Grieving Father Confronts Killers with Message of Love

  • by Jennifer Abegg With Becky Hill

His name was on the guerrillas' hit list in El Salvador.

"I had a horrible way of living," says Americo Munguia. "I was always very violent, always wanting to fight with everybody."

One friend warned Americo that the guerrillas in their country wanted him dead. But when the guerrillas found out about the caution, they killed his friend first. "I knew that I was next," says Americo.

So he -- along with his wife, Margarita, and 5 children -- fled El Salvador for Los Angeles in 1981. Americo's oldest son, Juan, watched his papa.

"Juan had inherited my violence," says Americo.

Yet the boy found out about Christ through a church youth group, told his dad about this Savior, and about a year later, Americo accepted Christ.

One day Juan noticed some gangsters picking on a street preacher. He fought 3 of them, and was proud to tell his father. But Americo warned his son to be careful. It was too late. Three days later the gangsters shot the 21-year-old 3 times in the head.

"I remember seeing my son's body lying on the street," says Americo. "At that moment, I wanted to be like the man I used to be."

To complicate matters, a friend of Americo later spotted, holed up in an apartment, the gangsters who had killed Juan. He offered Americo a 45 mm gun. Americo grabbed it and headed out the door with his friend.

"What is going on?" asked Margarita. "You can't do that."

But he had already decided to pay the gangsters back for what they had done. He and his friend jumped into the car.

But then, Americo recalls, "God seemed to say to me, Vengeance is Mine. You do not have to do what you are going to do. You have to treat them with love."

Almost immediately, Americo threw down his gun.

"I don't want to do this," he said.

Despite his anguish, he told his friend about his earlier decision to follow Christ. The friend called Americo a coward, dropping him off at the gangsters' hideout. When Americo reached the apartment, he walked inside. The gangsters saw him, and reached for their weapons.

The grieving father explained that he was not there to seek revenge. Instead, he said, "I come humbled to speak to you about Jesus Christ."

His mouth shook because he felt a strong battle inside. Americo thought only of the love that God once powerfully revealed to him. Miraculously, after he explained the gospel to the men who killed his son, they asked Jesus to be their Savior.

"It was right then and there," explains the Salvadoran exile, "that I started to experience the ministry of love that the Lord has given me."

Right before that, Americo met Steve Rice and Justo Quiroa, 2 staff members with Here's Life Inner City.

"They encouraged and trained me in how to follow Christ," says Americo, who later joined the staff of HLIC as well. That was 18 years ago.

"He is absolutely the most transformed person I have ever seen," explains Nancy Pryor of HLIC. "He'll stop and talk with everybody. He'll start a conversation with someone, and the next thing you know, they're accepting Christ."

A couple of years ago at a gas station, a man ran toward Americo. What's going on? he wondered. What have I done to this man?

Instead the man hugged him and asked, "Don't you remember me?"

Americo didn't.

"Seven years ago at a car wash, you found a man who was dirty and stinky, and you prayed for him," said the man. "I received Christ, and today I am a pastor."

Americo knows how God can change lives, and he tells everyone about Him -- everyone.

After eating his breakfast, the round, 55-year-old man, whose smile seems permanent, walks up randomly to a couple at Denny's and asks them a question. Less than 5 minutes later they bow their heads to pray and receive Christ.

"How did you know I needed the Lord?" the blond woman asks. "This is exactly what we were looking for today."

"Those are the first 2 souls of the day," says Dan, who ate with Americo. "He shares [Christ] with a minimum of 15 to 30 people a day -- and follows up on most of them as well."

"At one time, he has at least 3 to 5 Bible studies going," says Nancy. "He constantly has people cycling through a 4-week follow-up series and then [when the study finishes,] he channels them through to the church."

When Americo was a little boy in El Salvador, his mom accidentally dropped him on his head. She always believed she damaged him. So while both of his older brothers went on to college, the young Americo was only educated through 2nd grade. Expectations for Americo were always set low. How could someone with only a 2nd-grade education contribute to society?

Yet in God's economy, he's raking it in: "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Americo's passion for God has led him to tell mayors, police officers and professional athletes about a life-changing relationship with Christ. For instance, a Cru staff friend, Ray Caldwell, who works with Athletes in Action, invited him to speak to the Los Angeles Galaxy, a professional soccer team.

There, Americo met soccer star Mauricio Cienfuegos, who is from the very barrio in El Salvador's capital where Americo once lived.

Americo spoke the only language he knows -- Spanish -- Mauricio's mother tongue. The older Salvadoran native explained to the younger one how Jesus conquered death on our behalf. Mauricio invited Christ into his life that day. Americo continues to serve as a team chaplain, and several other players and coaches have received Christ.

"When I think back on my life, the Holy Spirit reminds me of how He's changed me," Americo says. "I love to speak about the Lord."

Rather than his name being on a hit list, his name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life.