Pastor Poncho Murguia is a humble man who speaks with a quiet authority. I watched yesterday as about 18 top police and prisons officers grappling with deadly gang violence in Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas listened intently to him for more than an hour.
“I beg you, don’t wait, like we did, until too many people died and there was too much blood on the streets,” he said as he brought his briefing to a close. The officers seated in a square-formation around four long tables spontaneously applauded him.
Earlier, he had emphasised to the officers that they needed to partner with all relevant stakeholders and especially with the faith community, in getting to the root of the gang violence problem and dealing with it.
The unusual meeting took place at Word of Faith Christian Centre (WOFCC), where Pastor Poncho, who is known as the man who transformed the “murder capital of the world”, Juárez in Mexico, where 12 000 people were killed and the local economy was devastated as ruthless drug cartels fought each other for control of the city.
Poncho had the officers’ full attention as he shared his testimony of how God had taken him out of his comfort zone where he was focused on building his successful church onto a journey of learning to love and serve his city. He shared how God led to him in playing a key role in transforming a notorious prison and the city, where, over a period of 18 months, homicides decreased by 80%, kidnappings were eliminated and extortions decreased by 90%.
In an interview after the meeting, Poncho said yesterday’s session and two other “very good and open-hearted” meetings he had held earlier this week — with the Deputy Mayor and a group of councillors, and with a police general — suggested to him that God was preparing the ground for transformation in PE where about 100 people have died in gang violence this year.
And God apparently opened another door at the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting, when Eastern Cape Regional Commissioner of Correctional Services Cynthia Dumbela invited Poncho to visit PE’s St Albans prison today to see their programmes and offer advice. The prison has a reputation for being the place where orders are issued for most gang killings in the Northern Areas.
Poncho said he had not knowingly come to the city for high-level meetings with governmental leaders. He was invited to PE by Pastor Jimmy Crompton of WOFCC to speak at a three-day conference at the church that ended yesterday.
Crompton, who set up Poncho’s strategic meetings with officials this week, said when he had learned of the Mexican pastor’s impact on violent crime he had felt inspired to invite him to the conference to make a difference in the fight against gang violence in the city and other parts of the country.
During the three-day church conference, Poncho shared to packed audiences about what God did in Juárez through him, the united church, the city and state authorities, and the community. Video recordings of his inspiring talks can be viewed on YouTube [Ssee link at the end of this report to one of the videos].
Message to Church
I asked Poncho, in view of his experiences in PE, to share his message to the Church in the city. He replied: “I would say if there is a time to be in unity because of the need of the city, this is the right time.
“We the church need to be humble — we need to love one another so we can love the world and see a major transformation in the city because if we don’t the price is going to be high with a lot of people dead and this is not what we are called to.
“We are called to bring life, to be the salt of the earth, to be the light of the world — to bring peace. We have the ministry of reconciliation. So, I would encourage the church that this is the right time to leave our comfort zone and be involved and transform our city.”
At a conference session on Tuesday night, I heard Poncho share how miraculous breakthroughs had followed in Juárez as church leaders and members began to lay down their agendas and radically obey the leading of the Holy Spirit — a process he called moving from “our story” to “His Story”.
I asked him how How we, the community of faith in PE, could move from “our story” to “His story”. He replied: “I think the first step has got to do with humility — humility before God, acknowledging that we need Him but according to His will, not ours. So we need to surrender our agendas, our programmes to His wisdom.
“And the other one is humility towards one another. You know the Bible says this — but now is the time to put it into action — it says we are to consider others better than ourselves. This should not just be rhetoric. We have to do it.
“So I would say the journey starts with having a humble heart. We should be servants of one another, servants of God, servants of the community, servants of the people who are committing crimes — by loving them and bringing them the Gospel.”
Expanding on the call to serve and love gangsters, he said the Bible is very clear that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save the world.
“And sometimes we are more religious than that and condemn the world. Then we don’t save anybody,” he said.
His counsel to law enforcement, prison and other city and government authorities, based on his experience, was that no branch of authority on its own was capable of changing the gang violence situation.
“My message would be again that this is the right time to work together in unity as the governmental sector of the city, and of the province and always be willing to involve the community and in particular the community of faith because that’s the ingredient that will bring a change.”
In a message of hope to PE — and other cities struggling with gang violence — he said: ” We have a very strong faith, and we believe in hope, not because we are more intelligent or more spiritual than others. The reason I can say that is because we were in a situation where there was no hope and we were ready to surrender.
“But then, we humbled ourselves before the Lord and He did what He did. And I would say if it happened to Juárez according to those conditions it can happen in any part of the world. So there is hope.”
Watch video of Pastor Poncho at WOFCC conference on Tuesday June 4 (His talk starts at 1:40:35 )