Love this picture… for so many reasons. As you can see, the sky was true blue this particular Thursday. The young girl next to me is 14 years old and attends a bilingual school. She was riding with us to provide her gift of interpreting. The other two lovely ladies were my roomies this week, one of which shared close sleeping quarters with me and didn’t freak out when I accidentally held her hand one evening 🙂 We’re smiling. And we’re heading off to visit women in prison.
This decision was not reached lightly. The evening before we found out that two ladies from the Toledo church that had visited before had other obligations this morning. When asked about the conditions, they were very frank. It’s a third world country, and it’s a prison. We would be in the courtyard with the ladies and the men were free to mingle here as well. This would need to be a call from God to go. And so we prayed. And each of us felt led to contact a loved one – my husband, a father, a mother. Each one gave us their feedback, and God confirmed it in our hearts with this strange sense of peace. Would it have been easy to stay near the Mission house and simply continue to work in the orphanage? Yep. But in this adventure called life, when God calls you to go, I’ve found I can yes yes with both confidence and anticipation. And so, we did. Our group prayed for us and for the ladies we would encounter, and we jumped in the back of a pick-up truck.
First we were driven to the church where we met up with a lady from the church who has been called to this prison ministry for the past 8 years. I had been invited to her home for small group my last visit to Honduras, and I remember hearing her passion for this ministry. She had a friend with her named Daisy, and so the 6 of us piled into a small car to drive to prison. Luckily our young friend could fit on my lap as we bumped along the dirt roads, stalling in our stick shift a few times, but pressing ahead. We listened to the conversations in Spanish as best we could, and I couldn’t help but wonder what God had in store for us as we enjoyed the humidity all the way till our arrival.
We would later drop Daisy off at her house not too far from the area we were arriving at, so it wasn’t very remote. There was a chain gate, guarded by two women in camouflage uniforms. Yolany waved, and they let us in with a smile. We backed up under a tree, and piled out one by one. I remember the sun shining and I remember thinking the building looked like any other building in town except for the large letters painted on the exterior of the building. No barbed wire anywhere.
We walked to an awning where a gentleman in uniform was sitting at a small fold-up table with nothing put a plain piece of paper in front of him. The two Honduran ladies greeted the gentlemen, showed them an ID and signed in. We had zero interaction with this gentlemen at all. We obviously were foreigners, but it didn’t matter. We were with them… an unspoken trust. And with that, we followed like little ducks through an open space where a metal door was pulled to the side for us. The first face we saw was that of an older, robust woman. Her skin was weathered, she had on an apron over her clothes. She had this warm smile that simply invited me in. We were greeted with a lingering hug, and a quick kiss on the cheek. She was introduced as the “house mama” and led us directly to a small corridor. And just as people welcomed us into their homes in the communities of Limon and Las Bresas, women pulled out chairs for us and took their own seats on a concrete bench attached to the wall. In sitting down, we were almost knee to knee, and drying laundry was hanging just behind our heads.
And this is where they live, 21 women. Later we would learn that 500 men inhabit this dwelling as well. Around the corner was a small kitchen area, and other than a guard who popped his head in once, we sat as members of this small family. There was no agenda today. It wasn’t a typical day to attend. Yolany and Daisy visit every 15 days, but today God had an agenda beyond what any human could concoct on their own. It began with a nudge. And I just began to talk. I don’t remember my exact words, but I do remember looking at a young girl sitting across from me and I asked her about Jesus, and with a shake of her head and mist in her eyes, she could not speak. And I assured her that it was okay. And I asked her if I could share my story. And I did. And the strangest thing happened. My emotions slowly creeped up and threatened to spill forth from my eyes. His presence was just so tangible there, my vulnerability so raw, my gratefulness so deep that in the midst of different languages, His love poured forth as I spoke about motherhood.
And I’m reminded of Psalm 81:10 – I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
And then one of my roommates shared about her life before Christ and her life now, a past including abuse, and then the other spoke, a past including drugs and alcohol, and as tears were spilled, hands reached out, and toilet paper was passed, and the open building allowed the sun to shine even brighter. And one by one, the ladies shared their stories. They shared their name, they stated the reason for their incarceration, and they shared about their God. Many were mothers. Some had lost children, some were there for murder as a protection, one mother was even there because she took on the sentence of her pregnant daughter. One cried as she shared about her six children who were probably wandering the streets. She has learned to know God as her provider and is desperately clinging to God to provide for her babies as well.
And story after story, these women share about a faith that goes beyond what my mind can fathom. They share from a soul who was once locked in a prison of selfish sin, but within this human prison, they have found the One who has set them free. And I weep. Lord, who am I to be given such a beautiful, gracious gift of a faith that could move mountains, yet can’t move beyond the cell of confinement? And I beg my mind to focus, and my tears to stay at bay as I listen intently to the heart of those who know evil and yet carry a peace and a joy.
And we meet a young pregnant girl. Her name is Olga and she is due with a baby girl in December. She has a beautiful smile. The lady next to her nudges her to keep her in line as she speaks. And she’s able to raise her baby here for 2 years. And then she must leave. And her father is in prison as well. And my heart cries out to you, her provider. And they will celebrate with a baby shower next week. And your Love will be enough.
And we learn that there is a young girl sitting amongst us that has been here for two days. And she is hearing these stories. And as we close in prayer, we learn that these women pray together every evening and study with the Honduran ladies when they visit, and the intensity with which they pray overwhelms my soul.
And then we stand and hold hands, and in a moment, this song arises. In perfect unity, with a sound that rises from the deep recesses of their souls, these women sing. And this heavenly chorus lifts and bounces off the cement block walls, and it’s as if a holy hush surrounds the entire compound and all around people stop to hear. It’s a song about a bird flying, and it flows from hearts that are free, and the holy privilege of standing there in the midst of God’s tangible love just wrecks me. In the most beautiful way. The sadness, the heartbreak of the consequences of sin, the repentance, and God’s complete restoration all swirl above my head in a chorus of angels and now I understand what it’s like for God to sing over me.
And it’s beyond what I could ever ask for or imagine. In a third world country. In a prison cell.
And today I have a question for you. Will you join me in praying for these women? For young and old, for new believers and those yet to believe. They spoke of the loneliness and they spoke of a deep regret. Will you join me in lifting these women to the heavens, just as they did for me? The God who created them, loves them with an everlasting love, may they know this today despite the dark place they reside. May the God of hope continue to strengthen them when they feel weak. May our God the Healer continue to do a work in their hearts. May Yolany and Daisy be blessed for their faithfulness to this ministry. May the arms of those who greeted us so warmly feel the warm arms of their heavenly Father today. May they sleep well.