Set Free

 (Note: the original post can be found at this link along with other reflections on our trip to El Salvador, April 2024.)

On the first Sunday of our trip at the "Meet the Community" time, Francisco was there. When he spoke, it was with impassioned words of great encouragement and a humble recognition of what God was doing in their community and what he felt that God would do through our team. He owned his words and they made a significant impression, greater even than the tattoo/brand on his neck. 

On the Tuesday, our team had the privilege of building his home with him.  I say this loosely, as he was already drenched in sweat by the time we arrived.  Because of the anticipated heat of the day, the community members had already dug the holes for the house and had begun assembling the frames.  It was both humbling and inspirational. Francisco was in the midst of everything that was happening.  

Our connection time with him was delayed to the afternoon and we are thankful for God's timing in this. His wife, Claudia and their granddaughter were at the hospital in San Salvador in the morning getting treatments for the little girl. We were thankful to have them return in the afternoon to sit under the makeshift roof that they have lived under for the last few weeks. 

In our conversation we asked Francisco about the reason for his zeal regarding his relationship with Jesus. He shared these key points: 

- his mom would take him to church when he was a boy. 

- At 15 or 16, like many young men his age, he decided he wanted to live a different way.

- that different way landed him in prison at 24 years old, with a 50 year sentence. 

- it was there in an overcrowded prison cell of over 20 men, that he began to think about his life, his choices and this faith that he had learned as a child.  There was a group of men in that cell, who would pray and sing songs of praise to God. One night he talked to God about changing his life and following Jesus. (having come to El Salvador following Easter weekend, this story penetrated deeply. At our Good Friday service we learned how, even in the darkness of the crucifixion, new life was discovered: the thief on the cross beside Jesus, the guard at the foot of the cross of Jesus, Nicodemus who stepped out of religious protocol to give Jesus the burial of a King.  In the darkness, God was rescuing people. The words of this song have infused my focus since I first heard it last year. My reflections on that trip are here.)

- In time to come he met Claudia (I know, in prison...weird...). She was visiting her brother. They began a friendship. And then on a granted leave from prison, they made a commitment to one another, and Claudia became pregnant, and Francisco went back to jail. 

- his new faith in Jesus, changed the way he thought, and acted, and he determined to make better choices even if his circumstances never changed. He had been set free through faith in Jesus Christ. He prayed everyday that his jail sentence could be reduced - it's a ridiculous prayer in a country that has a history of violence. He prayed anyway. He worked hard anyway. He believed that God had better days ahead. 

- 5 years ago, at the age of 48, Francisco had his sentenced reduced. He was now physically set free! He had spent 24 years in prison. It was a miracle. He had been set free at a time when the authorities were cracking down hard on gang members. It made no sense except that God had set him free to share his testimony with others. 

- Claudia, well she waited for him.
She waited 19 years with their daughter! She is an amazing woman and another miracle in Francisco's life. 

- Francisco, has regular employment, with a construction company, another miracle. However, because of his tattoos still gets stopped by the Police, four times in these five years. However, each time they check his records and then set him free once again! He knows that Jesus has a greater purpose for His life! And he lives it! We asked him why his energy and enthusiasm are like he was set free last week, not five years ago. His response is that he feels God has a message for him to share, and he's been shown grace and mercy. He does not want to miss any opportunity!

Watch an excerpt from our conversation with Francisco

- At the closing ceremony, on the Friday, it was a great (spelled: emotionally overwhelming) privilege to present Francisco and Claudia with a Bible. With humble and a gratitude that came from deep within, he clung to this Gift, and said "This gift is more precious to me that even the house that we built together, for this is the eternal Word that will guide my life."

Our promise to him, was that his story would be shared...would you share his story?

Also, would you consider who you might pray for to be set free. 

Don't give up. 

Keep talking to Jesus about them. Keep talking to Jesus about your circumstances of life, then honour him with your thoughts and actions, even if your circumstances never change, so that you're ready when they do. That's what Francisco would want you to know. 

If you'd like to support our efforts in El Salvador:
If you'd like to find out about participating on a team, then please contact me. I'd love to have a conversation with you!