There are people who, by their own will, would never set foot in a church. Meet Manuel, who is one of those people. Although his mother is a Christian and he acknowledges the truth of the Gospel, it has been many years since Manuel has entered a church… nor does he have any desire to in the near future.
Five years ago, Manuel was right in the middle of a tragedy. While carrying out a special mission with the military in a remote region of the country, he witnessed the brutal assassination of his best friend at the hands of another good friend. The three men were soldiers trained in marine watch and rescue and other capacities. But one night, an argument erupted between the two friends and in the heat of drunkenness, it tragically ended in spilled blood.
The crime not only took the life of his friend, but it also robbed Manuel of his career in the military. Following a complicated judicial process, he was forbidden from re-entering the military as a soldier. For Manuel, this was the vocation and sacrifice he had dreamed of since he was a young boy. “The military was my life, my family, my future. I moved up very high in the ranks, and I couldn’t understand why they would throw me out after I had invested so much,” expressed Manuel, visibly pained.
Ever since that weekend in 2007, Manuel has been able to think of little else. The trauma is too great, and there are too many images and daily events that trigger his memory of that terrible night when his story changed forever. “The psychologist that was assigned to me did nothing more than say a few nice words and tell me to think about something else… that’s crazy,” says this boy who comes off as a much older man.
For many years now, Manuel has been drinking daily. He always goes about with “some” alcohol in his system because it is the only way he feels he can survive the loss of five years ago. I met Manuel on the outskirts of a soccer field in Sutiava, where he was watching the game by himself from a distance and with a sad look on his face.
“These are the kinds of youth we want to gather,” said the Lieutenant Tiberio, who along with Pastor Denis Cienfuego and Belén Church, have begun an initiative to rescue at-risk youth through doing creative activities in the streets.
Manuel is just one of the many people who do not enter the church. There are some who don’t come simply because they cannot be in places packed with people. Others don’t because they have problems with hearing and they cannot withstand the high volume that is common in many church services. And others frankly are not capable because they are not in good health, are chronically injured, struggle with depression, or are incapable of moving about on their own.
We would like to commend Belén Church, Pastor Denis, Lieutenant Tiberio, and the police of Sutiava for their passion for youth, especially those who struggle with addictions, loneliness, or misconduct. Thanks be to God for these leaders who are spending time with the marginalized of our society and who have hope that people like these may one day set foot in the church. Thanks be to God that they are being Christ in the streets and in their neighborhood.
“So let us go out to him, outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.”
Hebreos 13:13 (NLT)