You learn how much you really value the Gospel when you’re preaching it at knifepoint.
Most of us have never faced that kind of danger, but I recently met a Guatemalan Christian who has had multiple brushes with death in the line of ministry. While joining him for his street feeding outreach, I got a small taste of the dangers lurking in the gang-infested shadows of the country’s capital city.
The trouble started with a camera flash. My Spanish is atrocious, but I didn’t need a linguistics degree to know that one of the homeless drug addicts was unhappy I’d taken his photo. His gestures and expression communicated a thousand confrontational words.
Clearly I’d made a mistake, but my error presented a chance to see Giuseppe Turuel in action. This winsome missionary to the poor made a beeline for us. He smiled, put his arm around the angry man and initiated a friendly conversation. The guy backed down with his dignity intact. Crisis averted.
I’m sure handling the confrontation was nothing special for Giuseppe, a man who seems to have been born without that perfectly reasonable instinct to avoid late night strolls in neighborhoods overrun by vicious gangs. In the course of his ministry, he has been attacked by robbers seven times. Amazingly, five of those encounters ended with Giuseppe leading the thieves to the Lord!
He shared one instance when a gangster came at him with a knife, demanding everything he had. Giuseppe’s legs shook, but he refused to let the fear control him. Instead of handing over his wallet, he told the thief he would give him the most valuable thing he had – a relationship with God. His tough-love message went something like this: “If I fight you and I die, that’s ok because I know where I’m going. But if I fight you and you die, you are headed someplace else, so you’d better let me go.” Rattled by this stern warning, the gangster put down his knife.
I might not have believed these stories if I hadn’t met two reformed criminals who now work for Giuseppe’s ministry, Operation Rescue. I’ve also witnessed how the students at his Christian school love him like a father. He exudes an infectious joy, compassion and confident faith, and these blessings spread to everyone around him. We’re excited to be a part of this exciting work of God by supplying food and medicine for distribution to the school children and other Guatemalans in need.