I passed by the prison cell laden with stone and iron. The heaviness of the atmosphere seemed palpable to me. The night before we arrived I laid in bed wide-awake and pondered, “How would I tell these men God had delivered me from men just like them?” My stomach churned with nerves. They were murderers, rapists, and thieves, much like the men who had robbed us just weeks earlier. I needed peace. “Didn’t they deserve to hear about the love of God? But, what if they felt judged by me? And, how would I overcome intimidation and find the courage needed?” I tried to piece together words that would bear hope.
I was grateful for our team. Our interpreter and his wife were experienced in these things and seemed to be confident in the plan. They had invited John and me to share our terrifying encounter and rescue in this country of Guatemala.
The old Catholic convent now served as a prison for men, isolating them from society. Once we arrived, we were searched and given permission to enter. The thick stone walls and iron bars made for cold and lonely surroundings. There was nothing in the way of furniture nor personal belongings, except for soccer balls in the courtyard. My thoughts from the night before continued to weigh heavily on my heart.
We entered the courtyard where the games had begun. I was nervous. Quickly we were escorted into a room where a group of men stood waiting to hear what we had to say. I wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” After introductions were made, it was my turn to speak. Suddenly, compassion overcame me. It did not seem important why I was there, but what God was doing.
In the next few minutes, I shared John’s and my story of the highway robbery and the men who had attacked us. Silence fell over the group. As I dared to look in their eyes, I could see pain. Tears ran down their cheeks as I continued to share how God had rescued us from an impossible situation. If I could only help them to understand how much God loved them. At that moment, I was reminded of our primary purpose as believers; and my reason for being at the prison was clear. It was not to tell my story, but rather to be a manifestation of God’s love. For we had also received freely the forgiving love of God.
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 1John 3:1
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1John 3:16
It was hard to say good-bye. We prayed with the men and as we left they were kind and showed their gratitude. One young man had caught our attention. He stood out because of a serious, debilitating injury to his eye. His name was Pedro. It wouldn’t be until months later that we would come to realize the full magnitude of what God was doing that day in Pedro’s life.
The evangelistic crusade would be held in a three-top circus tent with capacity for 1500 people. People gathered out of curiosity to watch the enormous tent go up. The local soccer field near the busy food market was the perfect place. It took weeks of preparation and prayer. Daily announcements were made on a loudspeaker inviting people to the crusade.
At the end of the week-long crusade, Pedro walked into the back of the tent. We couldn’t believe it! We greeted him with excitement! He explained how he’d just been released from prison. While in the courtyard of the prison he had heard the announcements on the loudspeaker coming from the street. The crusade was the first place he had decided he wanted to go. He had remembered our visit to the prison and wanted to know this God we had talked about. Set free from prison in one moment and from his past in the next, all in that same day! He became a new and changed man when introduced to the love of God.
Pedro attended a training center where he learned more about God’s love. When he returned to his village at the foothills of a volcano, he was not the same man he had once been. Pedro decided to serve in his local church introducing others to the same love and forgiveness that had set him free.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16
It is not only what God does in us, but it’s what He does through us. During this time of COVID-19, I am reminded of the opportunities we have to introduce people to God’s love. Instead of being consumed with fear, judgments, and intimidation, let’s do the opposite and use every opportunity we’ve been given to share the love of God with people just like Pedro!
Together, we build HOPE!