In April I was returning to Managua, Nicaragua, from a visit to Seeds of a New Creation, the partner with which Christian Reformed World Missions does ministry in El Salvador.
Eliberto Juárez with his wife, Ethel, and children, Luis Enrique and Sofia
Riding to the airport in the capital city of San Salvador, I spoke with the taxi driver, who told me he had been assaulted numerous times, often with a pistol to his head. He cursed his country and said he should have left 40 years ago when his brother fled.
Statistically, it’s true that in the wake the 1980-1992 civil war, El Salvador has been one of the 10 most violent countries in the world.
Yet, I wished the taxi driver could have listened to another voice, the voice of Timothy Wadkins.
Wadkins, a professor at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., has spent several years researching the influence of Christianity on El Salvadoran society. He has found that many evangelical churches have had an unexpected impact.
Among the evangelical leaders Wadkins interviewed was Mario Vega, the pastor of Elim, a megachurch with120, 000 members.
While Elim remains firm about the need for personal regeneration through Christ, Pastor Vega and his staff have begun to discuss engaging structural evil in society.
Vega told Wadkins, “It is not enough just to preach the gospel or give aid to the poor. We must speak out against and attempt to change those conditions that cause poverty.”
Wadkins also interviewed Pastor Pedro Landaverde, a pastor for Elim who works with youths and gangs in the notorious San Salvadoran community of Iberia.
Instead of just holding evangelistic crusades, he has gotten to know the young people and listened carefully to their needs.
Today gang violence has diminished, and several gang members have become active Christians. Pastor Landaverde insisted to Wadkins that “making Jesus the Lord of our lives must mean more than just personal morality—it must extend outward into all aspects of life.”
Wadkins discovered a common thread in his conversations with evangelical pastors like Vega and Landaverde. All participated in the two-year training program of Seeds of a New Creation.
Eliberto Juárez, the program coordinator, told me there was a time he had pretty much given up on the church making a difference in El Salvador. But now he can sees a better country for his children because of the hopeful signs he sees in the church.
Seeds of New Creation training emphasizes God’s redemptive purposes and encourages students to apply the gospel to the mission of the church, to the family, to vocational life, and to transformation of the community.
I wish my cabbie friend could see that El Salvador.