Nicaragua (MNN) – Following the unrest in Venezuela, a whisper of a question is circulating—could Nicaragua be next? Mid-April marked a year since hundreds of people filled the streets in Nicaragua and demanded reform for their country along with the resignation of their leader, Daniel Ortega. Read our coverage of the protests here and here.
However, this past year led to something starkly different; an almost vengeful backlash from the current administration. Cynthia Williams, the director of international ministries with Crossroads Prison Ministries, recently visited Nicaragua and experienced the unrest first-hand.
“There was a current of underlying tension there among our people, that was palpable,” Williams says.
“Many people have fled the country. I think 80,000 people have fled the country because of the situation because there seems to be no break in it. It’s been made very clear that the government is going to hold on at all costs. There isn’t a lot of hope for change at this time.”
Per Williams, the tension is caused on two levels. For one, the economy in Nicaragua has continued on a downward spiral, impacting daily life for most, if not almost all citizens. People now struggle to obtain jobs and purchase increasingly expensive necessity goods.
“Anyone speaking out against that is facing potential danger,” Williams says.
The second level feeding into this tension is the aftermath of last year’s protests. Williams says government forces and police forces came down hard on the protestors.
“Today, they’re probably between 300 to 500 people that have been killed as a result, 600 protesters are languishing in prisons, and people live in a state of fear,” Williams says.
Impact on Ministry
The Crossroads Prison Ministries team in Nicaragua is also feeling repercussions, scarcity of resources, and fear. Still, they are choosing to trust in God even as fear about the future tangibly hangs in the air.
In Nicaragua, Williams says as each evening draws near, it becomes quiet outside. People fearfully lock themselves in at night. This is the environment Crossroads Nicaragua is sharing the sweet hope of Jesus.
“For Crossroads Nicaragua being a prison ministry, the greatest impact to us has been the closing of prison doors to any Christian work going in. And so, while we had access bi-monthly to go in and do ministry among the prisoners, especially in the city of Estelí, where our offices [are] located, then they change that to once a month, and then they’ve completely, as of January, revoked all permits to go in,” Williams says.
Currently, no ministries are allowed in any of the prisons in Nicaragua. Williams says the move is rooted in the government’s decision to control every aspect of life in the country.
“We’ve had to get a little creative and take a look at how we can still minister to those in prison,” Williams says.
For now, Williams says the lessons are taken to the prison doors and then delivered to the students by prison officials. Once the lessons are completed, they are brought back to the team for the mentors to take, review, and write letters of encouragement to the students.
Sharing Hope Despite Fear
Williams says Crossroads Nicaragua’s hope is for the light of Christ to still penetrate the dark places of the prison, even as prisoners suffer from the repercussions of Nicaragua’s economic and political situation.
“They [the team members] are living in tenuous times, but I was very, very impacted by their courage, by the sense of determination to continue with ministry, to not be bowed under the weight of the environment that they live in, but to still continue to be faithful to the Lord,” Williams says.
“There was still joy. But there was a lot of talk of what the situation means to them and their families.”
Would You Pray?
The team in Nicaragua has suffered from a third element, though; the loss of their co-director, Emerson Wilson, last December. Wilson passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. His wife, Martina Wilson, has remained in the ministry. She continues to “direct the program [and] lead the team of mentors.” These are the people who enter the prisons and will hopefully have the opportunity to lead within those walls in the future.
Pray for God’s safety and protection on the Crossroads Nicaragua team and their families. Ask God to encourage those who remain in Nicaragua, and to fill them with hope. Also, pray for prison doors to once again be opened for ministry and that somehow Crossroads Nicaragua will enter those walls.