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Bolivia Blog - Day 5

James Grayston

We are staying in the mission house in Cochabamba. I have attached some pictures of the garden to give you an idea of the location. There is a team of young folk staying here who are on mission in the city at the same time. There are mission homes like this in various countries across the world and they are used by God in the spread of the gospel. They provide short term accommodation as missionaries move around or a time of respite and rest to help them recover from the demands of the mission field. We certainly appreciate our rooms in the mission home during our stay.

This blog will be dominated by our visit to the women's prison which took place on Sat morning. Helen has been involved in prison work in Bolivia for over 30 years. She has a women's meeting in the prison each Friday morning with over 50 attending. Helen has a real heart for the women and the affection shown by them for her is testament to this.

I have been really looking forward to the prison visit due to my connections with the Bibleclass in Barlinnie. I was keen to see the comparisons and contrasts. I've been associated with the work in Barlinnie for just under 15 years but nothing could have prepared me for what we saw and experienced yesterday morning.

Once we were through provision of ID and were searched etc we were standing next to a large metal door waiting to be allowed into the prison. When the door opened I was immediately aware that this visit was nothing like any experience I've had in Barlinnie.

The prison is effectively a 5 storey quadrangle with rooms in each floor for sleeping, working and meetings. On the floor of the quadrangle there are small plastic tables and chairs where the residents effectively meet with their visitors. There are women (prisoners) all along the perimeter selling stuff. Food, toiletries, juice, meat, wool etc. They are also offering laundry for people outside the prison. The women sleep 10 to a room (they are not large) and they also have rooms where they make clothes, bedding, table cloths etc to help pay for their stay in prison. The authorities do not feed the inmates. They are dependant on either being fed by their relatives or need to make enough from the various business being run to feed themselves. When we were there visiting there were numerous tables where families were having a meal with someone in the prison.

The place is also full of children of all ages whose mothers are in prison. These are children who have been born in prison or who go into custody with their mother. Above the first floor there are multiple washing lines with laundry drying either from the women's own clothes or from the thriving laundry business.

As we sat and talked with Maria (I'll tell you more about her later in the blog) a number of women walked past me with large sharp knives as they were selling meat and chicken to the other inmates or visitors. As we sat we were offered various types of food made by the women to help them pay their way through prison.

More prayer points.

1/ Please pray for the women's prison work. The Lord has saved many of these women over the years and their lives have been totally changed as a result of their conversion. Helen runs a meeting each Monday with the women who have left prison to help them rehabilitate from their sentences.

2/ Please pray for Maria who we visited yesterday. She was a nurse and has been in prison for over 2 and a half years with no trial. We are not sure what she was accused of but she has just learned that there is not going to be a trial. Effectively she has been in remand for the 2 and a half years. She will be released shortly. She has 7 children in La Paz. She has not seen them since going into prison. Maria has been saved as a result of going along to Helen's meetings. As she shared her testimony none of us could hold back the tears as she described what she has gone through. John asked her what she wanted us to pray for and she replied that she just wanted to be with her children. Although none of us could give a reason why she has gone through what she has we know their mother will be able to share her very real faith with her family on her release. Please pray for Maria and her family. We asked her what she thought of the prison. She replied that it wasn't human.

3/ Finally for today please pray for Catherine. I won't go into details on the blog what she was accused and found guilty of but she will be in prison for a long time. She comes along to Helen's meetings but she has indicated she is too bad to be saved. Her father was a previous Mayor of Cochabamba and she clearly has got involved in something which has resulted in her being in prison. She speaks some English as well as Spanish. Helen has explained that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin but to date she has not accepted this for herself. She looks so out of place in the prison and she needs God's salvation. Pray that The Holy Spirit brings her to the point of accepting Jesus as her Saviour and Lord.

After our visit Maria took us on a bit of a tour of the prison. We were able to see the very cramped bedrooms, the rooms where they make the fabrics and clothing and Helens meeting room where they meet every Friday. We had free access to roam around the prison with no guards visible at all. Effectively the women live in a very unpleasant cramped community with the guards manning the gates to ensure no escape. For me in terms of any comparisons to Barlinnie there were none other than many souls needing God's grace and salvation.

In the afternoon we went to see a children's work in the city with over 120 children attending a meeting with many parents present as well. It's a very encouraging work and the eventual aim is to plant another church in the area.

In the evening Alan had the opportunity to speak to over 50 young folk in their teenage years and early 20s. They listened very well to the translated message. All of these young folk are part of the church Mario and Helen go along to.

We had a very full day but it gave us a great insight to to many things God is doing in Cochabamba. PTL.