EL SALVADOR – In many ways, the San Francisco Gotera prison in El Salvador is like many others in Latin America. Nearly all of the inmates are members of rival gangs including the infamous MS-13. The prison has 1,600 inmates housed in a facility designed to hold 200. Tattoos of skulls, gang logos, and demonic figures cover many of the inmates “up to their eyebrows.”
Murderers living among murderers in an overcrowded prison is a recipe for disaster.
But there is no disaster. Not since Jesus Christ has come into the prison and the Holy Spirit has transformed these “vilest of sinners” into saints.
The Spanish newspaper El Paίs recently unfolded the story of how El Salvador’s deadliest gang members found God behind bars, exchanging violence for the love taught in the Bible.
For perspective, San Salvador is the second most violent country in Latin America behind only Venezuela. Of the fewer than six million residents, some 64,000 men are members of violent gangs who control neighborhoods and barrios with brutal and ruthless terror.
Yet, here in San Francisco Gotera, a man with a gunshot wound on his face stands two rows in front of another who is missing an ear. A man standing in the front row has six bullet wounds is praising Jesus Christ in song while another nearby raises his arms in worship, exposing the evidence of his severed hand.
When a small Bible study was initiated in the prison in 2015, things began to change. A pastor who had been saved out of the gang life came to the prison and shared the Gospel. In the beginning, only a few attended the studies, but as they began sharing the good news of God’s saving grace, more and more accepted Christ.
Just two years ago, the inmates were almost entirely active gang members. Today the majority of the inmates are finding redemption through Jesus Christ.
Now, instead of hailing themselves out as fearsome gang members – despite their tattoos – they present themselves as “sheep.” Even Reuters published an article about the miracle prison. The article quoted Pastor Manuel Rivera who said, “We used to say that the gang was our family, but God took the blindfold off our eyes.”
Evangelical Focus reported,
In this prison, calm arrived, thanks to the Bible and the pastors that have achieved several miracles. There is no violence. Everything is perfectly clean and in order. The prisoners treat each other with respect. Something that was unthinkable before their conversion has happened: gangs live together in the same place.
One prisoner noted that “People on the outside don’t trust us very much. They think we can’t change. But yes, we can show them.” So, Pastor Rivera’s church provides shelter for prisoners who have been released to help them transition back into society, overcome the stigma of their past, and earn a living.
Much like the Apostle Paul might have thought, a former gang member still in prison emphasized,
Although we are imprisoned, we feel free, when Christ opens your heart, there is no turning back.
Praise God for extending His marvelous grace to all the world by giving His Son to pay the penalty for our sins, each of which are worthy of death.
Let’s pray for these men and Pastor Rivera’s ministry among them.
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