Evangelicals and local authorities are asking some residents of violent Dominican Republic neighborhoods to put down their weapons and pick up a Bible.
Santo Domingo authorities recovered more than 1,300 firearms, knives, and machetes in communities known for corruption and violence, in a guns-for-Bibles program, aimed at reducing the country’s crime rate.
Church leaders went into some dangerous neighborhoods to spread the word of God to gangsters and other criminals as part of the recent month-long initiative.
"We congratulate all the young people, and everyone who turned in their weapons, that was an act of goodwill," said Braulio Porte, a Santo Domingo pastor, according to the Christian Post, citing Spanish news website AconrecerCristiano.com.
"When they say they won't continue with that knife, and prefer a Bible instead, that is transformation and a blessing for our country," Porte said.
Cristiana Estrella—a church member in a town near Santo Domingo-- said several of the potential gangsters she visited confessed they were plotting violent crimes with the weapons they gave up.
Estrella added that the crime prevention plan would likely become a nationwide effort.
The initiative focused on Santo Domingo because of the high criminal activity there, but other cities have also experienced a recent crime wave, including Altagracia, Santiago, La Vega, San Cristóbal and Peravia.
The government has resorted to deploying military forces to patrol the streets to aid local authorities in several of the country's crime-ridden cities. The military dispatched more than 3,000 soldiers after a slew of criminal attacks and assaults occurred—often in broad daylight-- throughout urban areas.
Some Dominican civil society and human rights groups have condemned the use of military in policing functions, and are calling for reform.
The U.S. has also stepped in, with help of an Organization of American States-sponsored firearms marking program implemented in the Dominican Republic last year. The program facilitates the record of guns purchased legally, and hopes to limit illicit weapons trafficking.
According to United Nations statistics, the murder rate in the Dominican Republic has doubled in the last 20 years to 25 murders per 100,000 residents.