September 12, 2012

Youth Behind Bars

One of the ministry opportunities that has opened for us is visits to the juvenile prison a few kilometers from here. I really look forward each week to this time when we get to know these teenagers whose bad decisions have landed them in an ugly place. Right now I am going with a church group that has been investing in the prisoners at this facility for men, women, and teens, for the past few years.  They arrive with a guitar and a Bible, and sometimes requested supplies.  This past week, I was able to take some blank paper and a soccer ball, both asked for by the young inmates.

The facility is divided into three sections: teen boys, adult men, and females of different ages.  Most of the females are grown women, but any teen girls who arrive are also sent to this section, where some children live as well.  Yep, you read that right. If a female inmate arrives pregnant or becomes pregnant while there, her child can grow up in incarcerated as well. Considering the options for these little ones, I guess there are worse things for small children than a roof over your head, some food each day, and mommy nearby.

My visits have only been with the teens so far. Visitors aren't allowed inside the buildings, so we gather on the grass or the sidewalk, with 10-15 guys and 3 of us. As we share the Word and explain the Bible passages, some stay put and some wander away and come back. They try to sing along to the simple choruses and follow the story, despite the distractions of being outside, and the noise all around us. It's a tough environment.

Several of these guys have already made the decision to follow the Lord and are at the stage that they need opportunities to learn of Him and some serious mentoring. I've been praying for doors to open up further in that area. There is a small room used by a teacher who offers school classes to those interested, and it seems perfect for a structured Bible study group, some place to help these new believers grow while they are in this setting and prepare for life once they are "out."

Their stories are all a bit different, but most have the same common threads: poverty, homelessness, drugs, theft. I could go on and on about the children who are taught to steal from a very young age, living on the street and learning their tricks from adults, then ending up in a cycle they can't escape.

Paraguay is a bit notorious for poor prison conditions (I won't elaborate on the stuff I've seen, but you can read this article for a quick summary of another facility), and for these young people who have already entered the system, their future without God's intervention is pretty dim.

This past Friday as we arrived, a few ladies and a man were there meeting with an official from the prison. They came over after we gathered on the lawn with the guys, and explained that they work for the government and want to help out in bettering the facility and the lives of the inmates. After her speech, I got the opportunity to talk to her about our work, our shared vision for investing in the lives of at-risk youth in Paraguay, and what we could offer. She took my number and seemed excited about the possibilities, so maybe that was the answer to prayer for an open door.

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