I wish you were with me on Friday because no words could ever truly describe our jail day. My day started at “San Sebastian Men’s Jail” and let me start by telling you that we had permission to bring our cameras to this jail, but were told to keep a low profile and not bring attention to what we were doing so Jeff was our undercover cameraman with his lens peeking out of his bag. Next let me say that I WAS SCARED TO DEATH inside this jail!!
You see, in a Bolivian jail, inmates are not kept in cells, they roam free. Imagine this… 300 gang members, murderers, rapists, drug dealers and scammers, all in one open area with only 10 guards who kept themselves outside. Can you believe it?? There I was with Jeff and Tony and no guard assigned to us. In all my years of traveling and speaking, I have never been more afraid to give my testimony and never before had I such a difficult time engaging a crowd!
I spoke in the main court yard area and inmates could come and go as they pleased. Guys were playing pool, some were working with metal, some were eating, two men were kissing and there was a loud speaker every 2 minutes calling inmates for different reasons. Tony and I could barely keep track of what we were saying with all these distractions. Quite a few men gathered in the center to hear me, but they kept their arms folded and had mean faces the entire time. No one smiled. They just kept looking at me like, why are you here? And when are you leaving? Some kept staring at my wheelchair as if they were planning to take it apart and use the parts to build weapons. To tell you the truth, I wanted to run!
At the end, when I gave the invitation, you could tell that the men where afraid to show any sign of being affected by anything I said. But Jeff saw one man raise his hand very low and we also saw one man mouthing the prayer with me!
After that we went over to "San Sebastian Women's Jail" and the setup was the same. I was in a court yard area where women were eating, visiting, talking to lawyers, doing laundry, cooking, everything you can imagine.
Life in this jail is hard. For example if you want a bed, you have to pay another inmate for it. If you want to eat you have to buy your food from another inmate. There are 180 women here with 7 showers and they have to stay in line almost all night to have a turn. Imagine a room the size of a large dinning table and 3 or 4 women sleep there (if they pay).
I was told that the women here have harder hearts than the men's jail and that it is usually very difficult to get them to listen. There was a lot of noise and distractions, but I gave my testimony the best I could trying to block out everything I was seeing and all the commotion around me. THE WOMEN LOVED IT and were actually shushing each other so they could hear me. They were laughing and crying. To my surprise at the end about 27 made decisions for Christ. Many came up to me after with their names written on pieces of paper asking me to pray for them. I couldn’t believe how many of these women have husbands who are also in jail and their kids are just left on their own to care for themselves the best they know how.
Speaking of kids, some parents in both the men’s and women’s jail are allowed to have their kids live with them at the jail. I just couldn’t believe this. Here I was scared to death at the men’s jail and this was life for some kids, WOW!
After visiting the jails I brought the beanie babies you sent to this center across the street called “Casa de la Amistad” (House of Friendship). This was an amazing place.
It is a ministry for the kids who live in the jails. They offer 3 hot meals a day, help with homework, a safe place to play, medical support, psychological care and they teach them about Jesus – at no charge to the parents. I just love this place. You should see these little ones running out of the jail and into this place. The leaders know all 140 kids by name and the kids all call them aunt and uncle. The children attend different schools, some in the morning, some in the afternoon but the leaders know their schedules and make sure that the kids leave on time. They don’t have beds here. This center is only open during the day to keep the kids off the streets and make sure they go to school. At night, the kids go back to the jail to sleep with their parents.
These kids truly have hard lives but thanks to La Casa de la Amistad, they all have smiles on their faces and are growing up to be responsible kids. I saw kids serving lunch to one another, washing dishes, older kids helping younger ones to brush their teeth. I wish you were with me when we gave the beanies to see the joy that it brought these kids. They welcomed me with such love and gave me hundreds of kisses.
My heart was full when I left this center. I could see kids running down the street to their school holding the beanie babies tightly. Thank you for being a part of my beanies for Bolivia project. You have no idea the joy and comfort that you have brought to hundreds of kids here in Cochabamba.
There is much more to tell about all the wonderful things happening here, but in a few minutes we will leave for another church service. I’ll write again later but until then, know that we love you and appreciate your prayers.
Together in His work,
Posted by Bernadette at March 29, 2009 07:05 PM