Ana Chosco had no desire to move from the beautiful city of Mendoza, Argentina, to the province of San Luis. But her husband, Carlos, had finally found the job for which they had been praying, so there was no choice in the matter. Her feeling of resistance grew when he took her to the piece of land he was planning to purchase. There, right in front of Ana´s future home loomed a gigantic, concrete wall topped with barbed wire and guard towers—the women´s prison for the province of San Luis.
Fear of the future, her young daughters´ futures, their safety, and their comfort tumbled around inside her head as she began to internally fight the Lord about this move.
But as the doors continued to open up, Ana realized that God did not share her dread about their new home.
So Ana finally surrendered as she and Carlos built their beautiful little home in the shadow of the penitentiary.
Somewhere in the transition time, Ana began to visit the prison with other Christian women through Bethel Prison Ministry. It was in 2001, during those first years of ministry, that she met Sandra, a 28-year-old woman who was an addict and infected with HIV. Sandra had been arrested for transporting drugs for her boyfriend. Later she testified that she began using drugs at age 15. Her reasons were not unhappiness or peer pressure; in fact she claimed that her childhood was ideal. She simply wanted to accompany him in his addiction, and she became a worse addict than he.
Once arrested, Sandra was extremely hateful and violent. In attempts to have the guards supply her drug habit, she would cut herself and sprinkle the blood on them unless they smuggled drugs into the prison for her. Her tactics were also used on her enemies to the extent that the prison population lived in fear of Sandra.
One day, Sandra went into the Christian counseling office and sat down with the pastor. The next day, she attended the worship service and was the first to respond to the altar call. Ana prayed with Sandra as this troubled woman asked Christ to be her Savior.
The change was evident. Three days after her conversion, the main prison guard came to the counseling office to ask, “What did you guys do to Sandra? She is a totally different person!”
Sandra began to grow in her love for the Lord.
She invited new inmates to the services every week, and Bethel ministries flourished in part due to Sandra´s testimony. After a year, Sandra´s natural leadership abilities propelled her to lead a small Bible study group.
One day, a very elegant woman named Teresa, who had worked in the mayor´s office, arrived at the prison. She had been convicted of embezzling government funds and was terrified knowing that the women in jail held a deep bitterness for the wealthy. She was sure her two-year sentence was going to be two years of beatings and terror.
As Teresa walked through the prison halls for the first time, there was a receiving line of women waiting for her. Her heart hammered in her chest as she reached the first prisoner But Teresa was greeted with an embrace from each one of the women in the hall, and when she reached the end of the line, they said to her, “Welcome to our prison. We want you to know that God loves you and you are safe here.”
Teresa cried as she realized that they had chosen to accept her, despite their class difference. She later found out that the welcoming team was Sandra´s small group, and that they had started to greet all of the new prisoners in this fashion.
Sandra was released after serving 12 years in prison. Her HIV had evolved and she became very ill. Ana kept in contact with her, despite the fact that Sandra was unable to receive visitors. Sandra confided that she would “never let go of the Lord even until her last breath.” Sandra died two years ago. Her welcoming committee at the penitentiary still receives all of the new prisoners in the same manner.
Ana continues to minister three times a week in that prison. She has been awarded gifts and recognition by the province for her constant discipleship and investment in the prisoners. But when I asked her what kept her going, she answered with tears in her eyes, “I know that Sandra is in heaven, and it´s girls like Sandra that only find true freedom inside these prison walls. I need to be a part of that because God placed me outside these walls for a reason.”
Robin Radi is a missionary for the Church of the Nazarene in Pilar, Argentina, on the South America Region.