I want to share with you one of my absolute highlights of my time in Nicaragua. It happened exactly one week ago today. Last Monday, our team took the morning off of doing construction on the church, to go to prison. We went to the local jail in Granada to do a service for a group of about 100-120 male prisoners. This particular jail houses males, females, and youth. The crimes committed ranged from bread thievery, to stabbings, to murder.
When we drove up, we were told to leave our cameras in the vans. The guards lined us up in two rows: males and females. To enter the secured area of the prison, we walked, with our passports, through a small door in a towering wall with barbed wire at the top. The guys got patted down, while us women walked through without the pat down. It was a bit intimidating walking through this wall. There were only about 2 or 3 guards with us. What were we going to encounter? Once everyone filed through the door one by one, one of the guards led us through a barbed wire lined path. We passed by a few buildings were the prisoners were housed. There was one building where there were about 8 young male prisoners just chilling out in front of. They just watched us walk past. We then got to another small door in a large brick wall that we passed through. This brought us to the area were we would be holding the service. We passed a few housing buildings, one catholic chapel, and then we arrived at the protestant chapel. As we passed by, there were many male prisoners watching us. I and many others were a bit uneasy by the fact that there was nothing blocking us from them, but it was also a very unique experience.
When we began to enter the chapel building, we were entering at the same time as the prisoners who were told to come to this service. They didn’t have a choice to come to the service. They were simply told to. Also, during the service, there were only about 3 guards who were in the room. What was going to stop a prisoner if he decided he didn’t like one of us? But very quickly, my fears and concerns left me. As we began to sing (our Nicaraguan friends lead the music), I was completely overwhelmed by the sight and sound that we encountered. These rough men opened up through singing, cheering, clapping, and even dancing! Yes, criminals worshiping our Lord with complete joy. I can’t fully describe the beauty that was encountered in that chapel in that moment. The Spirit was moving powerfully in that room and in my heart. It was a glimpse of true joy. Even in their sin, brokenness, and imprisonment, they could worship Jesus. Only the Lord knows the sincerity of their worship, but they sure did know all the songs and were quite exuberant in their response.
After scripture reading and a prayer from the pastor of the church we’ve been working with, next on the service agenda was our Jesus skit. Typically, my role in the skit would be the model: a girl concerned with body image and overtaken by an eating disorder. But because we were doing this skit for a large group of imprisoned men, we chose not to have me strut my stuff in front of them. Instead, I played a person with a drug addiction. Much more appropriate for our time in the prison. The skit went over extremely well. At the moments where Jesus swoops in to block sin from the main character, the inmates cheered loudly. There were also parts where they would applaud with strength and cheer because the truth of the gospel had been proclaimed. I wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction from such a crowd. But the Lord softened my heart for these people this day.
Following the skit, Chris had the opportunity to share the message with these men. With the aid of Samuel’s translation, Chris spoke on the story of Jacob and Esau. He told the story very well. Along with the inmates, I, and the rest of our teammates, were cut to the heart by the message. Chris moved onto sharing the Good News of Christ. His life, death, and resurrection. Not that I don’t know the message well, but this time, something was different due to hearing the gospel preached with those who’s brokenness is so evident. The Spirit was clearly at work. Tears came to my eyes, Chris’ eyes, teammates eyes, and a few of the inmates eyes. Not out of sadness or self pity, but out of awe for what the Lord has done. Freedom for the lost and broken. Freedom for those enslaved by sin and death. Freedom to life. Freedom to enter into the kingdom of God. Freedom to live life fully for He who paved the way for our freedom. Freedom to a larger purpose. There’s something about hearing this word along with those who’s sin has brought them to prison, that is so moving and powerful. This message of freedom is as much as it is for you and me, as it is for these prisoners. Incredible.
During our time at the prison, I was reminded of the passage in Matthew where Jesus said:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
I will hold this experience in my heart for many years to come. What a privilege to have been there. My understanding of God, His grace, and His love has grown deeper because of this experience. Praise be to God, for He is good.