A police officer, a former gang member, and a missionary walk into a church.
No, it’s not the opening line of a joke. It’s the beginning of a brand of leadership training, and one of the first steps in transforming Guatemala City.
Beginning in 2015, an unlikely group began meeting in the outskirts of Guatemala City for training in pastoral care—the police officers to improve their skills in a chaplaincy program that they lead for other police officers, and the former gang members to continue their work of mentoring and pastoring others who want to get out of gang life.
“The first encounter was not easy,” recalled Rev. Luis Pellecer, Christian Reformed World Missions regional leader for Latin America and facilitator of the training.
“Although these police officers didn’t wear their uniforms when they came for training, they were quickly identified by the ex-gang members.”
Likewise, the tattoos of the former gang members led the police officers to realize who they were. Still, the group agreed to begin reading Scripture with one another and share ideas to improve each other’s ministries.
“At first there was some apprehension, but as time passed everyone lowered their guard,” said Pellecer.
As the first training session drew to a close, the group reflected on the time of learning and slowly-building friendships.
“We used to hate you. We used to fight against you,” said one of the former gang members. “We killed some of you and you killed some of us. But now, by the grace of God, we are brothers in Christ.”
The police officers echoed this message and the group began praying for one another. “No eye was left dry in that place,” said Pellecer. “We felt like we had just been bathed in love.”
This group continues to meet every four months. Right now, they are still building friendship and trust with one another. Yet God may one day use this restored relationship between rivals to transform some of Guatemala’s most broken systems.