Bracelets of hope in an El Salvadoran prison

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The plans had been for us to speak at a university while in San Salvador. We had made a nice slide presentation about purity and were looking forward to the opportunity to share our message with college students.

But as I should have learned by now, things don’t always go according to plans and we learned Thursday night that we wouldn’t be speaking there after all. I was a little disappointed but assumed that God had other plans for us. We were given the choice between staying at home while the rest of the team did the medical clinic at the girls’ prison or joining them and finding something to do. That was an easy choice.  We decided to go back to prison.

I can honestly say I was looking forward to going back to prison. Wow, that is a strange sentence I never expected to write!

Beth Anne and I scrambled Thursday night brainstorming about what we could do with the girls in prison. We had enjoyed such a precious time with them the day before, what else we do with these girls given the restrictions and the limited time and resources we had available? The Lord, always faithful, gave me an idea, something I had seen American girls do and with a quick google search, our plans were underway.

At the prison, while everyone else on our team organized the medical aspect of our visit, BA and I got permission to meet with another group of girls, those serving much longer sentences than the ones we had seen the day before.

As we gathered around a table, with prison guards patrolling the grounds right outside the gated windows and a steady breeze wafting through the open air walls, we were blessed to share our message with them.

I even saw a few guards peeking in to hear our presentation. These girls were a little tougher and wilder than the last batch but seemed genuinely interested in hearing about “pureza” (purity) and having a fresh start through Christ.

After we were finished we asked the girls, “Do you want to do a little project?” “Si!” they all shouted.

At first I was going to just tell the girls that we were going to make some little bracelets but then I got an inspiration and with a quick nudge to BA, I said, “Would you like to make bracelets of esperanza?”

Esperanza means hope and I think it’s such a beautiful word, in Spanish. Even more excitedly the girls said, “Si!” I was encouraged already!

So this is what we did.

First we dipped little strips of cotton material in water. Once wet, we placed the strips on the table and began rolling the strips diagonally.

It was great how the Lord supplied all our needs because in addition to having plenty of fabric around the house the night before, we also found a bunch of beads and brought them along with us to the prison.

After the girls had rolled their fabric all up, they began adding beads to their bracelets of hope. I told these El Salvadorian girls that I saw a lot of American girls wearing these in the States.

They intently worked on their bracelets and even Font sizecame up with a few cool variations. I loved seeing their individuality expressed in their bracelets and they even made bracelets of hope for their friends and some family. They worked nicely together and were very kind and respectful to us. Even the toughest and hardest of people still deserve a fresh start.

When we finished, we asked if we could take their pictures. We were forbidden to take pictures of the girls’ faces but this was not a problem, we simply took pictures of their hands.

If you look at this picture below, you will see an old, white hand with a thin, silver wedding band on one finger.

It’s the hand without a watch and um, that hand belongs to me ;).

The reason I placed my hands there is one of the girls was embarrassed about her hands. I’m not sure what had happened to them but she had dark blue markings or burnings on her knuckles. It would have scared me in the real world!

I didn’t want her excluded from the picture and so desperately wanted a picture with her, I offered her a solution. I put my hands over hers so no one would see them. All of our hands are over a piece of paper where I wrote:

Esperanza = Hope

It was one of many bittersweet moments I experienced in the prison. Check out the lemon in the picture. Apparently the girls like to eat lemons!

One by one, the girls placed the bracelets of esperanza on each other.

They made them for all the members of our team.

I have many new pieces of jewelry at home that I rarely wear but since returning home from El Salvador, with a few minor exceptions, I haven’t taken my bracelet of esperanza off my wrist.

A meager bracelet made only of a small swatch of fabric and a few cheap plastic beads is among my most treasured possessions.

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El Salvador, Day Three

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We awoke this morning to the sounds of barking dogs and cooing pigeons. A brisk breeze blowed throughout our house and slammed many doors which caused us all to jump. It was our second day on the mission field and we were ready for an active day!


Our intention was to do a medical clinic at the girl’s prison but the Lord had different plans for this day. We all wore colorful scrubs and although Cindy begged Beth Anne to wear the especially attractive orange scrub pants, she flatly refused and we still had fun. A boy’s orphanage and a girl’s prison were in close proximity to each other. Gaggles of boys ran and played and I saw one with a thin strip of demin serving as a belt along with many boys cavorting shoeless around in the dirt. As we entered the prison, we soon learned that the girls had other activities for the day and we would be unable to serve them. Although we were disappointed, the director graciously showed us around the prison. Teenage girls warmly greeted us and despite our very limited Spanish, we were able to show them kindness.

I can’t imagine a group of foreigners getting a tour of a girl’s detention center in the States. The sign-in process was as easy as writing our names and signatures on an old piece of paper. We observed the dorms where both the short-term and girls serving longer sentences were lodged. 

In general, the prison was clean. Some girls were making crafts in one room, others were busy sewing. 

Although the highlight for many of us was going to the market and shopping for souvenirs later in the afternoon, I think for Reba, her prayers were answered when she saw Lissethe. In July, Reba and Lissethe met for the first time. They connected when Lissethe learned that Reba had a tattoo. 

Tattoos are a big gang symbol and Lissethe was “all tatted” up as we say in the States. Reba just has a little blue hummingbird on her back in memory of her father. However, that served a very holy purpose. These two connected in an explicable and God ordained way and the Lord would use that tattoo as a bridge to bring Lissethe to Jesus. Reba was instrumental in leading Lissethe to a saving grace in Jesus Christ. As they said their goodbyes, Reba told her that she woudl return and Lissethe clasped Reba’s hand and said, “Promise?”

Upon arriving back home in North Carolina, Reba sent Lissethe a letter. She even had it translated to offer this girl encouragement but it never arrived. The person who was supposed to give it to her, misplaced this precious message.

Imagine Lissethe’s surprise when she looked up from her sewing machine this morning and through the bars saw her beloved Reba! When we were allowed into the sewing room, they embraced and the rest of us met the other girls. It was a sweet fellowship for all especially Reba, alleluia! Lord willing, we will return to ISNA in Soyobongo on Thursday to further interact with the girls. Beth Anne and I feel the Holy Spirit’s prompting to share our message, we shall see.  

So much more to share, many blessings. Glory to God in the highest!

Habla Espanol?

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If you saw my on the road today, you saw me practicing Spanish. If you saw me at the chiropractor, you saw me whispering Spanish in the waiting room. If you were in my house, you heard me trying to recall all my limited Spanish vocabulary or reading a Chick-Fil-A book First 500 Words Spanish. I’ve got espanol on el cerebro! (that’s Spanish on the brain!)


Ola!
Como usta usted?
Donde esta la mesa (table)? La silla (chair)? Su cabesa (your head)? (that last one is a little joke!) Also, I don’t know how to put the upside down grammar in my blog, forgive me!


With my trip to El Salvador six weeks away, I really want to be able to say a few things in Spanish. I have a French major so there are some similarities in these romance languages. It’s funny though because I was practicing and noticed that I put a French lilt on Spanish words. I sound like an American person who speaks French trying to sound like a latina and that, mi amigos, is quite a stretch. I certainly hope the folks in El Salvador appreciate my efforts and that I don’t completely make a fool of myself. 

If I could do things over again, I’d be a linguistics major. Languages and words fascinate me. If only my brain were smarter! I used to be able to dream in French and fondly recall the time while I lived in France for a year in college. 

I lived in Caen, Normandy, France and for Spring Break, I went to Italy and inadvertently ended up traveling by myself for two weeks (long story but one that still blows my mind). I was a junior in college, walking around Florence, Italy all alone trying to find the hostel where I was going to stay. All I had was a German map. My brain was all twirled around as I translated the German words into the Italian street signs, then translated those words into French and synthesized it all into my anglophone head. It was an empowering moment for me!

Now I find myself with another mentally challenging opportunity. My friend, Beth Anne and I will be speaking at the Evangelical University in the country’s capital in and my heart’s desire is to address our audience in Spanish, however brief. As I understand it, we will be speaking to maybe 300 upper class El Salvadorian college students about purity. I will not be able to do an entire presentation in Spanish but I would love to honor the students in this small way. My ultimate intention, however, is to honor muy Salvador, (Spanish for My Savior and Rescuer) in any language and in every way.

Pray for me as I expand my brain! Muchas gracias!