"It was one of our bitterest nights ever," recalled Hernan Lopez, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the La Union neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. "The street was filled with bodies and blood."
Lopez was referring to the scene in front of the church's building on Christmas Eve 2010, just a half hour before worship. A gun battle between rival youth gangs had taken seven lives. Two bodies lay on the church's front entrance. It was a terrifying chapter in the gang-related violence that has plagued La Union since 2002.
|Victoria Jimenez, Reynaldo Banegas and other worshipers at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, sing songs of hope despite the gang violence in their neighborhood.|
Over the years, residents have learned to cope with the occupation of their neighborhood by one of Honduras' most notorious gangs. "Children didn't go out to play," said José Martin Girón, president of the Christian Lutheran Church of Honduras. "Neighbors rarely visited each other. And women passed the day trapped inside their homes."
But residents could only endure so much. For many, the breaking point came Jan. 19, 2011, when gang members and police faced off in a 25-minute battle that sprayed bullets in all directions, leaving dead bodies on the street and on rooftops.
At that point, half or more of the homes in La Union were abandoned. The once close-knit neighborhood became desolate for the remaining families. For four months, Good Shepherd suspended most church activities, including a large Sunday school and an active youth program.
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