Two days a week, Joel teaches English at Carcel Abra, a men’s prison for those with longer term punishments. He recently combined his students into one class, hoping to now have few hours to provide an open invitation to the men to play chess or checkers and talk.
Both Joel and Lynn were involved with prison ministry in their home state of Tennessee. Part of Joel’s decision to spend the bulk of his ministry in prison was in honor of the couple’s friend Harmon Wray, a restorative justice advocate who created a teaching project at a maximum security prison which brought together inmates and students at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
“And also because we know that volunteers from the free world are always needed and appreciated by the society within walls,” Joel said.
His disease, HIV (here called VIH), was apparently well-advanced by the time he sought medical help. According to one of the sisters at the hospice, he had once had money, but not anymore. Also, because of the social stigma associated with the disease, his family did not want to take care of him. This unwillingness to care for their own breaks the custom here that families care for their own aged and infirm. What a powerful disease that it can destroy individuals and social custom.
I was reminded of the story in which St. Francis of Assisi came across a leper. Though repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis jumped down from his horse and kissed the leper’s hand. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed.
In this man with HIV, I could see my leper. While I might not expect to restore his will to live, at least I should be able to interact with him in a way that would declare my own acceptance of him.”
Joel is also beginning to volunteer in one of the houses in the Amanecer Foundation which provide a safe, stable home environment for orphaned and abandoned children.
Please support Joel’s work in Bolivia by making a donation to Franciscan Mission Service.