Greetings, my friends, in the name of the Lord.
Before coming to work for Overseas Council (OC), I volunteered in prison ministry for over a dozen years. I taught a weekly Bible study and sometimes preached on Sunday mornings in several Texas prisons. I still have a huge heart for prison ministry and am always encouraged to read a story about effective ministry to prisoners using the Word of God. One such story came to me this week from Mark Wheeler.
Mark is the Vice-President of Advancement for OC. He is also my boss! Mark is traveling in South America this week with Josué Fernández, OC’s Regional Director For Latin America. They are visiting several of our partner schools and will host the upcoming OC Institute for Excellence in Santiago, Chile. In his visits, Mark met a man with a very moving story I would like to share with you, in Mark’s words.
Nestled on a hillside overlooking the vibrant and beautiful city of Medellin Columbia, sits a school that has faithfully answered the Lords call to train up the next generation of Christian leaders for the Columbian church and society for 67 years. Today with roughly 400 students in both residential and extension programs, Seminario Biblico de Colombia (SBC), continues to look for innovative ways to engage students by providing the very best in transformational education. Under the capable leadership of Dr. Elizabeth Sendek, SBC is breathing capacity-filling life into their students and the communities in which they minister.
Alex is a student that stands out in a crowd; and not only as a result of his engaging smile. He uses a vision impaired walking stick to aid him as he navigates the hilly campus due to his presence during one of the worst guerrilla attacks on civilians ever in Colombian history. The bus on which he and many others were traveling was attacked by guerillas a number of years ago, and he was the only survivor. He was hacked with a machete and shot multiple times, left on the roadside and assumed dead by his attackers. One of the bullets entered through his right eye and exited his lower jaw, rendering Alex blind. After a number of surgeries he regained enough sight in one eye so that with the aid of a seeing device he could read again. Feeling called to serve others Alex enrolled at SBC. Completing the entire five-year course of study and graduating with a degree in theology, Alex now pastors a church and teaches in the bible institute at Bella Vista prison in Medellin that is run by SBC. Medellin prison was initially constructed to hold 3000 inmates. Today the prison is home to just over 7000 inmates and one can only imagine the challenges faced by inmates and those in charge of security. In the early 80’s a number students and faculty at SBC felt called to reach out to those behind bars in their city.
The bible study and outreach program engendered so much success that the prison asked SBC to formally start a bible institute within the prison. What began as a simple outreach program quickly grew into a full-fledged certificate program. As inmates graduated from the program and then were transferred to other prisons within the Colombian system they began to establish bible institutes at other prisons. Bible institutes are now operating in 22 out of 24 prisons throughout the prison system across the country. The program has been so successful that in the Medellin prison, once the most violent in Latin America, murder has decreased from an average of 1 per day before the bible institute began to less than 10 in the past 15 years.
This, my friends, is a real example of transformational education…equipping the one who changes the lives of the many through the power of the One. Overseas Council is not just about education, but about this kind of transformational education. What a privilege it is to be a part of this ministry.
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