Reflection: Embracing Evil
WCIU Journal: Community and Societal Development Topic
December 4, 2018
by Kenton Moody
All I could see was the 666 looming in front of my eyes. What should I do? There were other numbers inked predominantly on almost every available space on his body—the number 18 from the 18th Street gang.
We were in one of the youth detention centers in El Salvador that house young men many of whom have been involved in some type of gang activity. It has been said, “If they weren’t gang members before going in, they will be by the time they leave.” My wife and I have been visiting the center for almost two years getting to know the young men and trying to help them.
The first time I walked into the center, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The inside was bleak and in disrepair. More than 250 young men, from ages 13-23, were simply wandering around in shorts or their underwear, no shirts. Their hair was spiked or cut in a mohawk, showing gang tattoos etched into the sides of their heads. I could feel the hardness, resistance, and oppression. “What do you want and why are you here?” were the unasked questions in the eyes of everyone as they observed us.
A small group gathered around us as we began to shake hands and ask names. Two of them pushed their way to the front and we recognized them as gang members from a neighborhood close to our church. We had completed a number of social projects in their area and they had even helped us build two homes for single mothers. They were glad to see someone who knew them. Because of their recognition and acceptance, we could feel the initial barriers come down.
Over the ensuing months of our visits, we began to look for ways to break down walls of resistance and to show we care. The jail had no money for training classes so we sponsored an agriculture class focusing on small gardens, a carpentry class, and provided the funds to restart the bakery classes. In addition, we paid to put up a retaining wall and cyclone fence for their small soccer court. It didn’t go unnoticed.
One on one conversations, remembering names, where they came from, and how long their sentence is all helped us break through as well. We began to take groups of visiting missionary teams from the United States to visit them. Inevitably, there would be one or more on the team who had spent time in prison, or had been addicted to alcohol or drugs and they would tell how God had made a difference in their lives. But the distance from hearing a testimony to transformation is very wide.
On one of our visits, we were in Sector II, the toughest area. A couple of the team members had shared their stories and one of the young ladies who came with us sang a song in Spanish. I felt that we should pray for the 50 or so youth that surrounded us. I asked if anyone would like for us to pray for them—for blessing, healing, help for their mother and family, or anything. No one moved, no one indicated any desire for prayer, they just stared at me. In El Salvador, even in prison, it is very seldom that prayer is rejected, so I insisted. Finally, one young man signaled me with his eyes that he was willing to let us pray for him.
Boldness entered my heart. If one was willing, maybe others would be as well. I told them, “If you don’t want prayer, take two steps back.” Only two or three persons moved back, the rest stayed. The group with me stepped forward and began to pray.
That is when I saw the 666 staring me in the face. Did I really believe that God could do something in someone who had already branded himself with such a number? Rather than just pray for him, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to hug him. I know very few of these young men ever received hugs in their lives given with the love of God.
At the same time, I personally felt as if I were about to hug the devil himself. It was a struggle as I reached my long arms all the way around the young man and drew him in. As I embraced what felt like evil, I felt an immediate transformation as God’s love, radiating through me, conquering that evil. It wasn’t physical or emotional, but rather spiritual.
Romans 12:21 came to my mind. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To conquer evil, sometimes we have to embrace it, because that action of love envelops and suffocates Satan’s best efforts.
Since that time, the director of the youth detention center has shared in a meeting of his colleagues that he has seen a marked change in Sector II. “The young men aren’t rebellious like they were. They obey, they respond respectfully to us, they are different now.” He attributed the change to us going to, praying for, and embracing evil and overcoming it with good.