In what was once Colombia’s most violent city, God is at work in the hearts of the prisoners and staff at Bellavista men’s prison. Ministries like Bridge to Reading (B2R), One Mission Society’s literacy ministry, step into the famous penitentiary in Medellin, Colombia, to bring not just education but the Good News of salvation.
Here are a few powerful stories overflowing from Bellavista:
Bridge to Reading was invited in 2013 by the government of Colombia to help expand efforts to teach prisoners how to read. B2R founder Connie Schwein, Nathan Davis, and I trained a group of prison administration staff, as well as several volunteers from Prison Fellowship Colombia (PFC) in Medellin to serve as literacy tutors.
Our team had been inside the huge, overcrowded Bellavista prison for a couple of afternoons in 2013 to give our tutors the opportunity to practice their new skills with actual students who had little or no ability to read. We had seen the excitement on their faces as they reported how these practice sessions went.
A year later, in July 2014, Nathan and I returned to offer a tutor training workshop inside Bellavista men’s prison, and then, they held a training of trainers.
When we planned to return to the prison in 2014, we were already aware that it would be a challenging environment in which to teach the entire workshop. There are reminders every day that the prison is not there to accommodate us. We must adjust to whatever changes and restrictions are placed on us: when we can enter, when we must leave, where we will meet, when our students can come to class, when there will be an unannounced roll-call, and so forth. The acoustics in the classrooms are atrocious, and classes can come to a complete halt thanks to a band playing during a graduation party on the patio next door.
The solution in every case is to adapt quickly and never take your eyes off the goal: to be an expression of the love of Jesus. We remember that many missionaries and national believers lost their lives trying to pry the door open so that we could walk through it.
We recall the story of how Bellavista has been changed from the inside out by the power of the Gospel carried inside by people like OMSer Jeannine Brabon, the Colombia-born daughter of OMS missionaries, and Lácides Hernández, president of Prison Fellowship of Colombia.
As a young woman, Jeannine was one of the first to minister in the extremely violent prison. At that time, Bellavista was experiencing several murders every week. As the Gospel took hold, despite fierce opposition, the murder rate dropped. The gates of hell were not able to withstand the assault by the church of Jesus Christ. Lácides has expanded the outreach pioneered at Bellavista to prisons across Colombia.
Reflecting on the past efforts of missionaries and the impact they had through God’s power, we remind ourselves that the chance to shine the light in this dark place is worth whatever inconvenience we may encounter.
By Wendy McDermott, Bridge to Reading editor and coordinator for Latin America
Please join us in praying for Colombia:
- That volunteers from Prison Fellowship, local churches, and other ministries will continue to have an open door at every prison, and that God will reveal himself through undeniable evidence of his power and love through them.
- That the prisoners and prison staff would have opportunities to encounter God through the volunteers and the believers inside the prison.
- That the believers in the prison will grow in their relationship with God, experience inner freedom in the Lord, and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses through everything that they say and do.
- That our trainers would have opportunities to teach the Colombian church how to use Bridge to Reading as a tool of evangelism in their communities.
Bellavista’s story of transformation continues in next week’s final blog post.