His fellow gang member thrust a pistol into his hand. "Go ahead and kill the kid," he instructed him.
Wedged between the dangerous Mara Salvatrucha and the Dieciocho gangs in a neighborhood even police feared, Mario Ajcip's gang had successfully fended off rivals to keep their turf in Guatemala City's most violent streets.
When a rival dared to make incursion into Mario's neighborhood, there was only one gang-inflicted punishment — death. This time it was Mario's turn to execute the cornered kid on the dark dirt alley.
Not opposed to physically beating up a rival, Mario balked at murder. Himself a leader among the 100 gang-members, he suggested teaching the guy a lesson and letting him go.
"I couldn't explain why I couldn't do it," Mario says. "There was something in me...
"Now I understand that the prayers of my mother were having effect."
His downward slide into gangs and violence marked him for inevitable tragedy – until Jesus came into his life and changed its course.
One of eight brothers and sisters, Mario grew up with dirt floors, corrugated metal roofs, alcohol, and drugs. His dad was addicted to both.
When a wave of gangs came to Guatemala in the 1980s, Mario was among the street kids brought to a night meeting where they would be initiated into the gang.
He learned to fight young and defend his honor. With his older and younger brother, he would sometimes leave rivals unconscious from the beatings.
Amid the chaos, his older sister and mother got saved and started praying for him.
When Mario was visiting a friend, he answered the door to men from a neighborhood church looking for the friend because he had recently attended a service.
Mario, with long hair and no shirt on, barked at the two strangers at the door brusquely, but Alex Delgado wasn't intimidated by Mario's appearance or manner.
Alex, known as a fast-talker who could whip out Bible verses speedier than hand-slappers playing Uno, started sharing the gospel with the surprised gang member.
The truth of the word began to penetrate Mario's hardened heart. Usually he would send away any stranger who came to the door, but this time Mario listened to them for more than an hour.
Then he did something he could not have imagined even an hour before this visit. Mario prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.
He attended the church the next Wednesday and it became a second home for him. He started reading the Bible.
A rapper and a break dancer, Mario used his talents to gather crowds of up to 150 on Guatemala City's Central Plaza. He and church members shared the good news of Jesus Christ with these people on Sunday afternoons.
They took the gospel to some of the most forbidding neighborhoods, like El Gallito, where the drug lords ruled.
As the years passed, Mario consistently served. An avid soccer player, he rounded up street toughs for pickup games. After impressing with his fancy footwork, he laid his heart bare to the kids. Today many of those kids have opted out of drugs to follow Jesus.
As he grew in Christ, Mario began to pursue his passion for art more seriously, enrolling in and graduating from the prestigious National School for Art and continuing to teach at the local Christian school affiliated with his church.
Looking back, he can't believe the transformation.
"Fifteen years ago, a person talked to me about Christ, and Christ came into my heart," he says.
"Today, I can say I'm somebody, not for what I have, but because God gives me a reason to keep believing in the future."
"I give the glory to God for the opportunities He's given me," Mario says. "I've seen the huge things God has done not only in me but also in my family. God wants to do things in the lives of people who give Him the opportunity."?
Courtesy ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)