JESUS TRANSFORMS PRISON IN EL SALVADOR

J Lee Grady (Fire In My Bones, Charisma Magazine) stood in front of 600 male inmates at a prison in Izalco, El Salvador. The men were dressed in white T-shirts and white drawstring pants, and many of them sported tattoos on their faces and necks. All the men were members of violent gangs when they were incarcerated. About 20% of them were affiliated with the MS-13 gang—a group known for horrific attacks on women, children and police officers.

Yet he felt no fear as he looked out over the crowd and shared a message from Luke 15 about the prodigal son. Most of the men were carrying Bibles, and when he announced his text, they immediately turned to the passage. They yelled, “Amen,” or “Gloria a Dios,” when Grady stressed an important point. And they clapped and cheered when he reminded them that the kosher Jewish father in the story welcomed his wayward son home even though the boy smelled like pigs.

Almost every prisoner in this huge group became a Christian after arriving at the Izalco prison. Two churches now operate inside the facility, pastored by men who were once tough criminals. All the men now gather for Bible study every day, they hold prayer and fasting vigils, and they are helping each other to grow spiritually.

When the men worshipped on Monday, six guys used plastic paint tubs for drums while an inmate with a huge smile led the praise choruses. The men sang louder and with more passion you would see in most churches in the outside world.

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!Jesucristo vive dentro de esta prisión!” (“Jesus Christ lives inside this prison!”

“Our government is encouraging this movement,” says Oscar David Benavides, director of the prison. He says in 2016 he was allowed to encourage evangelism among inmates. When men experienced conversions, he intentionally moved them into buildings where there were non-Christian inmates.

Faith was never forced on anyone, but more and more men began to find Jesus in a chain reaction of grace. The new converts changed dramatically. They were no longer angry and depressed. They became cooperative and friendly. Their frowns turned to smiles.

Today, El Salvador’s government leaders see evidence that Christianity is good for violent offenders.

No serious crimes have occurred inside the Izalco facility since the prison revival began. The inmates treat each other with respect, even though they were affiliated with rival gangs. “The transformation is an obvious miracle,” Oscar Benavides says.

In the United States, Grady said, “We are skittish about mixing government and religion. We don’t want prayer in schools. We don’t want the Bible to influence public policy. And yet our prisons are so dangerous they are like hell on earth. A report released last year by The New Republic said 428 inmates died in Florida’s prisons in 2017, hundreds have died in prisons in Oregon and Washington since 2008, and the rate of prisoner-on-prisoner violence has doubled in Alabama in the past five years.

Grady said, “he is not going to hold his breath until America’s prison officials try El Salvador’s method of reform – JESUS”. But asks, “Why wouldn’t we?” In this tiny Central American nation—the only country in the world named after Jesus Christ—a true miracle has happened. We are foolish to ignore it.”

JESUS IS GROWING HIS CHURCH THAT HOLDS TO THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE

The polls (Pew Research) tell us that both Protestantism and Catholicism are experiencing losses of population share. Currently, 43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And 1 in 5 adults (20%) are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009

Most significantly, “More than 8 in 10 members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) describe themselves as Christians (84%), as do three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%). In stark contrast, only half of Millennial’s (49%) describe themselves as Christians; 4 in 10 are religious ‘nones,’ and 1 in 10 Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths.

Putting Millennials to one side, one reasonable explanation for the numerical decline in the older generations is that formerly nominal Christians no longer identify as Christians at all. In other words, it is those who rarely attended church in the past and who had no real relationship with God who are now identifying as “nones.”

Could it be as simple as this? Churches that no longer hold to the authority of Scripture, along with those that have the form of religion without the substance, are in decline, while those that seek to preach and live a vibrant faith are growing and even attracting the younger generations.

Typically, churches that minister successfully to Millennial’s directly tackle the creation versus evolution issue. There is no excuse now, as the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of intelligent design. Ministries such as Creation Ministries can provide all the necessary resources. Simply go to http://www.creation.com.

Yes! There are plenty of churches that are thriving and growing precisely because they are preaching a biblical message and precisely because people are encountering the risen Savior. Jesus is being exalted, and as a result, both the saved and the lost come flocking. People are drawn to what is real, alive, and where God’s power is displayed.