​Shining Light into Bellavista Prison

June 21 2016

In what was once Colombia’s most violent city, God is at work in the hearts of the prisoners and staff at Bellavista men’s prison. Ministries like Bridge to Reading (B2R), One Mission Society’s literacy ministry, step into the famous penitentiary in Medellin, Colombia, to bring not just education but the Good News of salvation.

Here are a few powerful stories overflowing from Bellavista:

Bridge to Reading was invited in 2013 by the government of Colombia to help expand efforts to teach prisoners how to read. B2R founder Connie Schwein, Nathan Davis, and I trained a group of prison administration staff, as well as several volunteers from Prison Fellowship Colombia (PFC) in Medellin to serve as literacy tutors.

Our team had been inside the huge, overcrowded Bellavista prison for a couple of afternoons in 2013 to give our tutors the opportunity to practice their new skills with actual students who had little or no ability to read. We had seen the excitement on their faces as they reported how these practice sessions went.

A year later, in July 2014, Nathan and I returned to offer a tutor training workshop inside Bellavista men’s prison, and then, they held a training of trainers.

When we planned to return to the prison in 2014, we were already aware that it would be a challenging environment in which to teach the entire workshop. There are reminders every day that the prison is not there to accommodate us. We must adjust to whatever changes and restrictions are placed on us: when we can enter, when we must leave, where we will meet, when our students can come to class, when there will be an unannounced roll-call, and so forth. The acoustics in the classrooms are atrocious, and classes can come to a complete halt thanks to a band playing during a graduation party on the patio next door.

The solution in every case is to adapt quickly and never take your eyes off the goal: to be an expression of the love of Jesus. We remember that many missionaries and national believers lost their lives trying to pry the door open so that we could walk through it.

We recall the story of how Bellavista has been changed from the inside out by the power of the Gospel carried inside by people like OMSer Jeannine Brabon, the Colombia-born daughter of OMS missionaries, and Lácides Hernández, president of Prison Fellowship of Colombia.

As a young woman, Jeannine was one of the first to minister in the extremely violent prison. At that time, Bellavista was experiencing several murders every week. As the Gospel took hold, despite fierce opposition, the murder rate dropped. The gates of hell were not able to withstand the assault by the church of Jesus Christ. Lácides has expanded the outreach pioneered at Bellavista to prisons across Colombia.

Reflecting on the past efforts of missionaries and the impact they had through God’s power, we remind ourselves that the chance to shine the light in this dark place is worth whatever inconvenience we may encounter.

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

Please join us in praying 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.

Bellavista’s story of transformation continues in next week’s final blog post.

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

Tags: bridege to reading, literacy ministry, tutoring, colombia prisons,

Literacy Brings Life

June 7 2016

Have you ever considered being able to read and write as a gift instead of just a skill?

Through the gift of literacy, we have an opportunity to read personal testimonies from people around the world who were touched by God through the Gospel and the Bridge to Reading literacy program.

B2R’s ministry uses trained tutors to teach literacy skills to adults and teens. They also give students the opportunity to read the Bible, hear the Gospel, and understand it. God works through B2R to transform people, and they, in turn, show God’s love to their community.

John Ndagano is one of those people. He was an evangelist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) but couldn’t read his Bible. There was a military camp next to John’s village that didn’t have a chaplain. When John went to the camp to minister, he was chased away, suspected of being a spy after he failed to read Scripture.

“The first time I came to the camp, the commander asked me to read Matthew 10:17, but I could not,” John said. “I used to walk around with my Bible, but I didn’t know how to read.”

When John heard about the B2R literacy program in another neighborhood, he attended and eventually could read and write Swahili. After three years of literacy training, John returned to that same military camp, where the same commander he had met years before was still stationed.

“I told him that I have now come to pay the full price, to be beaten, before I preach to him. He told me that he wanted first to hear the Good News and after that he will beat me,” John said.

John preached to the officer. Four months later, the commander got baptized. Now, every Monday John is invited to the military camp to preach to the troops.

Yvonne Nsimire Rutikanga, also from the DRC, is another person who has gained literary skills and spiritual maturity from God by working through B2R.

B2R’s literacy program started in Yvonne’s church, and she decided she wanted to be a tutor. Yvonne returned to school so she could help contribute more to the growth of her church and attain her goal. After her successful literacy training, Yvonne began tutoring others in her church.

One year ago, Yvonne said that she received the gift of a goat from the husband of a woman she tutored. The husband was happy to see that his wife could read and write because of Yvonne’s efforts to teach her.

“Literacy brought courage, happiness, and fortune in my life,” Yvonne said.

The personal testimonies will continue next week in B2R’s next spotlight post. Check back next week to read more stories of people’s lives being changed by the power of God.

Please pray that Bridge to Reading can continue to glorify God through its literacy ministry and for the Lord to show those involved how he wants to sustain this ministry in each country and each church.

Please also join us in praying with the B2R team 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, OMS Summer Communications Intern

Tags: bridge to reading, literacy ministry, africa, colombia, tutoring, reading, learning to read,

​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,