Evolución: Female Prisoners Transformed
By Lauren Staley, OMS missionary candidate
Evolución─this was one of the first Spanish words that I learned upon my arrival in Medellín for a short-term mission trip. I learned it because I saw it spray painted on walls, houses and street signs. It’s always accompanied by the traditional picture of a monkey, gradually morphing into an upright man. However, the final stage of evolution is pictured as a soldier in black fatigues, carrying a heavy machine gun that is aimed and ready.
Each time I spot one of those stark, spray-painted images, I can’t help but imagine that the monkey is actually a child, crawling on his knees, and that the picture isn’t really representing the evolution of man from one form to another, but rather, a man’s transition from innocence to violence, from victim to killer.
Jeannine (Brabon—longtime OMS missionary in Colombia) warned me that I would be able to feel the spiritual battle raging here. I believed her, but I didn’t think anything could have prepared me for it. The enemy has been fighting for this city for generations. But God is not silent. He isn’t willing that any should perish and the believers here are tirelessly working to sow the seeds of the Gospel of peace in Medellín. The results are cause for undignified celebration.
This morning, Jeannine and I went to Pedregal, the women’s penitentiary. I went through security with my U.S. passport stuck in my back-pocket, and we began the long, hot climb to patio (cell block) 5. There were 10 patios in all, but the Medellín chapter of Prison Fellowship only has enough workers to regularly disciple the inmates in two patios at a time. I’ve never seen so much barbed wire in my life.
We progressed to patio 5, and immediately, Jeannine and our Colombian partner were called to a corner near the bank of telephones to comfort a woman whose face was swollen and distorted with tears. I was left standing, rather stupidly, in the middle of the cell block with my “Hi, how are you?” Spanish vocabulary, having no idea what I ought to be doing.
“Help me, Jesus,” I prayed desperately as I looked around. There was a patch of blue sky above me, but the sun didn’t quite reach the gray concrete where I stood. Barbed wire framed the swatch of blue, and I suddenly felt as if the world was much smaller than I had previously understood. There was a row of white-washed showers along the left hand wall─so few for so many women . . . and then I saw them. Two young women sitting on a step in front of the showers, clad in an odd mismatch of civilian clothing and drab prison garb.
“Buenas tardes!” I waved, tentatively, and went back to studying the small patch of sky as if I expected the hand of God to write out directions in the clouds. As awkward as I felt, I forced myself to look back at the girls and noticed that they were waving me over.
“Me?” I pointed at my chest uncertainly and looked behind me. Surely they don’t want to talk to the socially stunted gringo…
“Si!” They said, smiling widely, and my feet carried me forward.
“Hola, como estas?” (Hi, how are you?) I said when I reached them. I immediately kicked myself. “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m great thanks, just enjoying my incarceration. How about you? How’s life on the outside?” But I had surrendered the day and my actions to God, so I offered up another prayer and refused to dwell on the bitter taste of my foot.
Before long, I was sitting with Claudia and Daisy, laughing about funny sounding English words like “flip-flop” (they asked me to say it over and over again,) and telling each other in Spanglish about our families, our favorite music and our love lives (or lack thereof). Another woman, Tatiana, had joined us, and we sprawled out on the concrete, giggling and carrying on while the older women prayed in the corner with the distraught mother. While we talked, a woman who had been arrested because she was a member of the guerilla forces served me fruit tea. She had a beautiful smile.
We were called to gather, and I found myself sitting in a group of 12 women. We gathered around a white plastic table. Jeannine sat in the center with her Bible open in front of her. Claudia sat at my right elbow and Tatiana at my left.
“And now, Laura (my Spanish name) is going to sing a song,” Jeannine announced in Spanish.
I think I choked and sputtered a bit at this point, but a song immediately came to mind, and I began to sing, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” The patio grew silent as I slowly sang the verses while Jeannine translated. After I finished, Jeannine preached the salvation message, and the women listened intently. I looked around at their faces. How precious they were!
Before that moment, I think I had unconsciously thought that when Jesus said, “I was in prison and you visited me,” that He was talking about prisoners who had been incarcerated unjustly. I realized the truth of the matter as I looked into each woman’s eyes and saw hope reflected there. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Each person around that table, including me, deserved to be in chains. But it’s not about what we deserve, is it? “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jeannine invited the women to confess Jesus as Lord. We bowed our heads and prayed. All 13 women accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, and I was confessing His lordship right along with them.
It was a holy moment.
I bid farewell to my new friends and new sister’s in Christ, hugging them over and over again. As we left the building, Jeannine said, “You know you sat with murderers today?”
It made no difference. God had given me His eyes and His heart.
Evolution … I saw a new kind of evolution today: the transformation of sinful, self-consumed creatures, into daughters of the king and co-heirs with Christ; from guilt to purity, from killer to new creation.