​Beyond the Bars: The Light Inside Bellavista Prison

June 30 2016

Last week’s story of transformation inside Bellavista prison continues as Bridge to Reading (B2R), One Mission Society’s literacy ministry, steps in to hold literacy training sessions and to share the Gospel with the prisoners.

Bellavista men’s prison in Medellin, Colombia, today remains a place of intense contrasts. It’s simultaneously an oppressive labyrinth of concrete and iron, as well as the home of people who exhibit warmth and dignity. The security staff is no-nonsense, and those automatic weapons hanging off their shoulders and belts… well, they aren’t just for show.

But every stereotype you have about prisoners has to be reevaluated when you discover that the men are genuinely friendly and respectful. Conversation is intelligent and engaging, just as you would find among a non-prison population. Need the room rearranged? Having trouble with the computer? They jump right in to help.

Similarly, the staff who is working in the office of educational programs has a genuine love for the men that they affectionately refer to as “los muchachos,” which is best translated as “the fellas” or “the guys” rather than the literal “boys.”

Through the Bridge to Reading ministry, we got a chance to show the compassion of Jesus to a wide range of people, whether they were dealing with the physical bars or the bars or barriers they had on their insides. We connected with them as people, not as prisoners, and interacted with them just as Jesus did. He always treated those with the least status – the most abandoned, the least valued – as people of worth, so we tried to do the same. We listened carefully to their comments and acknowledged their contributions to the class; we cheered when they took a chance and demonstrated a new skill in front of the group. They learned that we were willing to laugh along with them, and at ourselves too.

Every day, we provided special snacks and soda for the men during our breaks, a real treat for them. During these breaks, our team had many opportunities to build relationships with them. Our literacy supervisor, Pastor Diego Gil, is a gifted evangelist and member of the outreach ministry, Prison Fellowship. God provided an opportunity for him to have meaningful conversations about salvation with a number of the men. Participants who didn’t know the Lord got to know those who did.

This rapport laid the foundation for the highlight of the workshop: a time of prayer for individuals after the training concluded. The men were allowed to leave if they wanted to, but almost everyone stayed. About half eagerly got in one of our prayer lines right away, while the other half cautiously observed for a while. When they saw that it was “safe,” they would quietly get in line. We prayed for their families, who are struggling without them, for healing, for provision, for an end to loneliness, for courage, for transformation. One man in Nathan’s line said, “I’m far from God.” Nathan talked to him about the Gospel, and the man received salvation in Jesus on the spot.

We believe that these were just the first fruits of what the Lord did through the B2R workshop in Bellavista prison. The ground has been prepared and the seeds have been planted for more fruit to come.

By Wendy McDermott, Bridge to Reading editor and coordinator for Latin America

We invite you to join the B2R team by praying with us:

  • That the man who received salvation will grow in his relationship with God.
  • That the men who are believers will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses through everything that they do and are.
  • That the Lord would reveal himself to many more in the prison and that the men would experience inner freedom in the Lord.
  • That volunteers from Prison Fellowship, local churches, and other ministries will continue to have an open door at every prison, and that God will reveal himself through undeniable evidence of his power and love through them.
  • That Bridge to Reading would blossom and spread throughout the prison and be used to open up many doors for people to hear about God’s love and forgiveness for them.
  • That the prison staff would have opportunities to encounter God through the volunteers and the believers inside the prison.
  • That our trainers would have opportunities to teach the Colombian church how to use Bridge to Reading as a tool of evangelism in their communities.
  • That the believers would move in signs and wonders and live in such a way that the name of Jesus will be made known in the prison, the government, and in the nation of Colombia.

Visit the Bridge to Reading website to learn more at http://bridge2reading.org/. To give to the ministry, click here.

We hope you have enjoyed this month of reading about, praying for, and learning more of the Bridge to Reading literacy ministry.

Tags: prison ministry, bridge to reading, literacy, colombia, men, prisoners, teaching, reading,

​Literacy Bridges Distance

June 15 2016

Imagine having to walk more than 18 miles just to get to school. At an average rate of 15 minutes per mile, it would take four and a half hours to get there and another four and a half hours to return.

For Patrick Pankolet, from the Central African Republic (CAR), this was his reality. Because of the 30-kilometer distance (over 18 miles) between his village and the nearest school, Patrick was never able to attend, thus he was never able to attain literacy. At 30 years old, this is a problem that many people in his generation have, he said.

But later, another church, one closer to Patrick’s village, presented One Mission Society’s Bridge to Reading (B2R) program. After Patrick heard about the program, he and some of his friends decided to register.

From the beginning, Patrick said that the B2R sessions taught him new literacy skills.

“From the first session, I began to put in writing the words that were coming out in my mouth,” he said.

Gradually, Patrick was able to identify the alphabet and their meanings in a word. Now, he can read what is written in the classrooms, as well as read his new Bible daily. He thanks God for the Bridge to Reading ministry and those who initiated it.

One Mission Society’s international Bridge to Reading literacy ministry provides tutoring in reading, writing, and basic mathematics to teens and adults in several countries in Africa and South America. Through this program, B2R staff also have an opportunity to present the Gospel to people.

One of the powerful aspects of B2R is that it is being used in areas where the need for literacy is strong yet inaccessible, whether by distance or circumstance.

The Bridge to Reading ministry also impacted 62-year-old Veronique Sango, also from CAR. Veronique never had the opportunity to attend school. As the eldest child in her family, she stayed home to help her mother take care of her younger siblings. When she grew up, Veronique had eight children of her own.

“I’ve never been in a school,” she said. “I didn’t write, read, or count, and I didn’t know what to do to get out of this situation.”

When B2R came to Veronique’s church, she started the program and never missed a single course. In less than three months, she learned how to read, write, and count.

Because of these new skills, Veronique said she can now take her own notes, write letters to her parents in the village, count her money and goods, and most importantly read her Bible every day.

“I bless the Lord for this ministry, which has been very beneficial for me,” Veronique said.

God is doing great things in places like CAR, but that isn’t the only place he is working. Next week, we will travel to a prison in Colombia to see how God is transforming lives through his Word and Bridge to Reading.

Please pray for the Central African Republic, especially for peace after the recent war and presidential election.

Also, please pray for Bridge to Reading:

  • Please pray for volunteers from many countries who train tutors and teach adults and adolescents to read in Africa and Colombia.
  • Pray for the Lord’s provision of time and energy for tutors as they stretch themselves to be literacy volunteers in their local churches.
  • Pray for the evidence of fruit of the Spirit in each tutor and trainer’s life to be joyfully patient, kind, and longsuffering.
  • Pray for physical safety for people in war-ravaged areas who need God’s protection to travel from their home to the local church for tutoring.

Visit the Bridge to Reading website to learn more at http://bridge2reading.org/. To give to the ministry, click here.

Tags: literacy, reading, africa ministry, bridge to reading, central african republic, tutors,

​Can You Read This?

June 2 2016

If you’ve reached this blog post, chances are you can read the words on this page.

Imagine if you couldn’t.

That means you couldn’t navigate web pages, read books, understand certain street signs, and most likely you also wouldn’t be able to write.

Most of the world’s population can function in society with at least a basic literacy level. But statistics from UNESCO show that 17 percent of adults still cannot. In a world that relies heavily on the written word, illiteracy poses a serious problem for people who still need these skills.

That’s where ministries like Bridge to Reading step in.

Bridge to Reading (B2R) is One Mission Society’s international literacy project. Its main objective is to provide adults and teens with literacy services, while also giving them the opportunity hear the Gospel. By partnering with local churches in countries with a high illiteracy population, B2R works to tutor students in reading, writing, and basic mathematics.

B2R is different from traditional ways of teaching reading in a couple of significant ways. The first is in terms of the way students learn to read, which centers on the “Bridge to Reading Story.” The student tells a story, and the tutor writes it down word for word. The students learn to read their own stories rather than stories that someone else has chosen for them. Then, the students choose several words from their own story that they want to learn as sight words. Those words become the basis for the letters and syllables (phonics) that the students study.

The second difference is in terms of the relationship between the student and the teacher. B2R is a highly student-centered approach based on proven principles of effective adult education. B2R revolves around a teacher-student relationship that is a collaboration between peers. The students identify their own literacy goals, and the tutor helps them achieve those goals.

Both of these emphases stand in contrast to what many of B2R’s tutors and students have experienced in past academic environments.

Currently, B2R estimates that around 3,000 adults and teens are learning to read through its program in churches in Colombia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. In 2015, field supervisors have also reported that 378 people made decisions to follow Jesus Christ through the B2R literacy program.

But statistics can only give us a fraction of the picture of God’s impact through B2R. Through the power of words, we can read and connect with the personal stories from students and tutors who have been involved in this ministry and how God has worked in their lives. Check out the OMS blog next week to have the privilege of reading testimonies from B2R staff and students.

We invite you to join the B2R team by praying with us for Colombia:

  • That volunteers from Prison Fellowship, local churches, and other ministries will continue to have an open door at every prison, and that God will reveal himself through undeniable evidence of his power and love through them.
  • That the prisoners and prison staff would have opportunities to encounter God through the volunteers and the believers inside the prison.
  • That the believers in the prison will grow in their relationship with God, experience inner freedom in the Lord, and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses through everything that they say and do.
  • That our trainers would have opportunities to teach the Colombian church how to use Bridge to Reading as a tool of evangelism in their communities.

Visit the Bridge to Reading website to learn more at http://bridge2reading.org/. To give to the ministry, click here.

By Jess Mitchell, One Mission Society Summer Intern, Communications

Tags: literacy, reading, colombia, prisons, tutoring,

​Literacy Opens Doors to the Gospel in the DRC

October 22 2014

Here are two simple testimonies of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that have benefited greatly by the One Mission Society Bridge to Reading (B2R) literacy project.

Neema (left) said: “When I didn’t know how to read and to write, my husband considered me an animal. He wouldn’t give me money to buy anything in the market, and he said that a wife who doesn’t know how to read and write is like a dog. He said he must look for another woman because I’m not beautiful.

“When the literacy ministry came to our church, I was the first to register. My husband led me to the tutoring center to be a student, and he said to the pastor, ‘This woman must learn to read and write. If not, I’ll chase her out and look for another.’

“After two and a half years, I’m now able to read and write because (the goal of) literacy is powerful to make us do something. Today, I’m the president of the women’s ministry in our church. I know how to read the Bible and preach to other Christians―even my husband. He’s now received Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Now, he says that I’m a wise woman because I am literate. God bless literacy missions.”

Furahisha (right) was married to a man who enjoyed studying, but she was not able to read or write. When the literacy project was implanted in her area, she said that she’d have to ask advice from the pastor about it.

The pastor asked her husband to agree that his wife could learn at the literacy center. Three years and nine months later, Furahisha was able to read the Bible and write correctly. She says, “When we left Lusheke for Kalangwe, the pastor of the church chose me to teach others in the literacy center. Now, I’m a tutor in the Kalangwe center. Glory to the Lord who sent us the literacy ministry.”

--Testimonies courtesy of OMS volunteer and B2R founder, Connie Schwein

5k Walk/Run for Literacy

If you'd like to support the Bridge to Literacy ministry, you can donate here to project #407800.

Also, on Saturday, Nov. 1, OMS will host a 5k walk/run for literacy to raise money and awareness for our literacy ministry. You can register for the event here, which is being held at the OMS World HQ in Greenwood, Indiana. The event starts at 9:30 a.m.

To view a short video about the walk/run and literacy, click here.

Tags: literacy, africa, drc, literacy ministry,