Oh, I wish we could take a camera into prison, so we could share some of wonderful ladies with you and the conditions of the prison itself.
So, no photos to go along with this story, but you can visualize it.
We go into the Women's Prison, Buen Pastor, every Tuesday to teach Bible Lessons and Celebrate Recovery to a group of English speaking women. Just getting into the prison is a challenge and each week we are approached by different guards with new and different rules. Once we get the approval to enter, everything else is more or less the same from the week before. Sure, there are the usual room changes and new faces of the prisoners, but the smells, the room conditions, the rules and the guards are usually the same.
We have a good relationship with the female guards that we encounter as we enter the courtyard to head to our room. We never walk pass them without greeting them with an "Hola" and the proper kiss on the cheek. They unlock our room, send someone in to clean the pee smell out of it and that is about the last we see of them until we leave. Class time can be quite distracting- women walking by our room and their conversations are loud enough for those in Panama to hear. They peek in our room occasionally to say hello to one of our gals and the names of prisoners are constantly being yelled out by other prisoners or guards.
The norm changed a couple weeks ago, as one of the guards repeatedly checked in on us. While we were talking and praying for the girls, I noticed she was hanging around. She didn't interrupt, but waited until we were done to ask if we were going to break for the girls lunch. Another time she asked if we were staying over the lunch break. This was strange, because the we always allow the girls to leave for lunch and we stay to wait for them to return.
It wasn't until we were packing up to leave that we saw this guard again. This time when she approached us, it was clear that she had something on her mind. After a couple uncomfortable moments, she asked us if we could pray for her and her son. As we listened to her story, she broke down crying and poured out the details of her home life. I realized how much she had let down her guard to tell us her story. I'll admit, while we were praying, I kept one eye open to watch behind her because I didn't know what the other guards or prisoners would think or do if they saw her crying and praying (with her eyes closed) and her hands in the air.
I had carried a couple extra Bibles in with me that day and only one was in Spanish. Our girls prefer an English Bible. One of the other leaders remembered that Spanish Bible and offered to the guard. She admitted that she didn't have one and took it with her. She doesn't know English, so I guess God had that one picked out especially for her.
What an honor it is to work with these women, to see their lives being transformed and to know that even the guards are thankful to God for us being there.
The first time I stepped foot in a prison was in Las Vegas, Nevada. No, I wasn't incarcerated and no, I wasn't doing a Spiritual Kairos walk.
I was in Vegas visiting my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. My brother, Mark, lived in Vegas for many years, but our relationship and encounters usually didn't end well so I didn't plan on seeing him. Besides that, he was in prison and I wasn't knowledgeable on how to visit him nor comfortable with the idea of seeing him locked up. It had been years since we had talked, so no reason to start now.
God had future plans for me and He was working out the details that gave me the push I needed to visit my brother in prison.
I did not even call ahead, but instead, I borrowed a car and drove by myself through the mountains and desert to the State Penitentiary. I approached the guard shack, announced that I wanted to see my brother and that he didn't know I was coming, so I did not have permission nor did he for visitors. Even though I trust our Lord, I was shocked that they allowed me to enter, within minutes of arriving. God was in control of this whimsical visit and had worked out all the details.
This event, 10 years ago, ended up being a turning point in our relationship. He was so surprised to see me and I realized what it means to show love by showing interest in someones life. We had a great visit and kept in touch from that moment. There would be long spans of not talking and then we would call or email each other and it was as if we had talked the day before.
Jumping ahead--- this experience changed our relationship, but not my desire to visit or work inside a prison. About 3 years ago, a friend who started Celebrate Recovery in the women's prison here, asked me to go with her. I politely declined. She finally said that she just needed me to be a warm body. I love her, so I went, but it wasn't a warm and fuzzy feeling. I was relieved that I could help, but I didn't plan on returning. The next week, she called and again asked for me to go. I went as a warm body for at least 3 times, before God's plan reached me. For the next year, I went as a warm body, as an administrator and as a friend. I fell in love with the ladies and was delighted when the leaders asked me to teach. I credit my work in the prison and to my gals to my brother, Mark.
This weekend, we were working a medical missions weekend in a rural area in Costa Rica. We don't always have reliable internet in these areas and I rarely check my emails, but this weekend, when I did, there was an email from my dad who told me to call him ASAP. I knew something was wrong, but it didn't cross my mind that he would tell me that Mark had died.
As I was talking to my father, my Conexion family heard the news and lifted me and my family up in prayer. As they laid hands on me and prayed in Spanish, I was listening to my father give me the details in English. What a surreal moment. Marks 51st birthday is a week away. I grieve for him, his children, his girlfriend and especially for my dad. He will be missed. Through a bad experience of being in prison and a simple visit, our relationship was changed and the lives of others currently living in prison have the opportunity for a change. Had I never visited him, I am not sure how willing I would have been to have my weekly prison dates on the calendar.
We are asked to visit those in prison. Many of the people in prison made a bad choice and got caught. Some of them were caught in foreign countries or foreign counties. Many of their family members have given up on them. It doesn't matter if they are near family or far away, they are lonely and just want someone talk to and who will listen. I encourage each of you to make a point to brighten the day of an inmate. You may not get a warm fuzzy, but hopefully, through your example of God's love, they will, if only for a brief moment.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MISSION SOCIETY!!!
In 2007, we started with The Mission Society, in Norcross GA, our sending agency. This week we are at a conference with 100 other Mission Society Missionaries.
It is a triple celebration. It is the 30th anniversary, we have a new president-elect and it is the first time in 30 years, The Mission Society has almost all of its Cross Culture Workers under one roof.
We fell in love with the staff at The Mission Society as soon as we stepped foot inside the office. They, along with the other missionaries are an extension of our family and this is one huge family reunion. During this week, we have played, laughed, worshiped, cried and prayed together.
Thank you to all of our partners and supporters that have made it possible for us to serve in Costa Rica and for allowing us to attend conventions and training sessions sponsored by and for missionaries.
We continually pray for you and are so thankful and blessed by your partnership with our family and God's Mission.