By Fayth McConnell
“We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.”Oswald J. Smith, pastor, author, and missionary statesman
Many of the boys my husband Bill and I and missionaries Del and Joy Brown minister to at the ITAMA,* a juvenile prison and rehab center, have never heard of Jesus. The boys, ages twelve to eighteen, have been through much. They are scarred emotionally and physically from abuse and neglect over the years often by those closest to them, those who should have loved them.
Many boys at ITAMA have accepted Christ and have been baptized through the prison ministry. We love each of the boys God has placed in our Bible study groups. Because of this love, God breathed a bigger vision in us for the prison ministry. With funds that have been donated by individuals throughout Open Bible and other friends and family, we purchased a property that will be used as a safehouse for boys upon their release from prison to help them reintegrate safely into society. At the safehouse the boys will have the opportunity to receive Christian guidance, education, and job training.
ITAMA Director Jose and the ITAMA psychologist will help us select which boys to house. A fellow Christian, Jose has more than 25 years of experience at ITAMA. Ministry staff Jaime and Mary Fuentes will serve as the safehouse parents. They have an amazing testimony of how the prison Bible study changed their lives forever. (To read their testimony, click here.) We are close to finishing the safehouse but still need some financial assistance to finish it and purchase interior items. The safehouse will help a lot of boys like Herbert, Jose, and Andres, who desire to improve their lives.
We met Herbert through the prison ministry at ITAMA in Nogales, Mexico. Like most of the boys we meet, he was charged with theft and dealing drugs. While in our Bible study, Herbert accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior and eagerly got baptized. Praise Jesus!
In 2020 the border into Mexico was closed due to COVID and all the boys in the Nogales ITAMA prison were transferred to the Hermosillo ITAMA prison as it was better equipped to handle COVID restrictions. When Herbert was sixteen years old, he finished out his prison sentence in Hermosillo and was released, leaving him to find his own way to his mother’s home in Nogales, a 172-mile trip. However, when Herbert finally made it to his mother’s home, she turned him away because her boyfriend was now living with her. With nowhere to go, Herbert had no options other than to sleep on the streets in Mexico during the rainy, cold season. After two months of living on the streets, Herbert began to pray, begging God to help him. He had started using drugs again and didn’t know how long he could live with the constant fear, cold, and hunger.
Not long after Herbert began to pray, Mary Fuentes spotted him washing car windows for money. Desperate for change, he pleaded with her to place him in a rehab center so he could get treatment for drug abuse and have somewhere safe and warm to sleep and food to eat.
Mary notified us and we immediately had him admitted to the rehab center at ITAMA. There Herbert received counseling and job training. He was determined to make a better life for himself, and his teachers were impressed with how well he did. Upon completion of the job training course to become a mechanic, Herbert was required to take a knowledge test. He was so excited when he passed the test that he couldn’t wait to tell us. We praise God! The rehab center found Herbert a mechanic job in Hermosillo and is providing housing for him until he can provide for himself. The rehab will continue to provide counseling for Herbert for as long as he wants it. We thank God for all He has done in and for Herbert.
We pray regularly for God to open doors to minister to those in need. Sometimes that door opens in an unexpected way. Jaime and Mary were ministering in a neighborhood by the safe house when they saw a young man lying on the dirt floor of an abandoned building. They approached him and learned that his name was Tono, and that he was twenty years old. He had just spent four days in the hospital after being beaten and sexually assaulted by a family member. He was still in bad shape and had no bed, blankets, clothes, or food. We bought him an air mattress, blankets, and food that was easy to make since he couldn’t walk and didn’t have a kitchen. Unbelievably, Tono’s assaulter soon found him and stole all the items we had just provided for him, leaving Tono terrified the man would soon return.
In Mexico the victim of a violent crime can receive free medical care if someone pays for their initial admission to a hospital. We immediately paid for Tono to be admitted, and he is now being treated for HIV and tuberculosis. After three weeks of hospitalization, his health is steadily improving. We have had the opportunity to show Tono God’s love and to pray for and witness to him. He is open to hearing about God. Pray with us that he accepts Christ as his Lord and Savior soon. We thank God for bringing us to Tono. Mary and Jaime visit him regularly and continue to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with him.
Jose, another boy from ITAMA, is yet another testimony of God’s grace and love. Jose accepted Christ and was baptized while incarcerated for stealing and for selling drugs for the Mexican mafia. Interestingly, he was released at age sixteen, after serving only one year of his ten- to fifteen-year sentence.
Jose was anxious about being released. He knew he couldn’t go back to where he was living before he was arrested or he would likely be killed. About six months into his sentence, Jose had become friends with a fellow inmate. This friend’s father, Alberto, had lived a life very similar to Jose’s before becoming a Christian later in life. During Alberto’s frequent visits to see his son, he was introduced to Jose. Jose shared with Alberto that while he was growing up he had been beaten regularly by both of his parents, especially if he cried. Eventually his parents divorced. His mother worked multiple jobs and was not home often. Jose moved in with his uncle, where he rebelled and started stealing and selling drugs for the mafia. After learning about Jesus at ITAMA, a desire began to burn in Jose to be a better person. He told Alberto that he was hoping to find somewhere safe to live, finish school, and get a job when he was released. Shortly after sharing his story with Alberto, Jose was released from prison and God performed a miracle in the way only God can.
Jose asked us if we would let him stay at the safe house, even though it hadn’t been completed, until he was able to afford a safe place to live. As much as we wanted to say “yes,” it just wasn’t possible. The property hadn’t been secured, and it would have been dangerous for him to stay there. At that time there weren’t bars on the windows or doors, and anyone could enter the property at any given time. We felt terrible that we couldn’t help him with housing. He then considered moving back in with his uncle even though that would be dangerous for both of them. Sadly, his uncle passed away to COVID two weeks before Jose’s release. His uncle was a good man and Jose regrets being so rebellious. Jose continued praying for God to bring about a solution to his housing situation.
Shortly before Jose’s release Alberto visited the prison and told the young man that he would pick him up when he was released and would give him a job at his construction company. Jose was thrilled! He then asked Alberto if he knew of a place he could stay until he started receiving a paycheck. Alberto told him that he has a small room on his construction property where he keeps all his tools. He gave Jose permission to live there until he could afford his own place. Jose was overjoyed how God had answered his prayers. Yet Jose had one more concern. It would be two weeks before he got paid. He didn’t feel right asking Alberto for more help, but he was trying to figure out how he would buy food. We told him we would help him buy groceries until he started receiving a paycheck.
We recently received an update on Jose. He is full of joy and says he is thankful for how God has supplied everything he needs and more. He is enrolled in school, going to church, and still works for Alberto.
Another great testimony that has come out of ITAMA through the prison ministry is that of Andres. Andres was also arrested for dealing drugs and stealing. He accepted Christ in prison and was excited to get baptized. Upon release from ITAMA, Andres was able to find a job at a supermarket. ITAMA Director Jose visits Andres regularly to check in on him. Jose is impressed that Andres has continued to steer clear of drugs and negative influences and is following Christ.
We thank God daily for opening all the doors to build the safehouse and for freely giving His love to those in need. We give God ALL the glory!
Watch a video about the safe house down below:
*ITAMA is the Instituto de Tratamiento y de Aplicación de Medidas para Adolescentes (Institute of Treatment and Application of Measures for Adolescents).
About the Author
Bill and Fayth McConnell are Open Bible missionaries to Northern Mexico. It is their desire to take the Gospel to the poor and underprivileged and to go wherever God opens a door for them. Their ministry involves building churches, ministering at orphanages and prisons, serving at soup kitchens, and working wherever they find need.