Victim of Violence, Gang Member Hold Much in Common

Post a Comment » Written on December 8th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

BELL GARDENS, CA (December 8, 2009) – Magdalena Sanchez came to Los Angeles in 1975 as an 18-year-old fleeing violence in her native El Salvador. She knew no English. She started attending First Covenant Church in Los Angeles with her mother because the congregation was ministering to the influx of Hispanics in the area.

Eight years ago, Benito Amaya, then 21, walked away from the gang he had started.

On Saturday, Sanchez stood on stage in her red doctoral robe helping hand out diplomas and certificates to students during the Centro Hispano de Estudios Teológicos (CHET) graduation ceremonies. Later she attended the school’s 20th anniversary celebration and was seated several tables away from Amaya, a first-year CHET student who is preparing to become a pastor.

MagdalenaBoth hope their lives, which have been impacted by the school, will inspire others.

Sanchez wore the robe for the first time Saturday, a moment that was special to her and inspiring to the students. She had earned her PhD in education at the University of Southern California, but did not march in her own graduation ceremony. She didn’t even own a robe.

Then CHET President Ed Delgado asked Sanchez, who is a member of CHET’s Board of Directors and teaches part-time at the school, to help distribute the diplomas. So she hurriedly rented the robe.

Sanchez had not walked in her own graduation ceremony because she didn’t feel a part of the larger class, but Saturday’s event was a rich reminder that she is part of community, she says.

Sanchez adds, “It was very special for the students to have a Hispanic woman with a PhD, especially a Hispanic immigrant. It shows them what’s possible.”

Sanchez has been involved with CHET in various ways since arriving in the United States. She was attending First Covenant when the church closed and used money from the sale of their building to fund the startup of a Hispanic Covenant church in Bell Gardens as well as provide seed money for the school.

The people at each of the institutions have offered encouragement during her journey from her days sewing in the city’s garment district to attaining her doctorate. She is grateful that the school has been there to help her and especially train Hispanic women for ministry.

“The denomination has to encourage gender equality and they do,” she says, emphatically. “That is why I love the Covenant.”

Today, in addition to her classes at CHET, Sanchez teaches at Porterville College in Porterville, California, and works with a program sponsored by the University of California – Los Angeles that encourage Hispanics to pursue careers in the sciences and medicine.

AmayaAmaya started the gang when he was age 14 and selling drugs while virtually living on the streets. He and his friends formed the gang to protect themselves from other gangs that were angered by the infringement on their drug territory.

“I was influenced by power and money,” he recalls. But by the time he turned 21, the violence was overwhelming Amaya. He remembered that he had gone to a gang intervention program five years prior and the speaker saying, “What good is it for a man to gain the world and lose his soul.”

Amaya made his way to a church and pleaded for God to help him. “I said, ‘God, if you’re real, I need you to make yourself real to me,’ ” he says. “I felt like something came out of me. I started sweating and shaking.” And then he felt overwhelmed by God.

Amaya, now 29 and happily married, started attending church and has been trying to study as much as possible and as often as possible since that day, he says. His pastor suggested he consider attending CHET.

Delgado says Amaya is “a top student.”

“The theological studies bring a different perspective to my world,” says Amaya. The benefits have been more than educational.  “CHET has filled my life with a special family.”

Amaya, who is a maintenance worker at a local hospital, plans to continue his education after CHET.

“I’m praying that I can continue to Fuller Seminary,” says Amaya with passion. “I believe in my heart that God is calling me to be a pastor.”

He adds, “I know that the Master will open doors for me.” Those doors, he hopes, include the ones at a juvenile detention center where officials would not let him speak to teenagers due to his past.

In the meantime, Amaya says, CHET is helping him to reach for his future.

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