November 26, 2018
Monday’s Scripture (Matthew 5:16, NIV)
“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Preparing for Prison
Cold showers and hot coffee! The team’s up and ready to hear Marcus lead morning devotional—and oh, what a devo it was—blowing us away with his testimony, message, and rapping his song that was 7 years in the making, created out of his bondage and eventual spiritual freedom. His closing message for the team today was “Just Be.” Be present. Let God reveal how He wants to use each of us. As a serial planner, I love the idea but struggle with its application. “God help me this week,” I ask, and He answered. First step, I relinquished my normal role of mission photographer and let Roberto take take hold of the photo reins.
After breakfast at Pollo Compero [add eggs to your plate of chicken, rice, and beans], we drove to the boy’s prison, CPIS Sendero de Libertad, on the outskirts of Ilobasco. As our van passed through the guarded gates of the center [translated as Freedom’s Path], several boys, hand selected because of their good behavior, greeted us with flying flags of El Salvador and Living Water International. The center had strict rules for the team—only 2 cell phones, no photos of any staff or boys faces for their protection. Many of these boys are still gang members involved in MS 13 and Calle 18.
We felt like royalty as the center administration and community leadership had prepared a welcome ceremony in our honor. Thirty boys were invited to attend and they stared at us with stoic faces or look down and away. I held the gaze of every boy who looked my way and returned a smile. Some smiled back, and others continued to stare with inquisitive eyes that said to me, “Why are you really here?” Each of our team shared a bit about ourselves, why we were there, and what we hoped to accomplish.
Inside the prison walls were two distinct security zones. The common area was open with picnic benches for visitation, a pavilion, administration buildings, and the kitchen. Down the hill near the pavilion was the equipment to drill the well. Down the road that the continued through the property was a double gate system with barbed wire fencing and guards who determine who could cross zones. After the welcoming ceremony, we were invited to tour the entire property and escorted through the doors cut into those gate. The prison currently housed 176 boys from 12-20 years olds.
We walked through the covered recreation area, across the makeshift basketball courts/soccer goals, and into the trade workshops that included carpentry, pottery, tailoring, music, and cooking. As we walked to the back of the property where the boys were housed, there were clothes everywhere drying on lines strung between trees. Everyone does his own laundry. Many of the boys were hanging out in small groups observing us from a distance. As we walked through the barracks and asked questions, I counted the bunkbeds which seemed insufficient to sleep 176 boys. Later we found out that 2 boys sleep in one twin bed, and at one time these same facilities housed upwards of 350 youth.
As we walked out of the restricted area towards our table where Noe, the prison chef, would serve us lunch, the administrative staff pointed out the wall mural of the American Bald Eagle and the El Salvador Turquoise-browed Motmot. Some of the boys had painted this mural as a symbol of our two teams coming together for the purpose of drilling this well. The mural was named “Brotherhood”.
After lunch the team joined Angel and Enrique to start up the compressor and get the drill bit grinding. Several handpicked youth showed up, trying on hardhats and gloves, so they could help the drillers. They were eager to learn and probably enjoyed the break from prison routine. Kathy, Norma, Peggy, and I went back to the secured area of compound to lead praise and worship, converse with about 25 kids, and teach a Bible lesson. A handful of boys knew a few words of English and were excited to share what little they could speak. As we taught the Bible lesson, many of the kids who were initially stand-offish warmed up to us. Instead of observing from the sidelines, they joined the fun.
We drilled about 30 meters, struggling through clay, and eventually hit water but not of the quality or quantity needed. The prison had access to city water, but as the city had grown out towards the prison, water supply had become more of an issue. Not only did the prison need access to consistent water, but enough to sustain the projects they wanted to build such as the tilapia and agricultural farms. One hundred fifty-five barrel of water per day was the target supply for irrigation and fish ponds. Fenced land next to the drill area was being cleared to accommodate these projects.
Living Third World
I didn’t know what to expect today, but I can say the day exceeded my expectations. Not only did I feel safe, I felt welcomed. Although many of the boys carefully watched from the sidelines, many were absorbing the light that our team was shining on them.
We caught dinner on the road, stopping at a restaurant where we introduced a few of our mission mates to authentic and delicious pupusas. Back at Hotel Los Hereos, we suffer through cold showers, and afterwards, several of us hung around talking about previous relationships, specifically what we learned from our first marriages. We talked until we dropped. I love mission trips and the chance to check out of the first-world and spend time with folks discussing God, real life struggles, and learnings.
Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and finances. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.