Photo: Josue's neighbourhood.
In the narrow lanes and alleys of urban El Salvador, children play, their grandparents watching from the doorways.
Too narrow for vehicles, the streets of this patch are crammed with people and shops. Friends stand in the street chatting. Small roadside stores selling everything from juice and tortillas to clothes line the main road. Drugs and money exchange hands.
Two years ago, Josue moved here from his home country of Mexico. He had recently heard about MoveIn, and had been working full-time in a local company until God’s call interrupted. Saying “yes,” he moved to El Salvador to serve in a student ministry.
The day after he arrived, a local friend was showing him around the city. “I saw a church that someone in Mexico told me about; I heard that it was a good church but the neighborhood around it was very dangerous,” he recalls. “They told me that I shouldn't go there if I didn't have to. When I heard that, I said, ‘That will be a good place to live and to move in!’”
He tried to find roommates. He started attending the church, which was very involved with neighbourhood residents. Josue served in the children’s ministry for several months as he got to know the church and patch community. Although they were supportive of his interest in living in the area, the church members were hesitant to do it themselves. “It wasn’t a secure place for them,” he reflects, “They were scared of living there. They said, ‘We will be with you and pray for you,’ but no one said, ‘I’ll move in with you.’”
God used other means to give Josue teammates. Serving in the children’s ministry connected him to the community. Through the church, he met a few believers who lived in the patch, and someone who would rent him a small apartment there. They were delighted that he was going to be their neighbour. “They were so happy, they were like, ‘We’re going to help you and everything!’” he says, laughing. So he moved in.
The church members, now neighbours, welcomed him warmly, showing him around, introducing him to neighbours and shopkeepers, and warning him about areas that should be avoided at certain times of the day. “That helped me a lot,” Josue says.
As he met his new neighbours, some were open and quick to become friends. “They would just invite me to a small restaurant on the street and we’d spend a lot of time there talking,” he says. Others, often the ones who were involved in drugs or crime, didn’t trust anyone and wouldn’t talk to him. “There are a lot of people like that in the neighbourhood. But now I say hello to one lady who sells marijuana — she knows me now. It’s kinda slow. But God is good.”
Josue’s four teammates — believers who have grown up in the patch and attend the local church — join him for prayer, along with various neighbours. “It’s an open prayer meeting,” he says, “So sometimes we have drunk guys come.” Weekly prayer meetings are the heart of MoveIn and it is in these meetings that the tight-knit team has witnessed the Lord at work. Neighbours struggling with drugs have overcome their addictions, young moms have come to faith in Christ, and believers share the gospel with neighbours who then start coming for prayer.
This is a far cry from the loneliness Josue felt when he first moved in. In a neighbourhood where security is always a concern and police raids are not uncommon, local wisdom says, “If you want to be safe, watch, listen, and keep your mouth shut.” According to Josue, when it comes to avoiding issues with gangs and drugs, the less you know, the better.
When it comes to the gospel and following Christ, of course, the opposite is true. “We’re growing a lot together,” Josue says of his team and his neighbours. “Sometimes they come to my house and start talking to me and I pray for them and encourage them. And me too — when I have some problem I go to them and they pray for me.”