Women in prison

About 25 years ago, after a lot of prayer, and having received permission from the authorities, a team of us made our first visit to the women's prison called San Sebastian. We arrived not knowing what to expect or how to make contact with the female inmates. What we found was very different from what we had envisaged. The women were sitting around, some washing clothes, some knitting, cooking or ironing, and some sitting on the steps picking the lice out of each other's hair! Most of them were trying to do something to earn a little money. Meals are not served in the prison so the women have small cookers and make meals to sell to others. Many people, usually men who live alone, take their clothes to the prison to be washed and ironed.


The women make very little money from it and it's hard work. Some do the washing during the night. The women are taught to make beautiful items: hand-painted tablecloths, crocheted waistcoats, etc. 


Larger Women in Prison image

Once, I took a case full of their work to Scotland and sold everything, taking back over $300 for them. On that first day, the Lord led me to a young lady, called Carmen, who had a knitting machine. I chatted with her for a few minutes and moved on. However, before I left, I was drawn back to her. I was prompted to give her a tract and told her that I would pray for her. The following week I arrived at the prison - but no other team members had turned up! I prayed, and with fear and trembling went in on my own and asked to speak to Carmen. She was sitting on a step and she said, "I am here." I will never forget that day. She said, "I didn't think you would come back." I said, "Carmen, I couldn't forget you. Tell me, are you a Christian?" She said, "Yes. One day a Christian group came to the prison and sang a beautiful song. It was so touching: You looked into my eyes and you said my name. I sat listening to the message, with tears running down my cheeks. The preacher came over to speak to me. I asked Jesus into my heart." Carmen then went on, "They didn't come back and I didn't have a Bible." I told her, "Carmen, you are an answer to prayer. I'll buy you a Bible and we'll have a study every Friday." I never ask the women why they are in prison. If they open up, I listen. Carmen had been charged for murdering a couple in a small village. She told me she was innocent and had suffered at the hands of the village police officers.


At Cochabamba she had been treated much better. Later, the man who had committed the crime murdered again and the village people took the law into their own hands. They found the man, took him to the main square and burned him to death in front of the whole village. There was a big write-up in the newspaper and Carmen was released but received no recompense. Her words were: "I thank God I ended up in prison, for it was there that I came to know Him as my own personal Saviour." Years later, Carmen visited our church and told us that she had been baptised and was going on with the Lord. She was teaching in the school in Capinota. God certainly moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform! This incident with Carmen opened the way for me to have Bible studies in the prison. During those early days, through Carmen's testimony, we had the joy of pointing many to the Lord. For a number years we held one-to-one studies in the women's tiny rooms. It was intimate and they opened up more. I well remember going into Beatrize's room for a study. She had only been a Christian for a few months. Another lady was sitting in the corner of the room, wearing dark glasses, and sobbing her heart out. I prayed and asked the Lord to give me the right words. I went over to her, put my arms around her and asked if I could pray with her. She calmed down and asked me through her sobs if I knew Jaime Goyter. I said, "Yes, Jaime is my husband's friend." Jaime was the director of the Bible Society. I said, "Maria, I am sure Jaime has prayed for you. Perhaps one day you will thank the Lord that you ended up in prison to get to know Him." I did something that I didn't normally do on a first acquaintance - I shared the gospel with her. She was a very devoted Catholic and adored the Virgin Mary.


It took several years before she yielded and was wonderfully saved by grace. She had been in prison for eight years for failing to repay a bank loan. For the last ten years or so, she has sat by my side at the breaking of bread on Sunday mornings. In all that time, she has never looked back. For many years, we have had a regular group study with 40 ladies. Shirley, who is with the Christian organisation Pioneers and in our local church, is involved in the prison work with me. Each day, for 18 years, Shirley took up to 40 children under five years old to her home. She loved them, fed them and clothed them. The prison is full of children with their mothers, and many babies are born there. The older children go outside to school. We are so grateful to the Women's Missionary Fellowship, who regularly send us babies' and children's clothes. It has been such a blessing to help the young girls in prison. We take a bag of groceries for the 40 women each week, and also help with medication. It's difficult for the women when they get out of prison, so we help them set up home. We are grateful to those who send special gifts for the prison ministry.


Here's a testimony from Fumiko's diary. Something marvellous happened this afternoon. It was the day for the meeting in Barrio Lindo. When Aunt Helen was reading the Bible, I took a terrible pain in the stomach. I thought I was going to faint. Helen came over and invited me to join the group. She asked my name and wrote it in her register and told me I could attend the meetings. She gave me a bag of groceries and bread. I was so happy because I had something to send to my family. Before she left I asked if I could give my life to the Lord. She helped me to consecrate my heart and soul to God. It's time for the prison check; I must line up. Fumiko is now in fellowship in the local church. She is a widow with ten children. She just wants to serve the Lord.



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