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.

Spending time in prison

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P1010271When I thought about the things I wanted to do in my life, going to an El Salvadoran girls’ prison never made it to the list. Tahiti, yes. A really cool place in France where there are houses carved in the mountains, absolutely. Montana, very high on my list.

P1010263But seriously, an El Salvadoran girls’ prison, let’s face it, nowhere near the top thousand. But I have experienced two of the most emotional and tender days of my life and I would say every Christian mother needs to visit an El Salvadoran prison.

It’s almost an insult to even try to explain all that I have seen, heard and felt because all words are lacking.

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bookshelf at the prison

We entered the locked doors and teenage girls some as young as 13 began en- thusiastically greeting us. Beth Anne and I along with our wonderful translator Lulu went upstairs into the stark meeting room and the girls practically jumped for joy! It was a pretty cool to see girls so happy to see us.

About a week ago, I did something else rather unexpected. I put some blue highlights in my hair! Think the colors of a parakeet and you have a fairly good idea what it looks like. I did it on a whim and just decided to go for it.

Members of my own family, (AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) 😉 have not approved of this decision but I seriously have been wanting to do it for a while. I dyed just about 10% of my entire head…now I know why I did it. The girls in the El Salvadoran prison have LOVED it! We have definitely bonded over my stylish coif.

They have found my blue (azule) hair VERY beautiful and maybe even glamorous! So take that everyone else who hasn’t found it especially “bonita,” y’all I’ve been workin’ it at the El Salvadoran girls’ prison!

We all placed our hands around the basketball before leaving.

We all placed our hands around the basketball before leaving.

We shared our message about hope and purity. In the middle of the presentation, the mood in the room became so precious, so sweet. Beth Anne, Lulu the translator and I were talking about the infinite love of God. His grace. His mercy. His forgiveness.

If you could have seen these girls, some serving sentences for extortion and other crimes, wiping tears from their eyes, you would have been as emotional as we were. We told them that despite all the things that they have done, and quite honestly we have done, Jesus loves us and died for our sins. There was a hush in the prison walls.

Here we were, behind bars, in a prison, with young criminals and we had the humble privilege of telling these girls that THIS place could become a place of hope and freedom because of Jesus. Lulu had to stop translating for a moment, she was so overcome with God’s presence. Tears were streaming down our faces and there was love overflowing. Even the prison guards were touched by the message as we also told these ladies that Jesus loved them.

We couldn’t take pictures of the girls’ faces but in a moment of creativity, we found a way around it. We took pictures of feet! Our feet among their feet!

And we took pictures of our hands. Our hands embracing their hands. The white hands holding the little brown hands. The women who were free to leave this prison among the girls who were going to stay.

P1010277We took pictures of our shadows. Our shadows among theirs. We took pictures with our backs to the camera with all of our arms around each other. It will be among my most treasured photos. As soon as I come home I will post the photos. You’ve got to see them.

What am I doing here? I do not deserve to be in a place like this. It is too beautiful, too moving and yet the Lord has brought me to this place for such a time as this. I am deeply, profoundly, eternally humbled.

Every Christian mother needs to spend time in an El Salvadoran prison. Put it on your list.