It was Thursday morning as we approached the entrance of The Buen Pastor, a women’s prison in Asuncion, Paraguay. We were greeted with empty beer bottles left by those on the “outside”. But, we did not come to see what was on the “outside”, but rather to see what was on the “inside”. The “inside” houses 500 women who are being incarcerated for a variety of crimes, from drug trafficking to murder. We had been told that this prison was a mixed facility, that is, women who had committed serious crimes were living alongside women who had committed lesser crimes. Our desire was to see the situation of those caught “in between”. We came to see the children who were being incarcerated, along with their mothers. Women who were convicted of crimes and were pregnant are sent to this prison. They deliver their babies in prison and the children continue to live with them in prison until they reach the age of three.
As we entered the prison, there was tight security. We were escorted to Norma’s office, the prison director, who had been on the job for three years. We explained that we are Christians from an organization called Su Refugio (meaning His Refuge or God’s Refuge). We shared that the vision of our ministry is to care for widows (single mothers) and children in distress, according to James 1:27. The Buen Pastor prison is full of single women and children living in distress. Norma began to explain the situation at The Buen Pastor prison. She shared many stories with us. Norma pulled out a six inch knife from her desk telling us that one of the women inmates was recently stabbed with this knife. It is a rough place. But, she agreed to guide us on a tour of the facility. Two guards stayed close behind us as Norma guided us through the prison. As we entered the facility, I remember the first woman I saw reached out to touch me as if to say … “please help me”. There are no cells at The Buen Pastor, just a maze of buildings with lots of dark rooms. They all live together. At first I thought … that’s good, they are not in a small cell. But then I quickly start thinking … how are the minor offenders protected from the violent criminals?
As we walked through the maze, we finally reached what we had come to see … children. We met a mother laying on a bed with a four day old child. We met a young girl, who we were told was four years old and could only speak a few words. We walked into rooms with two or three children staring at us with empty eyes. These children are given no education. They are captives in a prison just because they happened to be born in prison … they have no hope.
But, there is hope. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18)
During our time at The Buen Pastor, we could see Norma’s heart soften. She became very interested in how Su Refugio could potentially have an impact on this prison of 500 hundred women and especially the children who are suffering. And we, too, were changed. What we saw at The Buen Pastor could not be ignored. Our hearts told us that we have to help. We have no choice. And we have to engage others to help as well. The picture below (left to right) shows Michelle, Norma, Pamela (Su Refugio social worker), Rocio (Su Refugio lawyer) and Scott.
So, what are we to do? We are praying to launch a new ministry as part of Su Refugio Paraguay, called “Freeing the Captives”. Our program is two pronged. First, we want to begin to minister to the women at The Buen Pastor, especially to those who have children inside the prison or are pregnant. We want to share the love of Jesus Christ with them and tell them that they can have a personal relationship with Christ. We want to let them know that their lives can be restored and that God has a plan for their lives. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). We want to start a Mom’s in Prayer group inside the prison where women will pray together for their children (www.momsinprayer.org).
Second, we want to begin to give the children at The Buen Pastor a new environment. We want to begin bringing the older children (3 and 4 year olds) to Su Refugio, located about two hours away, each week from Monday to Friday. We want to give these children a life outside of the walls of the prison. We want to feed, clothe, love and care for these children each week. On the weekend, they will be brought back to their mom in prison. It’s not a total solution, but it’s a start. And we want to find homes for the children if their mothers will be in prison for an extended period of time (which is the norm, not the exception). “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.” (Matthew 25:39-40)
Maybe we can’t help the masses, but we can help one. Possibly two or three. Maybe eight to ten? We don’t know how many we can help, but God knows. He has placed this on our hearts and we must try to help. But, we too need help. We need your help. We need your prayers. We need financial support to transport these children each week to Su Refugio. We need help to provide clothes, food, medical care, etc. We need to pay for a technical staff to work in and outside the prison with the moms and children, including a social worker, psychologist and lawyer. We need to hire additional “aunts” who will watch over these children from Monday to Friday each week. And, we need to hire a guard to ensure that any who may try to harm or snatch these children will not be allowed to enter Su Refugio. There is no one else helping these children. We know that this is beyond the limits what we can do. But we are taking a step of faith to see what God wants to do. It is a work that God has called us to … perhaps He is calling you too. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).
If this story and the call to action are tugging on your heartstrings, will you consider joining us for one of two upcoming events where you can learn more? The first is Friday, June 13th at our quarterly HIStory Unfolding event taking place at the Poway Community Park Auditorium at 6:30 PM. And then the following day, I will be with my wife Michelle speaking at the “Hope for the Broken” conference at Maranatha Chapel beginning at 8 AM (continental breakfast at 7 AM). This conference is specifically designed to inform and call those with a heart for Prison Ministry to join the work that God is doing in San Diego and Paraguay. Or you can also log on to our site at www.surefugio.org for further information on how you can be part of “Freeing the Captives”.