Merelyn Amaya lived in the neighbourhood of Chamelecón, a suburb of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In late 2014, the area became a war zone with two gangs fighting each other. One day, when Amaya’s bus stopped coming to Chamelecón because of the fighting, she tried to catch a bus on the other side of the territorial line but was forced back home at gunpoint. A gang member followed her and shot at her feet as she walked away. “I just started to cry and asked God to hold me in his hands,” she said.
In this context Amaya’s church Vida en Abundancia Iglesia Evangélica Menonita (Life in Abundance Evangelical Mennonite Church) strives to bring hope and peace. The congregation, which once drew some 200 people, now has about 70 — four members were among bystanders murdered in the conflict and many fled the area after being told by the gangs to leave or be killed. Despite the violence, Amaya and her church decided to stay.
At the height of the conflict, the congregation held intercessory prayers for peace in the streets for a week at a time every few months. Gang members had shot out the street lights, but church members went out each night with a generator and their own lights. They set up between the two rival gangs to pray and sing. “With all that was within our spirit we worshipped,” said Amaya. “[One night] one of the gang members made a shot into the air, he wanted to frighten us, but we just continued.”
Another way they work for peace is participating in a program of MCC and Proyecto Paz y Justicia (Peace and Justice Project), an organization of the Evangelical Mennonite Church in Honduras. The program trains volunteers to present lessons in schools on respect, forgiveness, self-esteem, education, human rights and conflict resolution. By reminding students of these values they will be better equipped to deal with the violence. Amaya was project coordinator in Chamelecón and helped to find the volunteers.
Even during the intense violence, Amaya and the church chose to say. “We never closed the door as the church. To the contrary we worked harder and more,” she said. “God gave us the hope that this will stop. And if we would have stopped, it would have been shutting down the only light. We were a light of hope as a church.”
Amaya passed away in March 2016 from health complications, but her legacy and the project in Chamelecón continue. Read more about her and the peacebuilding project.
MCC has gathered stories of Women Peacebuilders as part of our annual Peace Sunday Packet. The complete 2016 Peace Sunday Packet can be viewed here.