Many of us road towards the young men's and women's prison not knowing what to expect. The closest we'd been to a prison was the distance marked between our televisions and couches. As the bus pulled up to a large stone wall and iron gate three men in their mid twenties glanced up at us. Their bullet proof vests and machine guns set a somber mood that deepened when one of the guards slammed a bullet filled clip home in his rifle. We walked along a concrete path past small block rooms filled with young men grasping black metal bars. They hooted or stared silently as we passed. Lush green grass bordered stone refusing to be imprisoned and growing wildly from the fertile ground. A man in a christian shirt led us into a classroom the size of a one car garage and motioned for us to sit in pastel colored lawn chairs. I sat beside a young man named Carlos. He slowly sipped soda from a plastic cup. Beads of water slid down the sides. His handshake was warm and firm as he told me he was sixteen.
Seven young men made their way into the room with us and one after the other began to share their stories. Addicts, gang members, and the sons of drug dealers began to paint pictures of pain and hardship culminating in a prison sentence and then, a rescue. They boldly shared how Jesus had become their salvation. Carlos took a seat in the center of the back wall and began to speak. "I am serving a six month sentence. My crimes were committed while pursuing a life of drugs and acceptance from friends I now realize weren't friends at all. Since I have been in this place, none of my so called friends have visited me. You came from a very long distance to see me and I know you love me. I prayed for God to send someone to share the gospel with me and was amazed when someone showed up almost as soon as the amen ceased to resonate from my lips. I thought Christians were crazy. I liked marijuana. I stole from poor people living in a poor country. Drugs led me to do illicit things and that is why I am here. It took all of those hardships for Christ to reach me. This is a violent place and sometimes bad things happen here" I chuckled at the understatement. We were only allowed to be with the seven young men because a gang had attempted to murder another inmate in previous days. We were well aware that it was a dangerous place. He continued to speak. "I'm only here for a little while but, if going back home means I will lose Christ, I wish to stay. I was right. Christians are crazy. I am crazy." Tears spilled across the rims of my eyelids at the depth of his faith. The stories continued. Each carried power and challenged us to be bold. It was then that we knew we weren't at the prison to encourage, but to be encouraged.
There are schools throughout Tegucigalpa. Children walk around in navy blue slacks, white short sleeved button up shirts, and constantly yell as they run around. The children of the deaf school are different. They wear bright yellow shirts and rarely make a sound. We began handing out fruit juice, cookies, and toys with bright lights or colors to the students. Their director introduced us to some of the older students who quickly signed out their names. She is in stage four cancer but radiates joy and enthusiasm for her students. The room came alive. Hands wiggled furiously as the children sang "God's not dead" with their hands. Armed with a light up yoyo I walked up to a child and placed it in his hand. He wound it up and was delighted to see it flash as it spun. After a couple of throws the string knotted. I motioned for him to give the toy to me. I drug my thumbnail down the string and the yoyo spun quickly while he nodded that he understood what I was doing. I bent the string at its center and let the yoyo run down it like a tight rope artist and then dropped it and jerked it up so that it would wind completely. His eyes went wide.
That was the extent of our interaction. I've never felt more helpless as a communicator. Even as a teenager coming to this country, I had a small working vocabulary. Here I was mute.
God led me to think about the people in our group acting as translators, helping us to pray and communicate. I thought about his call for us to be ambassadors. In order to fill that role we must learn the language of the community we are in. How foolish it is for us to expect them to learn ours. That's like asking a child, deaf from birth, to speak English perfectly. Its not possible. What good is a translator without a message to translate? Am I effectively hearing God as he leads me to communicate with his children? I left feeling challenged to listen more closely and eager share God's love more fully with the next group we would see at the hospital.
I'll not steal all the good stories and let some others tell you about those in the hospital and the blind school. It's late and we have a big day in store for us at the dump tomorrow.