International (MNN) — We talked yesterday about prison ministry in the United States during COVID-19. Our ministry partner, Crossroads Prison Ministries, also works around the world to connect prisoners with Christian mentors through mail-in Bible studies. They have been getting reports back from their international Extension Centers about ways the pandemic affects their prison ministry in various countries.
In February – just as rumblings of the coronavirus began to surge – Crossroads’ Vice President of Programming, Brenda McGowan, traveled to meet with the ministry’s staff members and Extension Center Leaders in West Africa.
Already, McGowan could see caution growing on a global scale. “I just recall boarding and deboarding in every airport and having to put antibacterial solution on my hands, having my temperature taken, and that was back in early February.”
The Crossroads team briefly returned home to the States, then went right back out in early March to meet in Colombia for a learning exchange.
McGowan says, “I remember we had originally planned to go into a prison in Bogota to visit some of our graduates…. Initially, we were told that there was a mumps outbreak in the prison we were going to visit and so that trip was canceled. We were given additional options to visit another prison and then were told the next day all the prisons were now shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.”
After a few more stops, the U.S. team returned home on March 13th in the nick of time. Then everything was shut-down and “things changed significantly from that point on.”
Since then, Crossroads has heard several stories – both heartbreaking and hopeful – from their international prison ministry leaders.
McGowan says the most difficult report came from their Extension Center Director, Angel Aguirre Villamar, in Ecuador. His message read:
Dear brothers, I regret to inform you of the unfortunate death of one of our mentors, Brother Hugo Salomón. He was a doctor and attending to patients in a Guayaquil hospital he was infected and after several days of fighting, he died. Now God has him in his glory.
“He went on to say that the prisons were closed to outside visitors, including family members, and that basically is what happened across the world,” McGowan says. “The people of Ecuador suffered a significant amount of Coronavirus deaths, particularly in the high poverty areas. There are bodies that cannot be buried. The funeral homes and churches are overwhelmed. So much so that families are leaving bodies in the street. It is absolutely tragic.”
Some of Crossroads’ Extension Center Leaders run other businesses that also support the ministry. Unfortunately, many of them had to shut down their businesses to abide by social distancing rules.
Crossroads is also hearing concerning reports from countries where it is difficult to social distance. “Like in Latin America, families are experiencing incredible amounts of infections and deaths.”
Reminders of Hope
But the reports are also laced with joy. “Not that they have incredible news,” McGowan clarifies, “but they are praying for the ministry and that the ministry continues to go forward.”
Crossroads’ mail-in Bible studies to prisoners rely on the postal service. In countries with a dependable mail delivery system, prison ministry hasn’t stopped.
McGowan says, “There may be a little slowdown…but programming continues to be delivered in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, [and] in the urban areas of South Africa.”
Also, the ministry received an encouraging update from their Extension Center Director in Guatemala.
“He said the president of Guatemala is a man of great, great faith. While [the president] has enacted strict guidelines,…in the areas where there are folks who are really impoverished, he has provided millions and millions of meals in those communities. So he’s not only protecting them from a public health perspective, but he’s also responding to their basic needs.”
Overall, McGowan says, “Ministry continues either through the mail or delivering to the door. For those who are not able to go into the prisons and deliver face-to-face, they continue to try to meet the needs of their mentors…and respond as the Body of Christ should in a pandemic such as COVID-19.”
How You Can Help
Please pray with Crossroads for prison ministry around the world during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pray for countries with low infection rates to remain stable and healthy. Ask the Lord to come alongside and comfort communities that are hard-hit by the virus. And pray for Crossroads’ international ministry partners to be bolstered as they reach prisoners with Jesus’s hope and love.
Finally, McGowan asks, “Continue to give. Crossroads Prison Ministries and other ministries rely on the donations of foundations and individuals. I know that we’ve all been hit financially, but continue to consider the men and women in prisons and the opportunity that we continue to have today to deliver the Word of God.”
Header photo courtesy of Martin Sanchez via Unsplash.