Wow. How do express so much of so much!?
These two days included a lot of travel, returning to Spanish (as soon as we got to the gate at JFK--but I will blog on that another day with more time), landing on an island of palm trees, ocean, and traffic, meeting 25+ new friends . . . .
Let me slow down. After two delays at JFK, we arrived late here last evening--but in time for a good supper with Chris and Pam Miller (who had arrived earlier) at the hotel where we are staying. The Dominican Republic is the birthplace of merengue music--we heard that right off in all its energy.
This morning (Friday) our team of Gringos met up with the Project Mañana staff (7 today--more tomorrow), and Brian, the founder of the organization (founded in 2010) explained how our Friday was to look. I personally have never visited a prison before--let alone a prison in a third-world country, so I was careful to listen to everything.
But obviously, while instructions prepare a person well for an experience, they are nothing like arriving at the prison, going through the security (ID confiscated and a pat-down), and entering a mini-city of 1500+ inhabitants, and only move about with a guard (usually more than one).
There is a lot to the description of this particular prison, but here and now I cannot take the time to do so. We were introduced to the head guard of security and he explained a lot of procedure to us and related the importance of the program Malachi Dads which has been in place there for four years or so. Another ex-con, German (Herman) shared his story of how the program has changed his life, his family, his community even. German no longer lives at the prison, but returns regularly (more than once a week, I believe) to run the program, that can run from six to twelve months and focuses on Bible studies aimed at evangelism and spiritual leadership for fathers--even while they are in prison.
After the training instruction, we were given a tour of the facilities and then lunch (which we found out later was given out of the prison budget as a thank-you to us for all we are providing).
Kevin and I have had a lot of opportunity to use our Spanish language--which we love. We have been able to help with some translation. We praise the Lord for such valuable opportunities. That has been one of our prayer requests.
We were told early on that we were not to be able to take any phones, cameras, sunglasses--anything--into the prison, so you know (if you know me well) how hard it is for me not to be able to capture the dinginess, the isolation, the coldness of steel and concrete habitations with a camera. However, I had dealt with that knowledge and commitment, and knew that so many other important ministries need to be performed.
Yet, a sweet opportunity has presented itself. The professional photographer, John, who will be taking pictures during the big event tomorrow and who also worked today, asked me if I could take one of his cameras tomorrow and help out with photography. Wow. That is a really sweet surprise from the Lord. Even today I helped out John with a video interview with German telling his testimony and how effective the Bible study program is in a few penitentiaries here in Dominican Republic. (See the last two articles on this site for inspirational news in this ministry http://projectmanana.org/newsletter/newsletter_20160630.html).
The last event at the prison today was a "graduation" program like none I have ever seen before. Twenty five of the men who have completed the entire program graduated and received certificates (actually before the program itself). The program included various points of commitment, gratitude, and prayer. A large portion of the program included the works of art--paintings, wood carvings, music, and more--that this particular group of men have created. Beautiful complex art, with an emphasis made upon the fact that when we become new beings in Christ, we are able to become more like the men (or women) God created us to be. Again, quite inspiring.
Let me leave you with another inspirational moment. Several of the methods taught in the Bible studies were incorporated by the prison warden institutionally because he saw the value for moral and morale purposes. One such procedure occurs both morning and evening and was demonstrated for us us during the tour.
"Formation" is called by a guard, and the inmates line up on the two walls of the hallway facing one another. They then put their arms on the shoulders of the men on either side of them, and all together in unison, they recite the Lord's prayer. In the evening, they take the time to deal with any issues of dissension that may have occurred that day between them. Wow. And this is not just with those who have given their lives to the Lord.
So much more, but we have to get up early tomorrow for the Returning Hearts Celebration--the big carnival/reconciliation event where 100 inmates will have the opportunity to spent all day in play and in prayer with their children. We are expecting 200 children. Phew. Please pray for health, weather, and that "the inmates will have the courage to be spiritual leaders to their children," according to Mike Broyles.