nearly killed Eva’s mother Yolanda. In the aftermath, the director of Eva’s Compassion centre organized lawyers to help. But social stigma caused Yolanda to drop the charges against Nelson.
When Nelson returned home from prison, it was a very dark time for Eva. The only place she found refuge and peace was at her Compassion centre.
The director there, Zuly, became determined to do more. She organized a parents’ group aimed at stopping domestic violence. After a few months of meeting, several men from the group went to confront Nelson. It sparked a radical transformation in his life.
Today, years after he was first confronted, Nelson has been transformed by God’s love in his life. He works to support his family and is no longer violent.
Eva has hope for others who are in situations like she once was. “Please, never give up,” she says. “Our lives can change the culture of how women are treated. We can fight with God’s support. He will never leave us alone.”
A different path: Seth’s story
When Compassion centre staff found Seth passed out in a pipe, he was at the lowest of lows. The orphaned teen had rejected them to join a gang and was deep in a violent lifestyle.
“I was surprised that they found me. By the time they found me, I had seen that the things we were doing were bad. I was relieved to be found,” Seth says.
Seth returned home a different boy. He was surprised that the Compassion staff were not angry with him and still wanted to help him. They showed him God’s love. Seth decided to give his life to Christ.
Several years later, he is now a Bible teacher to younger kids and is an active part of life at his Compassion centre.
Peace is so much more than the absence of war or a silent room. To be peacemakers in the way Jesus calls us to be in Matthew 5:9 means that we work to rescue people from violence and cultivate environments where they can flourish.
Being a peacemaker can include fighting poverty, stopping abuse, or mentoring a young person. In the case of Gabriela, Eva, and Seth, each one of them had a Compassion sponsor who chose to invest in their life. Those choices brought peace to each one of their lives in unique ways.
What choices can you make to cultivate peace in the world around you?
At Compassion, we’re always inviting people to get involved and find ways to do good right now: to be a peacemaker, to seek justice, and to put love into action. Learn more here.
Photos and field reporting by Nora Diaz (El Salvador), Javier Elis (Guatemala), and Caroline A. Mwinemwesigwa (Uganda).