“Isn’t it dangerous?”

This was the reaction of my aunt when I told her about my new ministry in Brazil, “Isn’t it  dangerous?” But, to be honest, I had never really thought about it. I took to the work and these youngsters straight away and didn’t really think about it being dangerous. After a number of years of working with kids on the streets of Belém, this was a different setting but often the same troubled backgrounds.

Let me explain the context of our work: each day, I and a colleague visit up to three of the 11 prisons just outside Belém. Each male prison caters for an age group ranging from 13 to 21; there are fewer girls so they are all together.

Some prisons have recently been refurbished and are quite nice, though not for long. Others are filthy, smelly and claustrophobic, where there are up to five in a  cell. The crimes are the same in each prison being mainly assault (robbery, usually with a weapon) on the street or in a home, but many have murdered or raped. I have known a boy of 13 who was in for raping and murdering his young niece. And even within the world of crime, there are the ‘unacceptable crimes’ such as rape, murdering your mother and being homosexual, which means these individuals are separated for their own protection. Our job is to evangelise these youngsters!


The challenges

Strangely enough, the main challenge is not the danger of being attacked, or even hostility, though obviously some kids love their life of crime and don’t want to talk about God. For the most part we are respected and liked by these youngsters and they love talking to us.

One great challenge is religiosity. Most of our youngsters have had contact with some type of church. They know Christian songs and will even tell inmates in other cells to be quiet when we are speaking with them. But most have mixed up beliefs, including  salvation by works, while at the same time seeing God as a Father Christmas type figure who is there to give them what they want – some even ask God to bless their assaults.

However, many do realise they are sinful but don’t realise the offensiveness of their sin before a holy God.

Another challenge is other ‘Christian’ groups who also have contact with these youngsters and often teach what is not biblical.

More positively, though still a challenge, is the follow-up of those who have been converted when they leave the prison as many are from other cities far from Belém. Unfortunately, some do revert to their  old way of life and are even killed because of it.

Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)

The blessings

For me personally, it is an immense privilege to speak to up to 40 young offenders a week and tell them of a person who transforms the lives of all who come to him in repentance and faith. I often get to see the same kids and develop a relationship of trust where some, particularly the girls, will really open up about their lives and feelings. But the greatest joy of all is knowing that some have believed and are walking with the Lord.

At the time of writing, our team is currently discipling six new believers inside and outside of prison.

What a blessing for me recently to be in a room with our discipleship  group of four boys teaching them and hearing them pray for myself and each other. They have their struggles on the inside as well as when they are released; the temptations and trials of the world are  not just outside the prison walls and they confess to us their failures. But the Lord is working in them and they want to change.

So, is this work dangerous? At times it is. But not everyone has access to these broken lives and how precious to have their confidence, to teach and to pray with these brothers and sisters in Christ whose futures will hopefully be used for His glory.

Paula Harris