Wow! What an amazing, wonderful, life-changing mission and three days this has been! After arriving at the most remote rural area I have ever set foot on the face of this beautiful earth, my prayers were ALL answered by our Awesome God, which were then either witnessed or experienced by the beautiful people here. Glory to God!
Walking down a red-dirt road at eight in the morning on Tuesday, the missionary team and I instantly became the small village's newest and most interesting form of entertainment. Several of us were carrying our suitcases on our heads (as rolling on red dirt is a bit of a difficult task). We were greeted and watched by smiling faces of both children and adults, and even a few raised their hands and verbally expressed their welcome and happiness of our arrival. Arriving at our hostel, we were also astounded by the luxurious accommodations that the place offered – two people per room, nice beds, hand-carved wood and pillars all around and inviting hammocks at our disposal. However, we could not rest quite yet – there was work to do.
When we arrived, we were greeted at the bus stop by our now-dear friend, Pastor Alcidez, a precious brother in Christ that I grew very close to and who has an amazing love for Christ and heart and compassion for the lost, in this area, in other communities and throughout the world, and a concrete, God-given vision to reach them. We witnessed this Christlike compassion ooze out of him on many occasions, which brought not a few of us to tears. It was such a privilege and an honor to serve the Lord with him.
Over the course of these few days, I have witnessed many children put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, along with a few adults (mothers). Hallelujah! Also, the daughters of David and Anna (the parents of the Christian family who we partnered with there in Consuelo) caught the vision and passionately and enthusiastically went around sharing Christ with their friends, and even adults, using the Salvation Bracelets they had been given and were wearing. Praise God! My heart was overjoyed as each of my hands were taken by one of these precious little ones, and I was led house to house by them, dirt floor threshold to dirt floor threshold, and introduced personally to each family and each child, and was then encouraged by THEM (the girls) to share not just the Salvation Bracelets with them, but also the MEANING of them, too (which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, finishing with an invitation to put their trust in Him as their Savior and Lord). I was able to pray with and for many. Hallelujah! It was amazing.
However, before I get into too many (awesome!) details and (joyfully!) write a novel, I will just share one more highlight that leaves me in awe until this very moment.
Yesterday the team and I had the opportunity to go to a prison there in San Ignacio. Pastor Alcidez knows a brother in Christ there who is currently in prison, and he wanted to share the Salvation Bracelet with him so he could have it in the prison, and also see if we would like to pray for him and share any encouraging words with him. When we arrived, we were allowed by the guards and officials, all dressed in green uniforms, to enter the prison during non-visiting hours just because they knew we were Christians.
As we finally got to the iron-barred door of the room where our brother was staying, we came closer and stood, with Pastor Alcidez before us, right next to the door. Even a woman who was visiting one of the other prisoners in the same cell stood up and moved to the side of the door so we could come closer and have a word with the Christian inside. As I was standing beside the Pastor, my heart started to squeeze as I looked inside this cell and saw about 6 to 8 other prisoners, men young and middle-aged, all in the same, 18-20-foot by 18-20-foot cell. The Christian man, who looked to be about 45 years old, stood the closest to the door, with his right hand eventually resting on one of the bars close to Pastor Alcidez.
Pastor introduced the group, and said that we would be blessed to share any words of encouragement, and to pray for him. The Christian man thanked us, and then waited. Pastor turned to us and then said that if anyone has a word of encouragement that they would like to share, or a prayer, that then would be the time to do so.
The guard was standing by, watching and waiting, and we had been told by Pastor that we could only stay for about 5 to 7 minutes, as these were not usual visiting hours. In that moment, after Pastor's invitation to speak, I felt as if the rug had been yanked out from underneath my feet – and I think others can attest to the same feeling, as none of us knew how to respond in that moment. There was a great and long silence, and someone even eventually said, humorously, "And there was silence…", and some of us kind of chuckled. I knew God had something for me to say, but it just wasn't coming yet, so I waited and prayed.
Thankfully, Pastor spoke a few words and then began to pray for the Christian man. As he did so, he came closer to the iron-barred door, grabbed it with his right hand, put his left hand upon that of the Christian captive's and leaned forward, resting his forehead on the iron bars close to him, and began to weep. There was not a dry eye in the place. I even saw a fellow prisoner tear up and look down as if to try to hide it, but then look up again, unashamed.
As Pastor was praying, slowly and gradually, what God wanted me to share became clearer and clearer in my heart and mind, as He brought back to my memory the verse in Psalms that says the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). He also reminded me of another verse in Psalms that says the Lord is full of grace and mercy for all who call up on Him (Psalm 145:8, James 5:11, Romans 10:13).
When Pastor finished praying, I then stepped closer with my Spanish Bible and prayed in Spanish, thanking God for His great love, grace and mercy towards all of us in Christ, and for sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins, and for also raising Him up again, so that we can have new life in Him. I also thanked God for His Word, and read Romans 10:9-13, which shows how one can receive Jesus Christ and be saved, and how we are saved by grace through faith and not as a result of our own works or efforts, but rather of what Christ has done, and how our salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). I could hear the prisoners acknowledging with grunts – they were all standing at this point, respectfully (as the Pastor asked them all to stand), ready to receive a word from us.
Finally, as the Lord continued to lead as I prayed, I paused toward the end and said in Spanish, "As we have heard from God's Word, He promises that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. If anyone here has not yet put their trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, and who would like to do so, you can right now, and I invite you now to do so, as we pray…", and then I proceeded in saying a prayer for salvation, admitting our need for a Savior and thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for our sins, and finally opening the door of our heart and life and trusting Him as our Savior and Lord. I gave pauses with each phrase as I prayed this portion, and during those pauses, and even during prayer, I could hear whispering and sniffles from within the prison cell. Praise God. My heart felt like it was going to burst with love and compassion in that moment, and as I leaned forward, holding the bars of that prison cell's door I thanked Him in my heart, once again, for answering my prayers and those of many others who have been uniting in faith with us during this mission.
Right after I finished praying, in Jesus' name, and the prisoners all said "Amen", Grady – who, by the way, had hardly any idea what I had just prayed – stepped forward and came up to the bars next to Pastor as I stepped away, and just poured on the love and encouragement, saying that God loves them and is there for them, and is ready to help them in any trial or difficulty as soon as they ask Him for help, support or strength. He also said that we will be praying for them. I was so amazed by this, and in awe of God's great leading by His Holy Spirit, which resides in each one of us believers and which is the same Spirit and knows what each person specifically needs, as the very BEST thing to feed any new believer is Love. Praise God!
Later I had the blessing of debriefing with Sean on the bus ride home – on the long, ICY bus ride (I was right under one of the most active air conditioning vents on our level of the bus, in the aisle seat, and my jacket seemed to do nothing so I moved to the front of the bus with less vents and where Sean happened to be sitting, also not able to sleep at the time). As we shared, we were both amazed and greatly humbled by the whole experience at the prison. We were also amazed as, looking at those men in prison, we were reminded how we – who are currently free – were just as guilty as they were in God's eyes (before we came to know Christ), and were just as deserving of that prison cell as they were, or as they maybe still are. But the greatness of God was exalted and the joy of our salvation in Christ was renewed within our hearts during such realization, knowing that all has been paid by our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that because of Him…it is finished.
Gratefully And Forever In Love With Christ,
"When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." Luke 12:11-13
"…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Acts 1:8
"One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.'" Matthew 22:35-40
"But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13
P.S. Thank you, again, for all your prayers, love and support for us and for the missionaries here, and thanks for keepin' them a-comin'! J Thank You, Jesus! God bless you all!