Pastor William Quiñones took on a challenging new job. He’s the chaplain at a maximum-security detention centre in Guatemala City. William started with big plans to talk to the prisoners about Jesus. God wanted him to listen first as he explains...
I’ll never forget the afternoon of my first contact with those young gang members in the local prison. There were 90 children kept in little more than cages. They were all giving me challenging and intimidating looks. The walls were covered in graffiti. The environment was tense, dark and oppressive.
For me, that first meeting was an incredible mix of feelings and sensations.
I took the Bible with me, ready to share the gospel with this group of gang members and criminals.
But somehow, their penetrating looks completely changed my previous ideas about evangelism. I remembered the advice of a friend: don’t talk, listen.
'The threatening looks of those first days gradually transformed into friendly looks from people I now knew as human beings.'
Turning the tables
Ignoring the instructions given to me as chaplain, I therefore kept quiet for almost two years. I simply listened to the life stories of the kids, and every week it was I, the pastor, the theologian, who came away feeling blessed and challenged. The threatening looks of those first days gradually transformed into friendly looks from people I now knew as fellow human beings.
At Bible school, I’d learnt Greek and Hebrew; with these young gang members I learnt the language of the streets. I discovered that you don’t wear shoes but ‘kicks’; I don’t have a wife but a ‘girl’; things aren’t good, they are ‘wicked’; I don’t carry money but ‘dough’; and friends are ‘homies’ or ‘brothers’.
By listening instead of talking, I earned the right to speak into their lives and to present Christ’s love and compassion.
As I got to know the young people better, I was also able to help them in practical ways. I advocated to the prison authorities for more humane treatment. Now we are sometimes allowed to organise a special activity for them outside of their cells, such as a football game. I have also been able to arrange visits from their families.
'These children did not identify with a God who seemed remote and indifferent.'
A different kind of God
I wanted to reach out to our community to help prevent young people getting involved in crime. I felt God tell me that the response should be ‘bread, education, Bible.’ In that order.
These children did not identify with a God, who seemed remote and indifferent. I felt we needed to meet their basic needs before we could talk of God’s love: this love had to be brought to life through deeds.
We established two outreach centres and a college in our community, and are currently providing education to more than 800 children and teenagers. There are also 325 children and young people on our programmes for preventing violence and self-destructive behaviour. We engage in constant outreach work in the community.
The education and practical help that our children receive is not a malicious transaction designed to make them believe in God. On the contrary, it is the representation of God’s love.
When we talk about ‘sharing our faith’ it usually talking; being bold and speaking out. But have there been times in your life when your witness to the risen Christ has been, instead, to listen? Take a few moments and ask God to think of times when you may have brought others closer to God by simply listening.
And thank God for the amazing witness of William to all those in prison that he speaks with and listens to.
William is on Tearfund's Inspired Individuals programme. The Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.