El Salvador Part 2

I saw a line of probably eighty to a hundred baby carriages

Welcome to God’s Church on the Move, the podcast that takes you to the spiritual hotspots where God is actively working. With me in the studio today are Ron and Charis Pearce. Welcome, guys!

Ron: Hi, Charis: Hi, Joy: Hi, okay, so, today we are doing an update to our first El Salvador global update that we did. This is El Salvador part two because you just got back once again.

Ron: Exactly, and this was very good because I wasn’t walking in as a raw rookie in the situation, I sort of understood what was going on and the lay of the land and numbers. The first one, it was a shock to me because I have been in prisons around the world over the last thirty years, forty years and you would have small growth. You would have individual situations that were good, good, good. This one was overwhelming to a level that I never even imagined was possible. So, therefore, this was good because this time Joy, when I went in, the first day after I got there, they took me to a women’s prison, and it was where there were seven hundred and fifty ladies in there and two hundred and fifty children who were their children. In other words, they had either had these children while they were imprisoned, or they were imprisoned while they were carrying the baby or some other situation all of which I did not want to ask to be absolutely honest. I don’t want to know the details on this one. (laughter)

Charis: But there were two hundred and fifty children there.

Joy: That is a lot of children! I’m picturing children locked down in cement cells and bars.

Ron: Oh, no, no! Ok, let me back up here. So, what this was, it was more of a farm set up. This was a medium to low-security situation. There were fences, etc., around the far perimeter, but this was a big place. It was a farm with mango trees and farming in the soil. There were chickens and ducks, and you name it, there was everything there. And the ladies were out there working the fields, they were coming in, they were taking care of kids, there was a whole daycare there. I saw, I’m serious when I say this is not an exaggeration, I saw a line of probably eighty to a hundred baby carriages.

Joy: Strollers?

Ron: All lined up, strollers. There was a parking lot, a literal parking lot of them. There were sidewalks around where it looked like the moms, and I saw some of this, it looked like the moms took the babies for walks. Then they had an air-conditioned daycare, they had an outdoor playground that was better than some of the ones our governments put up out here in the west. They had absolutely everything.

Joy: It sounds practically idyllic, like just a beautiful setting.

Ron- Yeah, now when you got over into the dorms, I didn’t go in, but I could see from where I was what it was like. These were bunk beds or situations like that, where the children would sleep right beside the moms in smaller beds or in their bed, or a crib, or something of that nature. While the women were working, the ones who had had the baby, there were other ladies who took care of the babies while they were out working. So, this was a sharing; this was a group raising of sorts but personalized with the children. But it was good. The food was excellent from what we could see, and tension was low.

Charis- I’m not sure, did you say how long the kids stay there?

Ron- Kids stay there for five years, I was told. Now, this was sort of like the sad part of this whole thing. Moms get to be with the kids until they reach the age of five, and then they are separated from the moms, and they are given to relatives or people, or situations on the outside to care for the child until the mother is released from her sentence. So, the mother at that point, if there was still time to be served, would go back to, not the farm situation, but more of a regular penitentiary prison.

Joy- So the farm was just for the moms?

Ron- This was a staging area not just for the moms but for the girls that were being released in the next little while, had paid their time and were going out. So, this was a bit of two things; one, it was where the moms were, plus it was a pass-through place where they would go from high security to medium security to very low security on their way out the door.

Joy- Now the men’s prison was mostly gangs, and they were supposed to be in prison for twenty years. That is clearly not the case with these women. They are not gang-related?

Ron- It all depends; some of them were high up in the gangs and they have longer sentences. Some of them weren’t even in the gangs at all; they were just crimes, theft or things like that. I don’t know all the details because it was rather intricate, to be absolutely honest with you. This whole thing of putting gang leaders and the members of these gangs into prison, it sort of muddied the waters as to what the whole system was like, and even some of the guys said, we think this is what is happening”. So, they are going to have to let this thing calm down to get a little better idea as to what the structure is going to be. Now, when I was walking around and I was looking at their situation, all of the ladies, when you pass them with their baby carriages, when you pass them with their hose over their shoulder heading out to the fields, they were extremely pleasant, courteous, friendly; I’m trying to think of some nice words that say this was not the typical penitentiary environment that I was used to. There were smiles, everything of that nature. So, from that thought, that brief thing, we headed up these steps and go into the great big concrete area, roof over the top, open sides and that was where we would have church, and all, I’m going to say not everybody was there, but I’m going to say probably two-thirds were there, if not more of the inmates were there. They came, they sat down, there were believers, there were unbelievers. Everybody had to go to church, and worship service happened, the girls were singing, etcetera, etcetera like that. I was asking the lead pastor who was in charge of the whole operation there, who came in with us, I said how many do you think are born again? And he said, we don’t know, probably fifty percent and upwards.

Joy- Wow, fifty percent!

Ron- So I said OK, that is a good number. I said, recent conversions? He said, yes, some were older people who had been to church, understood, backslid, crime, came out. They are ahead of the pack, shall we say. Then you’ve got newborn, newborn, better be careful with all the mothers there, newly born-again ladies who were sitting there and were just learning, maybe weeks ago just accepted Christ. But the numbers are growing, he said, and we don’t know exactly where everyone is. It’s settling down, but it is definitely over fifty percent. And then I do my investigation. So, I am sitting off to the side and I can see what is going on from pretty well all the rows that I was looking at, and it was exactly as I expected because I saw this in the men’s prison as well. There were certain guys who knew their way through their Bibles, their Bibles were worn, and then there were other people that were looking at the index in the front to find out where the book of Jonah was, or the book of Nahum was. They didn’t know their Bibles well enough yet. But when I looked at their Bibles, they too were dog-eared, they too were underlined. So, you had people, and some of the girls were being questions by everybody around them, where is that book, and they would be pointing, ok, over here and they would take their fingers and rifle through the pages of other people’s Bibles to show them where it was. So, this was a community effort to do Bible study. When the worship time came, I saw them on their knees, I saw them with hands raised, I saw them singing the words with meaning. Not just mouthing words, not just clapping because that is what they did when they were on the outside and music played, and everybody clapped to whatever secular songs that were. No, this was different. Now there were some, and I saw them at the back, they were sitting at the back, and they were not disinterested, but they were not participating, let’s put it that way. So, I knew that there were some unbelievers there, but they were gracious and courteous. Guards were along the back paying more attention than you can imagine to what was being preached and said. They weren’t watching the inmates; they were listening intently. I smiled at one of the guards on the way out, and I don’t speak Spanish, but I know enough certain little words, and she knew enough English; she was a believer, no doubt. She was one of the ones, probably that were watching these Christians and taking the opportunity to encourage them as a guard without crossing the line to show favoritism, so I could tell some of this stuff was going on, so, this was interesting. Then when we were leaving, they took us to show us where the kids were and everything like that. Oh, they had a pediatric ward in this air-conditioned area, they had a tiny little hospital going on there, they had two doctors, they had about six nurses, they had two hundred and fifty kids running around. The kids were as happy as can be. They were so happy! The mothers, some of them were happy, some of them were not. I think probably all the emotions of mothers positive and negative were in play with the ladies. Either having to give up their children at 5 years, the fact that I am in here and my baby is in here with me all to the point of I’m saved and now I can have a future. I bet every emotion in the book was there, but it was being handled perfectly. This is how you redeem people who have blown it and they know, they were repentant, they know they have done wrong, and now they are coming out the other side. And I could tell by the worship service and how they participated and just everything about the atmosphere, these people are getting a second chance, and they are grateful.

If Jesus has forgiven their sins then we can forgive and help them as well with true conversion, true repentance and that is what is happening.

Joy: Empower supports a prison ministry in Cuba, and I know that one of the things that Cuban chaplains do is they have a ministry to the families that are not in prison. Is there anything in place with El Salvador?

Ron: Joy, I’m glad you brought that up because we are doing something there. Not only are we taking in scriptures in bulk to all the prisoners, everybody is getting all the study Bibles they want.

Joy: The women as well as the men?

Ron: Yes, women, men, everybody that is in prison are going to have a chance to have the word of God. Not only that, but mostly with the men who are imprisoned, on the outside are the wife and the kids. Now, from what I’ve been told, when the government imprisoned these drug lords and gang leaders, they took away all their bank accounts, their homes, cars, everything. Every livelihood for their children and their wives, etcetera. I’m not sure all the details around it, but they explained to me that they are destitute. They have been abandoned many times by their family and their friends because they don’t want to be associated, because you can get thrown in prison for association with the gangs and therefore, they are putting distance. Well, this has left many of these prisoner’s wives and children in tough shape. So, what is happening is we are working with one of the major churches in the country and they are the leaders of the ministries inside the prisons right now, definitely leading the way. We are giving them some funds, quite a bit, to try to help to take care of the families on the outside and give them a chance for both survival and success. Because dad just accepted the Lord on the inside, so we are doing it for the prisoners, the men primarily, on the inside who have accepted the Lord, show growth, show true repentance, show conversion; whatever words you want to describe it. These are brothers inside for a long period of time, and now the church is going to come alongside their family on the outside. This has sent shockwaves to the prisoners on the inside, the men, saying the body of Christ, they are different, they are taking care of my family. Therefore, this solidifies so much, not just for the guy on the inside but for the mom and kids on the outside. This shows what we are really like and that we can forgive too. If Jesus has forgiven their sins then we can forgive and help them as well with true conversion, true repentance and that is what is happening. We are picking this up at both ends and we will see what the next step is after that but right now this looks very promising, like super promising! I leave El Salvador whenever I go, ha-ha twice, on both occasions when I left El Salvador, I thought to myself, this is a perfect example of Gospel lift. Where the Gospel comes in and lifts people who had sunk into the effects of sin, whatever that is, whether that is a religion in another country or crime or whatever like that, lifts them out of that by the power of the Spirit and transformation according to Romans 12:1,2 I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God, be transformed…transformation of the inner side. This is what we are seeing right now in El Salvador and other countries of the world but for today, this works.

Joy: Well, thank you. I am sure we are all looking forward to when you return to El Salvador and give us another update.

Ron: Oh, hang on! I forgot something! For two seconds and then you can close off alright? There was something else that I noticed with the prison guards Joy, so the guards were walking around, and they were handing out the Bibles to the girls. They couldn’t take them into the fields with them, they would keep them, and they had certain Bibles for each one and they were giving them out and they would find out which one. So, when you have, I’m going to say six hundred ladies sitting there and everyone is getting their Bibles, it was interesting because some of the girls got the wrong Bible, they didn’t get theirs, so here they were doing a shuffling around because, and I found this out after the fact, that some of them had things underlined and they wanted their Bible. And that ownership of the word of God is perfect. In a situation where any old Bible will do? No, this was mine and this was the lifeline. So, that is the part, I’m sorry Joy that I forgot to put that in there.

Charis: And if anybody wants to help with the scriptures or the support of the families of the prisoners, they can go to our website ron​pearce​.org or empow​er​min​istries​.ca to help out.

Joy: Excellent, it is such an exciting ministry, look forward to hearing more!

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