There I stood, at one end of the Mexican prison yard, holding 17-year-old Alejandro in my arms. He had insisted on telling me the story of his short life, confessing murder, and had obtained forgiveness at the foot of the Cross. The Gringo vs Prisoner soccer game was just ending, and Alejandro again made me promise to take his story to the outside. Then, just as we were about to walk away, he asked when I would be coming back to see him. By then my heart was really getting a severe wringing. What was the likelihood that I would ever return to Tepic? Where would he be a year later when he turned 18. Did he say he’d be getting out or transferring to a high security men’s prison? I don’t know. But my group was leaving, and Josue and I had to start walking away.
Just then, Alejandro took off a small black beaded ring and handing it to me he said, “I made this myself.” I took it and we began to walk away. As a group we headed for the walkway that lead out of the prison yard, and out of the prison. Just as we had entered, we exited walking three abreast in a group, with no one bothering to count. Could we have left anyone of our 30 or so people? Surely no one would allow themselves to be left behind. Too stunned to be very aware of what was going on, I became aware that Josué was nudging me to look to my left, to the other side of a 10 foot tall cyclone fence. On the other side, several inmates were standing around watching us leave, but one was walking in parallel on the other side, just opposite me as I went. It was Alejandro.
Alejandro came over and placed his hand on mine, through the cyclone fence.
On the way back to the church my mind could only think of one thing: adoption. How could Alejandro be rescued from the grip of the cartel once he got out. Surely he didn’t stand much of a chance if he stayed in that environment. That evening, at supper at the church, I spoke with the senior pastor. I’m sure he must have thought I was crazy when I asked him if he would consider helping me to adopt a prisoner. Ice water would have been gentle in response, but I don’t blame him. It was an insane idea, surely. But I took the opportunity to share with him how soft the hearts we encountered had been. Many had prayed for salvation, and were eager to meet with someone from the church. And again I heard that this was a hardened prison, and that they would look into it, but did not have much hope.
For several weeks I told the story of Alejandro to anyone who would listen, and it always ended in the same way: with me slobbering uncontrollably, both in joy and sadness at the tragic helplessness I felt. I called a dear friend in Montana who heads a prison ministry. He once was in a similar situation as Alejandro, and was delivered in even more dramatic fashion. Ever since he has ministered to prisons in the anointed power of the Holy Spirit. His name is Monty Christensen, and his book “70 Times 7” is read in most prisons un the North West and is available in Spanish, so we made arrangements to send some to the prison. Monty listened to a lot of silence as I attempted to gather myself during that call.
Before leaving I left a few dollars with Josué, and he let me know recently that he took some Bibles to the prison. But sadly, the young pastor who went with us that day has moved to Tijuana to help plant a church, and there was no one to do a Bible study. My other hope was an expat friend, Cody, who lives in Tepic. Unfortunately, he also was prevented from starting a Bible study. The authorities appointed their attorney to tell him that these prisoners are extremely dangerous and manipulative, and that they would not allow him to enter the prison.
Sometimes I think how great it would be to provide these kids with a half way house to transition them to the outside world. To teach them a trade, and incubate for a time these newborn children of God until new habits could take root. But mostly I relish the memory of this supernatural moment when the power of the Cross was made real to three unlikely guys in a prison yard in Tepic, Mexico.