Above pictures: Left, at the gates of San Pedro Sula prison; Middle, stock pictures showing prison conditions within the main prison;
Right, the prison church
On the edge of San Pedro Sula you find the infamous city prison. It is difficult to describe the conditions in the prison and unfortunately I wasn’t able to take photos to even provide a glimpse. Suffice to say it is like nothing else!
Prison is like a micro-city. The guards don’t enter the prison – except for emergencies – instead leaving the prisoners to run the prison themselves. Inside the prison walls life is chaotic. Many prisoners have constructed make-shift shacks out of wood and corrugated iron; many of these are built on top of each other several tiers up. Everyday life is rough and busy, fights and disputes often surface. With rival gangs incarcerated together, violence is a constant problem.
However, in the midst of this the prison church has been steadily growing. And as a result, the violence rates have been dropping. We have been training the leaders of this church who in turn have had a tremendous ministry in the prison. One way they have been doing this is through acts of practical service.
No-one in San Pedro Sula is helping gangs in prison escape that way of life. There are no official/prison programmes that try and rehabilitate gang members. Instead this job is being carried out by the prison church. For many gang members, the only hope they have of a life after the gang is through the church. That’s why what our pastors is doing is so important.
Some are training gang members to become barbers – apparently the church hair-dresser is top notch and always in demand – others are training gang members to become bakers or computer technicians. In fact, the church has been able to bring in specialist equipment that they use to form part of their schools. And this makes such a difference in prisoners’ lives. Prisoners like Pablo Castellanos.
Pastor Pablo came to San Pedro jail as a young man. He said that he came to Christ while in prison, he did his primary and secondary school here, and he also did his computer training here. All because of the work of the church. Outside he had no hope – except by joining a gang. But he says that coming to prison was the best thing that could have happened to him. He’s now one of the church leaders there.
But it’s not just the practical skills that the church provides, it is also doing a tremendous job sharing the gospel. Many prisoners have accepted Christ as a result of the preaching and discipleship of Christians within the prison. The transformation within these prisoners’ lives is dramatic. I saw incarcerated gang members sitting around, covered with horrific gang tattoos and arrogantly sporting tear-drop tattoos (these indicate the number of people they have killed). But their eyes looked cold and dead. In contrast, the gang members who are now part of the church are transformed, with wide eyes and bright smiles. It was clear the transformation that God had done in their lives.
I had the privilege of addressing the prison church while I was there. I was amazed by how joyful and passionate these believers were, and how God is using them to extend his Kingdom in this dark place.
Please pray for the prison church in San Pedro Sula. Pray that God will use it to bring everyone in that prison to Himself and the impacts of this would spread far and wide beyond the prison walls.