Six Questions for Jose Penate Aceves

1. What led you to start an intentional community ministering to gang members? Gangs have a really strong sense of community: They fight and die for their homies and they support each other. Other programs offer job skills or anger management, but don’t offer community. We offer a community like the community they have. After many years working with them, we realized that was attractive to them—they feel at home.

2. Why is local leadership so important in your work? From the beginning we said that if we really want this ministry to continue, it has to be local, because local leaders have three different qualities. a) They don’t move easily. b) Other people trust them; it takes time, but people believe them. And c) they’re used to handling big challenges—poor or marginalized people have been trained by life to confront really huge challenges.

3. What does it mean to minister “incarnationally”? If someone foreign wants to do some kind of ministry in this community, that person has to become like a baby and learn. Transformation is mutual: At the same time it’s helping others, the biggest transformation is happening in their own life. That is not easy. To submerge incarnationally and empower others sometimes is to fail. But if you look through the eyes of the kingdom of God, well, that is all about love, love, love—until they ask you why you love so much.

4. How have you seen scripture reflected in the communities where you’ve lived? In El Salvador, Luke 4:18-19—Jesus’ commission to free the oppressed—helped me to see my poor community with a different perspective. Our neighborhood was so poor: no electricity, no streets, no water. We thought this was our destiny. But through the gospel we find that, no, God has beautiful promises and we can do it together. Sometimes poor people are so divided, just trying to survive themselves, that we don’t realize that together we can transform the whole community.

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