Prison Fellowship Story
Report by Jeannine Brabon, Prison Fellowship Colombia
Before the World Soccer Cup in June 1994 I picked up an editorial to see how the Colombia team rated. Captain Carlos Valderrama was interviewed. One phrase caught my attention. "Our objective when we go down to the field for a match, is to give our people a moment of happiness." The fleeting exhileration of a moment of glory was obliterated. Only two weeks into the Cup a stunned world learned of the Colombian Andres Escobar's violent death for making an own goal when Colombia played against the USA. The tenacles of evil reach into every aspect of life in Colombia. The death culture reigns.
At a stop light the "sicario's" hired assassins roar up to a bus which has just braked for the light. Shots ring out. The bus driver slumps over dead, leaving hysterical passengers wondering who is next. Life has no value. To kill and be killed. There is nothing for which to live. Death is a business, and many a tea is spread by food bought by blood money. Paramilitary right fight the guerrilla left. both groups find it lucrative to patrol the drug lord's interest. Over 3,000 policeman have died in recent years in the war against drugs. As one young lad said, "Killing for the drug lords made me complete. All of a sudden I had everything that I always wanted and it was fast and easy." During the decade of the ninities the death toll each year oscilated between twenty and thirty thousand people.
In the internal raging war in Colombia no one really knows who the enemy is, or who will be the next target. The situation is very, very complex. A pastor goes to a soldiers' barracks to share the good news. Grateful soldiers give the poor young pastor a pair of boots. The pastor is kiddnapped by the guerrillas soon afterwards and shot dead because his feet wore government boots. The church was nailed shut. Twenty-five pastors have been marytered in southern region this year alone. What can stop the sea of blood which washes over Colombia's soil?
Romans 5:17 says: "For if, by the trespass of the one man death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provison of grace and of the gift of righteousness REIGN in life throught the one man Jesus Christ." Can one man make a difference in a land where death reigns?
Bellavista maximum securtiy prison holds all the waring factions of the country. Built for 1500 inmates in 1976 today the prison holds 6,500 inmates. Men sleep in the bathrooms and body to body in the hall ways. Hammocks are strung above from one iron bar another to accommodate more. The horriblely crowded conditions make this desperate situation ripe for rioting. All prisons in Colombia are in crisis and rioting is common. As is violent death. But Bellavista is different. There have only been eleven murders in the past nine years. No riots. Why? Only nine years ago the monthly murder rate scored between 30 to 60. Human heads were kicked about as a football. Blood stained walls screamed of the total depravity and hopeless.
Into this hell hole an obedient Christian descended to lift up Jesus Christ and the day that happened the deaths abruptly stopped. The newspapers headlines read, "Bellavista - one year without one murder." The article which followed told the amazing story of drug lord's hired killers transformed by the power of the risen Savior. Jesus shared in our humanity so that by His death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their feath of death. (Heb 2).
In the midst of the emerging victory of the cross of Jesus Christ in Bellavista prison, I found God answering my heart's cry, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" I felt so helpless. What could I, a woman do, in a land where death and machismo reigned? Little did I dreamed that God would place me smack in the middle of this most fear jaws of hell as Bellavista was known and here I witness the glory and power of our living Lord. It never ceases to amaze me.
Since 1992 a Bible training college has been established and 160 inmate brothers have graduated to serve their Lord. Some gain their freedom. Others are transfered to other penitentiaries where no priest or pastor dare enter. Where ever they go a church is raised up behind bars. I get letters from all over the country telling me how God is moving. The brothers missed the strong spritual fellowship and accountablitiy they had in Bellavista. As a an officer told me, "The wings ring with singing at dawn every morning as the brothers gather to pray together." In each "patio" or pavillon there are two to three "elders" one of which serves on the governing body of the church behind bars. The Holy Spirit through the inmates runs the program. At 7 am is body count. After which only 2,000 prisoners have a work job. Others study. Our chapel is packed with a 150 believers. But the actual count is higher. Every "patio" has large group of believers which meet twice a day. The entire week has special evangelistic activies, discipleship, classes for baptism, all led by inmates who are or have been trained in the Bible college. Right now 40 fellows are in the Bible Institute.
Every Monday to Friday a live radio program "A Cry of Hope" is broadcast from the prison chapel. Inmates run the program and preach. Their worship and freedom expressed in song captures hearts. One lady weary from her husband's tiraids, picked his .38 revolver to kill herself. Before she did she turned on the radio. "How can prisoners proclaim liberty from a prison, expecially in the conditions our prisons are. How can they be joyful? They have nothing, yet they sound like they have it all." Maria listened and before the program was over she asked Jesus to come into her life.
So overwhelmed, she wrote to her "new brothers in Christ." The counselling done from inside the prison to people on the outside was so great that we felt we need to have our own telephone line. The first day the telephone number was annnounced over fifty calls came induring the first two hours, many seeking to know how they could be set free inside like the prisoners were! One inmate servant said to me, "I wonder where the pastors in the city are... we get so many calls for help."
Inmate leadership are on call twenty four hours of the day. To be believer in Jesus is to walk your talk 24 hours of the day. We are seeing many, many young men, respond to the deep work of God in their lives, and the church in Bellavista prsion continues to grow within and outside prison walls, as men live in transparency before God and one another.
Entire families are coming into the kingdom as well as the men's family members witness the transformation. Every weekend on visitings days, Saturday and Sunday, evangelistic services are held by the inmates for their families. Once a month children come to see their daddies. It is very moving to see men who once killed for a living totally transformed, tenderly reaching the young for Christ. They use puppets, dress up as clowns, to lovingly present the gospel to the little ones. The first children's service held in a patio about two hundred children pressed around the lads, and over thirty prayed to receive Jesus as Savior.
The half has not yet been told. But in the midst of a country racked by moral bankrupcy, hollow religion, and war, God is moving in unprecedent ways. "The people walking in darkness have see a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." ( Is 9) The Holy Spirit is giving life were death reigns. But it is not easy. We are in a great spiritual battle against the forces of evil in a very, very troubled land. We need intercessors who will prevail before God on our behalf. In Colombia we live on the verge of eternity daily. What an hour to live for Jesus!
The great classical spiritual writers fround great spirtual benefit in looking death in the face, seizing its reality, and making it their servant. They used death to teach them how to live. What about us?
As my colleague, Lacides Hernandez remarked, "We have been through tremendous fire of every kind. Sin is devasting. The devil as a roaring lion seeks whom he may devour. Men are killed for their faith. This is what it means to serve God in this country. But God has placed us here in the midst of violence and He never said that we would be free from crisis. On the contrary, the challenges multiply. Jesus promises fruitfulness not that we will be free from sacrifice. So it is with greater impetus we proceed to the final goal..God Himself. We are willing to pay the price so long as we are able to snatch many from the burning fire for the Lord. The promise is that He is with us and that is all that matters."
Security is not the absence of danger. It is the of presence of Jesus.
Jesus is true freedom!
Jeannine C. Brabon
Apdo. Aereo 1141
David Miller: The Lord of Bellavista
Taschenbuch - 160 Seiten (Januar 1999)