Opening prison doors
A Latin Link worker in Bolivia is seeing God open doors in the nation’s prisons. Suzanne Windsor, who is based in the central city of Cochabamba, has been involved in prison work for many years through the Freehands project, but now she is seeing some remarkable developments.
‘It all started when we started our ‘Classes for Life’ in the men’s jail in Cochabamba back in October. We began with an eight-week course on ‘Self-Esteem’. Over 30 inmates signed up and there were more who couldn’t come because of space. We also had five officials and prison authorities watching the first class. We were concerned that the high Christian content in our material might be an issue but they seemed delighted with what we taught.’
Any further lingering doubts were silenced when Suzanne and her team were asked when they could start in the other jails around Cochabamba. ‘This seemed to be a new area that God was opening up for us,’ continues Suzanne. This was confirmed in January, when the Freehands team had a planning meeting with the ‘Regimen’ – the government body in charge of managing all of the prisons in and around Cochabamba.
‘We were able to negotiate entry into as many prisons as we are physically able to visit and teach our courses on living our daily lives victoriously and in a way pleasing to God! We thought we would need to reduce the Christian content, but they were happy to allow us to teach whatever we wanted to the prisoners. Not only that, the Head of the Regimen asked if we could also teach the ‘Self-Esteem’ course to them as a group (all 22 members), saying that they often felt very drained by their work and needed to learn a new way of support for themselves!’
In the past couple of weeks, with the help of the Regimen, the Freehands team has visited four men’s jails and arranged to teach the life-skills courses in each over the coming year.
‘We will visit the three larger jails once or twice a week. We went to visit the fourth jail in a village called Arani, with a Regimen representative and an American visitor who does similar Christian work with prisons and street people in Texas. The prison is an ancient adobe mud-brick structure a long way from anywhere. No one does anything with or for the prisoners but we’ve committed to visiting and teaching there one full day a month. They were excited about the idea of having classes, so I hope that we will be able to incorporate some simple Bible study too. They were happy to pray with us before we left.’
Freehands has asked a local male pastor (and trained psychologist) to help teach in the jails and do spiritual and pastoral work with them too. ‘His name is Aldo,’ comments Suzanne. ‘He worked as a volunteer with us last year and was excellent with the men due to his own background. We have the promise so far of a quarter of his monthly salary [£40] and we will have to pray the rest in!’ It is also hoped that Aldo can develop a group of men so that after they leave jail they will meet regularly to support each other and link in to local churches.
‘This is an amazing thing to happen and is a big step forward in working with the authorities,’ Suzanne says. ‘God is opening new doors for us. We have the privilege of sharing the good news of Jesus with so many people and seeing him change lives. Pray that we will be able to find some more male volunteers for the additional prison work, for additional funds for all the work we are undertaking, and that as a team we are enthusiastic about Jesus wherever we go.’
To find out more about Freehands, visit http://www.freehandsbolivia.org