Medical mission to regional prison opens Pioneer’s eyes

6 Feb 2024

It finally happened, we have gone to jail. Thankfully we landed on the “just visiting” corner of the board and were let out after 4 hours of time behind bars. These were 4 hours that we will not forget easily. The pitch from the founders of our hospital was a medical outreach in the state penitentiary about a 90 minute hairpin bend-filled journey from our nearest city that takes you over 4000 metres of altitude, then down into the region’s capital. The details were scarce but I would preach as there were no children to attend to and my wife would offer physio, focusing on exercises for the men and teaching the women some relaxing massage techniques.

The prison houses around 480 people and group by group they filed out to first sit and listen to a gospel message which featured extracts from the film Shawshank Redemption (I thought a film about a guy escaping from prison would capture the attention of prisoners and guards alike) before receiving medical attention from the rest of the team in the courtyard.

On entering it was difficult to not picture hardened, suspicious faces staring back at the “gringo” team but the face that we left with in our minds was one of heartfelt gratitude, interest and warmth. The situation was bleak, most obviously with the cramped sleeping arrangements with over a 100 people using the same small shelled-out quarters with barely a metre between the three-tier bunkbeds. The newest prisoners are confined to sleeping on the floor for up to two years before “graduating” to the first-tier mattress.

The intense morning included sharing the hope of freedom from the worst of all prisons which the Bible claims is sin, hearing people’s stories, praying with them, medical consults and distributing gifts comprised of socks, a small cake and the gospel of John.

As is often the case when expecting to offer a service to others we found ourselves on the receiving end. The tragic circumstances that have led these men and women to prison clearly involved personal guilt and crimes that require a sentence but for some at least, hitting rock bottom has produced a humility and love for good that we can rarely recall seeing on the “outside”. While we are quick to judge in society, God calls us to leave the ultimate judgement to Him, not ignoring the role we have to play in protecting one other with the law of the land, but hearing the challenge that, compared to God’s perfect standard, we too are guilty before Him. In Christ alone we find freedom from the ultimate judgement that God says we will face as he is the only one to have no mark on his record. A record he exchanges with ours should we accept the offer.

Oliver* | serving at a rural hospital in South America

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