Things That Please the Spirit

projects-prisonThe first few weeks in the mission field have consisted of a great deal of observation. I’ve done a lot of watching, listening, and taking in. I haven’t understood everything I’ve heard as I’m still learning Spanish, but another thing I’m realising is that some of what I’m seeing isn’t making sense either. I’ve spent the last 12 years working in Corporate America where I’ve had to explain every little detail of my job. People pay close attention to the facts. Changes in those facts from week to week, whether good or bad, have to be explained. As an analyst, it was a big part of my job to look at the details and draw conclusions. Sometimes not all the details were available so I’d have to fill in the gaps, but at the end of the day numbers, statistics, data is always explainable. Now, contrast this with the last few weeks where I’ve spent more time in jail than all my years put together and there are things that just do not add up. I’m still trying to make sense of things with an analytical mind and to be honest that’s just not working. I’m seeing systems and programs that are causing life change that does not make sense. When I take the circumstances, the people, the environment, the culture and add all those things together it absolutely does not equal the results that are being produced. I know what you’re thinking, but yes I checked my work, I carried the 1, and the math simply does not work. Alas, there’s another variable at work here that is unexplainable. There is a transforming power at play that will never “make sense”.

William Gomez, Project Mañana’s Ministry Director, is a Dominican pastor that has been serving Christ in the area for around 35 years. The more time I spend with him the more impressed I am with his transparency and his desire to see people come to Christ and grow in their walk with Christ. My first visit to a Dominican prison was with William. I had no idea what to expect, but thought that I would see guys who were just passing their time by going through the motions of the programs and studies that William has implemented in the prison system. However, what I witnessed were administration officials, prison guards, and prison inmates come to William one by one and greet him with an obvious love and adoration. I saw hope and joy in the eyes of inmates and then I watched William spend over an hour discipling a handful of prisoners that were sitting on the edges of their chairs and hanging on his every word. These guys were hungry and excited to hear and learn the Word of God. Trust me, no one was simply going through the motions. Keep in mind this is happening in a prison in a developing country. There is no reason why anyone in this facility should have hope or joy.

In order to better paint the picture for you, let me share a few statistics that I got from Brian Berman, President and Founder of Project Mañana. There are currently 13,500 incarcerated adults residing in the 32 active prisons in the Dominican Republic. However, there are only 6,300 beds. For those of you doing the math, yes, this means over half of the inmates sleep on a concrete floor.  51.5% of the inmates are still awaiting their sentence which means they have no clue as to how long they are going to be there. Also, due to budget cuts and food rationing, nearly 30% of the population is not provided a meal. Looking at these statistics with an analytical mind I would expect to find chaos, conflict, sorrow, anger, and despair. Let me reiterate, there is no reason why anyone in these facilities should have hope or joy.

Several days later I am visiting my 3rd prison, which is the largest of the 32 facilities. Upon arrival we are met by the prison administration with smiles and hugs. I still find this odd, but am beginning to see this is just how it works. Keep in mind, these are the officials whose job it is to run a prison amid the statistics I just shared with you. We are escorted to a room filled with 100+ men, mostly prisoners. They are gathered there to greet us and to provide an impromptu concert. Several people spoke and several songs were sang. However, one of them stuck out to me. One gentleman (a Dominican inmate) got up and said that he was going to sing a “hymn of victory”. As he began to sing his song, most of which I couldn’t understand, the joy on his face was unmistakeable. Within a minute or two into his song the entire room had joined in, even the prison officials. Remember the statistics? What do these guys know about victory?

After the concert we toured the facilities. At one point the prison official asked our group to stand in the middle of the hall for a demonstration. She made an announcement and all of the prisoners from that pod appeared and lined up along the walls on both sides of us. She explained that each night around 8:00 the prisoners gather in this manner to discuss any differences they have with each other and to work those out. They then place their arms on the shoulders of the man next to them and pray together. This is not something the officials force them to do. Now hold on a minute! I’ve seen prison movies, I’ve watched locked up abroad and this just isn’t normal. Why on Earth would a bunch of men in a Dominican prison act in this manner? Just being completely honest, these guys treat each other better than the people in some Churches I’ve been in. During our tour, someone in our group made the observation that none of the guards carried weapons, and asked why. The response was simply: “We don’t need weapons, our words are sufficient”. What motivation do these prisoners have to act this way? Again, these are men who were locked up in a Dominican prison for whatever reason and now reside in a place where they may not have a place to sleep or food to eat or an idea of when they will be released.

The answer to all of these questions is simply: Jesus! These men have found the true source of hope and joy. These men have a relationship with the inventor of Victory. These men are adopted children of the One who first loved us. In my human analytical mind this will never make sense, but as soon as I look through the eyes of Jesus it all becomes perfectly clear. Painted on the wall of that first prison room I visited was the following verse: Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit [Romans 8:5]. The Holy Spirit transforms in such a way that does not make sense. These prisoners are full of His love and it is overflowing in them in a very visual way. The guards are happy because their jobs are easier and it is obvious that He has transformed many of them as well. William Gomez is well respected in the prisons, not because he’s a great man (which he is), but because he brought to them the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There is no program, no system, no secret sauce that could achieve these results; only Jesus can do this. Once again I am convicted. As I go home to my family, to a warm dinner cooked by my beautiful wife, and lay down in my comfy bed I’m asking myself, is the love of Jesus as visibly present in me?

While I’m sharing with you a picture of hope and transformation, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Currently, Project Mañana is only in 4 of the 32 prisons in the Dominican Republic. We need your help to expand the work so that every prisoner has this same opportunity. For a one-time sponsorship of $30 US, you can partner with Project Mañana and sponsor an inmate to attend the Institute For Authentic Manhood.™ Your sponsorship will provide the inmate with:

• Workbooks – a different workbook for each course

• Classroom supplies

• Diploma & Medallion

• Graduation Party! – a celebration (with cake) of their achievement.

Click here to find out more or contact me directly (nick@projectmanana.org | 813-313-7303); I’d love to chat with you in detail about this.