Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Facing a Threat

Boy With a Ball/FUNDADEJO in San Jose, Costa Rica continues to work in a squatter’s settlement or “precario” located just north of downtown San Jose called “El Triangulo de la Solidaridad.” The precario has a population of around 2,500 people, mostly Nicaraguan immigrants, living on just three acres of land. Their quality of life is third world.

Many Costa Ricans are afraid to go into a precario because these areas are dramatically impoverished and crime-ridden however our experience has been that this precario is a humble village full of families and individuals looking for a better life than what they had back in Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s average annual salary per person is $600. Costa Rica’s is $6,000.

One great threat to the precario as long as we have been there is the continual presence of a small group of drug dealers who usually hang out in the front of the community. This group has changed over the years with new guys flowing in and some of the older guys disappearing but there are always at least one or two of them there each day as we walk in to talk to families, lead groups or facilitate activities.

Recently, however, something had changed. The group of drug dealers was growing and, as a result, the precario was changing. Young guys we had been reaching began distancing themselves from us and gravitating toward the dealers. Our credibility weakened and the group of drug dealers and their cohorts grew from the usual two to five guys to a group of between 10 – 20.

Something had to be done.

Confronting the Drug Dealers

In October of last year, our teams arrived for a Saturday morning walkthrough and were greeted by the dealers yet again so we took action. Two of our leaders walked up to the two main dealers and confronted them. “We know what you are doing in this community,” we said. “We know that you are drawing young people into drugs and we aren’t going to let you do it anymore.” We went on to talk to them about their futures and to tell them we could help them get back into school or to find real jobs. It was a dramatic moment and many in the community stopped to watch. The dealers were nervous and mostly just laughed uncomfortably .

Then we walked away.

The Drug Dealers Strike Back

It was just a few days later that a call came into the office. The guy who was distributing drugs to these dealers had ordered them to “shank” or stab me and one of our leaders from right there in the precario. They believed we were going to call the police and have them arrested. Things got a little tense for a few days.

In our next visit to the precario we walked up to them, shook their hands and made it clear that we weren’t leaving. Instead we actually went out of our way to get a group of our male leaders to play basketball right next to the dealers each week as a way of showing the community that the dealers had no power. We were not scared and we weren’t going to go away.

We found out later that the community had confronted the dealers and told them that the community would go after them if anything happened to any of us. We were a good part of the community in their eyes and they protected us.

A Few Days Ago…a Breakthrough

This past Saturday as we walked into the precario for the first time in several weeks, we came upon the dealers as they sat in the middle of the precario smoking marijuana right next to several of the families homes who are leaders for us. We went directly over to sit with them.

As we sat down they began to mock us by saying, “Hey, we are smoking marijuana.” We began to talk to them about how marijuana can keep them from their dreams, how it will take away their motivation to do the things they need to do like finding real jobs or studying and how it is a gateway drug for even more damaging drugs like crack cocaine.

We spoke about how it also becomes a crutch to use when they face stress rather than allowing them to learn how to manage stress productively with faith, hope and love in a way that could make them good men, spouses or fathers one day. What felt good for the moment was destroying their futures.

One of the main guys was hooked on our words. His eyes locked on to mine and it was obvious that his heart was open. We told the two guys that we aren’t against them. Our team is dedicated to helping young people do well…to grow…to reach their dreams. We told them we could help them if they were open. We could eat lunch together and talk about getting back in school.

The guy reached over and shook my hand and said he would like that. Finally, a breakthrough.

Boy With a Ball Exists to Reach Young People, Equip Them as Leaders and Transform Communities

We thank God for this turn of events and also for your willingness to walk with us as friends as we develop teams capable of doing this very grassroots work in neighborhoods across the world. It is good work and work that very much needs to be done.

It is so very easy to talk of wanting to make a difference and yet so very much harder to do the actual tedious, constant, unglamorous work required to actually change things. Your financial support, your prayers and your friendship are truly making a difference in helping us to see young lives changed and then equipped to turn and help change others.

It is our very strong belief that this is the best way to change the world…one young person and one family at a time.

Your friend,

Jamie Johnson

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