Last week’s story of transformation inside Bellavista prison continues as Bridge to Reading (B2R), One Mission Society’s literacy ministry, steps in to hold literacy training sessions and to share the Gospel with the prisoners.
Bellavista men’s prison in Medellin, Colombia, today remains a place of intense contrasts. It’s simultaneously an oppressive labyrinth of concrete and iron, as well as the home of people who exhibit warmth and dignity. The security staff is no-nonsense, and those automatic weapons hanging off their shoulders and belts… well, they aren’t just for show.
But every stereotype you have about prisoners has to be reevaluated when you discover that the men are genuinely friendly and respectful. Conversation is intelligent and engaging, just as you would find among a non-prison population. Need the room rearranged? Having trouble with the computer? They jump right in to help.
Similarly, the staff who is working in the office of educational programs has a genuine love for the men that they affectionately refer to as “los muchachos,” which is best translated as “the fellas” or “the guys” rather than the literal “boys.”
Through the Bridge to Reading ministry, we got a chance to show the compassion of Jesus to a wide range of people, whether they were dealing with the physical bars or the bars or barriers they had on their insides. We connected with them as people, not as prisoners, and interacted with them just as Jesus did. He always treated those with the least status – the most abandoned, the least valued – as people of worth, so we tried to do the same. We listened carefully to their comments and acknowledged their contributions to the class; we cheered when they took a chance and demonstrated a new skill in front of the group. They learned that we were willing to laugh along with them, and at ourselves too.
Every day, we provided special snacks and soda for the men during our breaks, a real treat for them. During these breaks, our team had many opportunities to build relationships with them. Our literacy supervisor, Pastor Diego Gil, is a gifted evangelist and member of the outreach ministry, Prison Fellowship. God provided an opportunity for him to have meaningful conversations about salvation with a number of the men. Participants who didn’t know the Lord got to know those who did.
This rapport laid the foundation for the highlight of the workshop: a time of prayer for individuals after the training concluded. The men were allowed to leave if they wanted to, but almost everyone stayed. About half eagerly got in one of our prayer lines right away, while the other half cautiously observed for a while. When they saw that it was “safe,” they would quietly get in line. We prayed for their families, who are struggling without them, for healing, for provision, for an end to loneliness, for courage, for transformation. One man in Nathan’s line said, “I’m far from God.” Nathan talked to him about the Gospel, and the man received salvation in Jesus on the spot.
We believe that these were just the first fruits of what the Lord did through the B2R workshop in Bellavista prison. The ground has been prepared and the seeds have been planted for more fruit to come.
By Wendy McDermott, Bridge to Reading editor and coordinator for Latin America
We invite you to join the B2R team by praying with us:
That the man who received salvation will grow in his relationship with God.
- That the men who are believers will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses through everything that they do and are.
- That the Lord would reveal himself to many more in the prison and that the men would experience inner freedom in the Lord.
- 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 Bridge to Reading would blossom and spread throughout the prison and be used to open up many doors for people to hear about God’s love and forgiveness for them.
- That the prison staff would have opportunities to encounter God through the volunteers and the believers inside the prison.
- 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.
- That the believers would move in signs and wonders and live in such a way that the name of Jesus will be made known in the prison, the government, and in the nation of Colombia.
We hope you have enjoyed this month of reading about, praying for, and learning more of the Bridge to Reading literacy ministry.