Actor Arturo Muyshondt believes his role as a modern day hero in "The Pastor" can spearhead positive social change in communities throughout the world that are overwhelmed by criminal gang activity.
"I was really shocked with what I found," said Muyshondt, who was born in El Salvador, to The Christian Post. "I found that these kids are joining these gangs as young as 9, 10, 11-years-old because they go looking for the same elements — for identity, brotherhood, community and protection."
Set in Brooklyn, New York, Muyshondt plays a former gang leader who discovers Christ in prison. When he's released, he seeks out underprivileged youth in his neighborhood to mentor and direct them toward a life that doesn't involve drugs and crime.
"My personal aspiration is for that character to inspire these kids to think, 'Wow, look at this guy. He used to be a gang member. He used to be a gang leader, a very strong, bad man. But now he's a very strong, good man, and he's a new kind of hero. He's simple, he's honest, and his desire is to protect the kids of the community,"' Muyshondt continued. "How does he do it? Where does he get his power, his strength? From God, from the Bible."
"The primordial thing to do, which deals with the basic human needs of our community, is to go out there and start speaking to these kids about God," he told CP. "These kids are looking for very simple yet strong elements" which he said are prevalent in any church, in any community in the world.
Muyshondt, who interviewed incarcerated youth who were behind bars for committing gang-related crimes, says his goals and vision for the film progressed as he embarked on his own faith journey.
"I've been a man of God from my upbringing in South America, but I must also tell you that it wasn't until about two years ago when I had a very strong re-encounter with God, where I was at the lowest of the lowest point of my life — desperate, alone, on my knees, and He spoke to me very clearly and that's how this story came to be."
"I realized God wants me to be a voice for social change," he declared. "To use this movie as a vehicle, as education, inspiration and transformation. That's really what my new mission in life is."
Muyshondt has been doing just that, and recently spoke at the United Nations about his efforts with the Christian Church mission known as The Dream Center.
Social change, however, is not the only thing he has set out to do. He also hopes to inspire the Latino community as a whole.
"This is the first of many (movies) to come! I'm a very proud Latino and I realize that my kids can have this sort of story to look up to," he added. "They have Batman and all these American heroes, but of course, this is not a Superman story. This is a story of the anti-hero, the guy who reluctantly became a hero in his own community."
"I've alway been very much in awe of epic characters like El Cid, another spanish character that we had, but we haven't seen a movie about him in 50 years, since Charlton Heston played that role. So I thought, how can I contribute to the Latino community, the Latino culture, the Latino history in this country?"
Muyshondt says he realized that, as a Christian, the one thing that unites the Latinos, other than the World Cup, is not music or media, but religion.
"I think that one of the missions I have as a Latino filmmaker in the United States is to also share our stories with the world," he said. "If we can do that in a way that is not only educational and entertaining but also inspiring, I think we are making sure that our next generation has these role models to look up to."
"I now find myself on a very clear path and I'm going to try and stay loyal to making this type of film that's socially relevant, that's culturally relevant, [with a] cross-cultural audience as we experience in the U.S. today. By that I mean the Latino component will always be present in the story and also the redeeming quality of the story."
"The Pastor' has a predominately Latino cast starring Muyshondt ("The Two Lives of Maxi Kaplan"), Franky G ("Power"), Angelic Zambrana ("Precious"), Victoria Cartagena ("Salt" and "Gotham"), Pastor Carlos Ortiz and Micah Hauptman ("Everest" and "Homeland").
"The Pastor," is now in 400 movie theaters nationwide this week. For more information about "The Pastor" visit ThePastorFilm.com.