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Encountering God in Prison


Missioner Lynn Myrick reflects on a time she and her husband, Joel Vaughn, were invited to an event at the El Abra, the maximum security prison for men, one of the couple’s ministry sites in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.”

The prison where Joel and I teach English may look pretty on the outside with its flowers and brightly colored trees, but for the prisoners life is rough, competitive, and sometimes cruel.

The men have to pay for most of their own food as well as clothes and other essentials, so they are generally dependent upon their own families to bring in money and food. Many men earn money in the prison by working in the wood-burning shop, the carpentry shop, the soccer ball “factory,” or washing other people’s clothes. Some men sell hand-made crafts, candy, and food.

The well-tended, grounds include a new clinic and a new store where artesania is sold, along with “street vendors” selling food that smells delicious, as well as a capacious courtyard complete with objects of art, and two inviting churches.

The prison, however, is run by the men themselves. This approach to prison life appeared to be very cutting edge to me at first, but I have often wondered if I would want to live in a compound run by people who have been put into prison for felonies.

A lot of young men live in the prison, one of whom is a friend of the college students at the pastoral juvenile, or campus ministry office. I know also that there is a hierarchy within the prison, based on how the men are valued when they enter the place.

But in the midst of all this, Joel and I were asked to be present at a Confirmation Mass in which 12 men were to join the Church. Archbishop Tito Solari was there, along with the men’s families and sponsors.

That day the sun shone brightly in the church. As I saw the archbishop anoint and place his hand on each man’s head, I saw something that I had never seen before: the archbishop was weeping. And so were we all.

In a small way, I felt included in this sacrament, and I hoped that this day would sustain the men in the difficult days to come.

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Lynn Myrick is a returned missioner who served with her husband Joel Vaughn in Cochabamba, Bolivia from 2009 to 2012.