Serving Time in God's Kingdom
How Angel Aguirre, one of many native missionaries helped by Christian Aid, met Christ and began to transform the prison system in Ecuador.
Between 1966 and 1987, Angel Aguirre was in and out of jail for stealing and trafficking drugs. During his last incarceration, a group of visitors arrived at Garcia Moreno. A man smiled as he handed Angel a little book, the New Testament. Angel almost laughed at the thought of reading a Bible, but boredom practically forced him to focus his eyes on the tiny words.
|It made no sense that the God of all creation would desire to dwell in a depraved and dirty prisoner ....|
A few weeks later, Angel asked the Christians if he could buy one of the study guides. He was given one for free.
Every week a gospel worker comes to the prison to conduct a Bible study for inmates who have trusted Christ as their Savior and want to receive instruction.
Angel read every word and filled in answers to every question. One night Angel's mind became quiet. He turned the last page in the study guide. There at the top of the page were the words: "The Sinner's Prayer." It was not hard for Angel to realize that he was the sinner, and the prayer was for him. He knelt on the ground as tears wet his hands. It made no sense that the God of all creation would desire to dwell in a depraved and dirty prisoner...but that night, Angel knew He had.
A group of Christians inside the jail started a church of 100 men. They met for prayer and teaching every day. Angel was always present at these meetings-as well as prisoners Felix Valencia (who would later become leader of a Christian Aid-assisted ministry that reaches the tribal children of the Anchayacu River) and Gilbert Tenorio (who would become leader of Christian Aid-assisted Rock of Salvation ministry that plants churches and operates a primary school in southern Ecuador).
Inmates make a public confession of their faith in the baptism ceremony in the prison yard.
Four years passed and Angel completed a correspondence course and received his degree through the mail. In 1987 Angel was released-early. His wife was amazed by the change in Angel's life. She requested to attend church with him, and before long she, too, gave her life to Christ. Angel will never forget the experience of personally baptizing her and two of his children.
The redemptive work
Angel knew that his days at the prison were not over. Only this time he would be the one bringing the gospel to others. Daily he visited the inmates in Quito's four prisons, using the same literature that taught him the gospel. The prisoners' responses to his visits were often positive. He was the only person visiting some of the inmates.
The need for pastoral care inside the prisons became evident. Gradually, Angel recruited a group of men to join his prison ministry. He made sure that a gospel worker visited each jail every day to lead Bible studies with the inmates. Thus began Prison Outreach of Ecuador.
The Ecuadorian government, which recognizes Angel as a chaplain for his extensive work in the prison system, has been agreeable to his work. In some prisons the government has even allowed the building of a small chapel. Christian Aid has helped fund most of these projects.
Thanks to Christian Aid donors, a carpentry workshop at the ministry rehabilitation center trains ex-inmates in a skill, so they can find employment as they restart their lives.
Angel began a rehabilitation program in 1998 for those who finished their sentences. In many cases, ex-inmates are not welcomed by their families. And finding employment is extremely difficult, considering their lack of skills and criminal records. Angel's rehabilitation program offers these men a chance to learn a skill, such as carpentry, masonry, metal work, painting and other trades. Once the men finish the course, most are able to secure jobs.
With the skills they learned through the program, former prisoners constructed a rehabilitation center on a plot of land provided by the municipal government. For a designated period of time, the men live at the center and work during the day. They participate in a Bible study before work, and one after dinner each day.
A missionary shares the gospel with prisoners.
Angel now ministers to the inmates of 12 Ecuadorian prisons–four in Quito and eight in the surrounding provinces. He has started a church inside each one. Ten full-time gospel workers and 20 volunteers assist him with this work.
Angel's biggest obstacle is providing support for his 10 full-time prison workers. Forty percent of Ecuador's population lives below the poverty line, making it next to impossible for native believers to offer this needed help. Contributions from Christian Aid donors are a main source of support.
In the freedom he has found in Christ, Angel continues to serve his time in God's kingdom by entering the lives of those behind bars in Ecuador's prisons.