Criminal gangs and their rampages through society are a cancer in Central and Latin America and very few governments have a clue as to how to change the situation.
Prisons are beyond overcrowded, the economies are poor and many people are unemployed, which ramps up gang membership. And yet some nervy evangelical pastors in the hinterlands of Brazil have come up with an idea of how to use social media to pull people out of gangs.
That brings me back to this Washington Post piece, which I’ve been meaning to get around to for some while, since came out a month ago. It’s quite a read and worth a flashback.
RIO BRANCO, Brazil — As the sound of gunshots grew closer, Janderson Viera knew that the rival gang that had taken over his neighborhood was coming for him.
Running to his bedroom, he called the only lifeline he had left: the Rev. Arnaldo Barros.
“I want to convert,” he said.
As gang wars drive Brazil’s homicide rate to historic highs, evangelical pastors — long revered in the nation’s slums and prisons — have come up with a new way to protect members looking for a way out.
For anyone wondering why evangelical Christianity has exploded in Brazil, this story explains why (click here for a classic blast of Pew Forum data on this).
For those of you needing a review of the past few decades, this story summarizes the enormous growth of evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostals, in Brazil. Most seem to be former Catholics.
Back to the Post:
Gang leaders say the only way to leave the business alive is to convert to Christianity. So Barros, a televangelist popular here in western Brazil, memorializes a gang member’s embrace of the ancient articles of faith using the most modern of tools: He records the conversion on his smartphone and posts the videos on YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp. The converts gain immunity against retribution by rival gangs and their own.
Gang leaders and law enforcement officials say it works.