It was the stench that got to me first. It was 100 degrees outside, humidity was topping 90%, and there were up to a dozen boys and young men crammed into tiny, cage like cells. There was a hole in the floor almost completely covered by a mini hurricane of angry mosquitoes. The heat, the stench, and the noise were overbearing.
A Prison in the Amazon
As armed prison guards led me into the wings, young boys and men spilled out into the courtyard like worker ants. Each one was a convicted killer. Some were multiple offenders. A sense of menace hung in the air. The silence as they glared at me was intimidating. I pulled out my Bible, and in my broken Portuguese, asked if I could share a few words with them about the love of Jesus Christ. I was half expecting to be chased out of there with a mouth full of expletives and threats to my life. Instead, one by one, these violent prisoners, some as young as 7-years-old, came and sat at my feet.
Still not a word had been said among them. At last one of them spoke. ďFala TioĒ (speak uncle) he said. Not another word was uttered during my talk. Nobody interrupted me. There were no sniggering or sarcastic comments. Just complete and total silence as I had their full attention. I had never experienced such a fear of God and awe for his Word than in that prison on the outskirts of the Amazon jungle.
Trust God for Fruit
I visited that place many times and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite my efforts, and many heartfelt conversations and prayers, not once in all my visits did anybody give their lives to Christ. Not a single one made a profession of faith in Jesus. It was dispiriting. It was depressing. Yet again, I had to fall back on the promises of God in his Word. The early church faced battles and opposition. They knew times of fear and despair. This is how Paul encouraged them:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.(Rom. 8:29Ė31)
Just because I didnít see fruit in that prison doesnít mean it wasnít there. It was a comfort to know that God was (and is) working out his wonderful purposes, and we get to play a part in his grand, cosmic plan. I have no idea who exactly are His elect. I have no clue who He is calling and justifying. I just know that He is. I just know that is how I came to be saved.
Know Your Job
Regardless, itís not my job to know. My job is to faithfully preach the gospel and to persevere until my time is up. I know God is working in the child prisons of the Amazon Jungle and the church halls of Edinburgh. I know He is working in the trailer parks of America and the slums of India. I know because Paul tells us that He has called, He has justified, and He has glorified a peopleóall of His very own.
This is good news for us, brothers and sisters in Jesus. Whoever you are and wherever you are, keep preaching the gospel. Open up your Bibles and continue to preach and teach in the face of revival, in the face of indifference, in the face of hostility, in fruitful seasons, and in drought. Persevere in the knowledge that our labour is not in vain because redemption is Godís work from start to finish.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31)