City on Our Kneesby TobyMac
TobyMac Challenges Readers to Take Action
Through true stories of people who have stepped across lines--lines of discrimination, persecution, prejudice, bitterness, and despair--City on Our Knees challenges readers to take their own steps out of their comfort zones in order to be used by God.See more details below
TobyMac Challenges Readers to Take Action
Through true stories of people who have stepped across lines--lines of discrimination, persecution, prejudice, bitterness, and despair--City on Our Knees challenges readers to take their own steps out of their comfort zones in order to be used by God.
- Baker Publishing Group
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- 5.02(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.62(d)
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City On Our Knees
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2010 TobyMac
All right reserved.
Chapter OneInto the Jaws of Hell
Jeannine Brabon is one of the last people you'd expect to find in the jaws of hell. Yet it's a place she spends much of her time.
Brabon is a serious academic, a professor at Seminario Biblico de Colombia (the Biblical Seminary of Colombia). She is a Hebrew scholar, specializing in biblical Hebrew and its interpretation. She translated the massive LaSor's Hebrew Grammar into Spanish.
But Brabon is also a missionary, and this calling flows from her work in the classroom. "I teach people who have had their fathers, brothers, and sons assassinated," she explains. "I rarely have a class in any given year in which a student doesn't lose a family member to a violent death. Life is of little value. It's a deadly and dangerous world. But security is not the absence of danger; it's the presence of Jesus."
One day, a girl named Margarita, one of Brabon's students, asked for help searching for her brother, who had been missing for five days. Their search led them to the morgue in the city of Medellin, home to the infamous drug cartel of the same name. In Medellin twenty-five deaths occur every day, with more than a hundred on a typical weekend.
At the morgue Brabon and Margarita searched through more than one hundred bodies.
Brabon says she will never forget Margarita's cries when she found her brother, who had been brutally tortured to death. As Brabon and her student cried together, a question exploded in the professor's mind: What can I do? What can I do?
Shortly after the experience in the morgue, Brabon was invited to speak at Bellavista Prison, which had earned the nickname "Jaws of Hell." In the mid-1970s, the prison was built to house fifteen hundred inmates. By the end of the 1980s, it swelled with more than sixty-six hundred dangerous criminals-drug lords, terrorists, assassins for hire.
Dead bodies, some of them decapitated, littered the prison floor. Walls were covered with graffiti, written in blood.
Prison riots were commonplace, and Bellavista averaged about forty-five murders a month. Often, the guards were so terrified that they refused to pass through the prison gates to report for work. The prison had become, essentially, a training ground for Medellin's killing fields. Once outside the prison walls, either through parole or escape, a Bellavista ex-con would likely join the ranks of the city's three thousand contract criminals, criminals who specialized in blackmail, kidnapping, and murder. Or one could join any of the more than 120 gangs, all ready to kill for pay. According to one Colombian newspaper, the country was averaging twenty-five thousand murders annually, and Medellin was a major source of the country's woes.
So, not surprisingly, the invitation from Bellavista left an unassuming female missionary/professor feeling inadequate. And terrified. But Brabon clung to a Scripture verse: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1 KJV).
Standing in front of her criminal audience, Professor Brabon preached about God's steadfast love. As she concluded, twentythree crying men came forward to dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ.
That was only the beginning.
Brabon soon launched a Bible training school, the Bible Training Institute, within Bellavista's walls. She spends two days a week inside the prison, teaching inmates and witnessing to them about Jesus' life-transforming love. The Institute's rigorous two-year curriculum transforms inmates into spiritual leaders. The program is no joke. When an inmate graduates, the dean of Seminario Biblico de Colombia hands him the diploma.
More than forty inmates study at the Institute at a given time, and the total number of graduates is closing in on one thousand.
Brabon does more than teach in the Jaws of Hell. She meets with law enforcement officers, politicians, and prison officials to advocate for better conditions. (Such as basic sanitation for the prisoners.) She witnesses to prisoners and guards.
Not surprisingly, some in Medellin don't appreciate hit men, drug lords, and terrorists "going soft" and losing their value to the drug cartel. Thus, Brabon lives under the constant threat of death. Her movements are tracked by Medellin's criminal element, forcing her to regularly change her daily routines and travel routes.
Once, an inmate infiltrated one of Brabon's prayer groups and later made a false accusation about Brabon and a colleague-to a powerful guerrilla commander. The commander issued a death decree on both of them.
When he heard about the decree, however, the inmate panicked. Guilt-stricken, he rushed to Brabon and confessed what he had done. Then he informed the guerrilla commander that he had levied false charges, and the death threat was lifted. Brabon was matter-of-fact about the incident. "We are not to fear those who kill the body," she said. "We are to fear the sin that will destroy us eternally. Our greatest concern ought to be that we die to sin daily."
Meanwhile, despite the cloud of danger that is Brabon's constant companion, Bellavista Prison continues to experience what can only be called a revival. And God had begun working there even before Brabon arrived. At one crucial point in the prison's history, its riots threatened to spill over into the city. It appeared that the military would have to be called in. The media gathered, expecting to cover a massacre. However, instead of unleashing the Colombian army, the prison warden honored the request of a small group of Christians. They wanted to hold a prayer meeting-inside the prison walls.
While the riots raged, the small band of believers prayed fervently. Soon, prisoners began turning in their weapons-not to the guards but to a former inmate who was now a volunteer chaplain. This chaplain had earned the prisoners' trust, reporting to his post at eight o'clock every morning for three years and ministering within Bellavista's walls-regardless of how bad prison conditions were on any given day. He showed up when the guards would not.
Brabon described the disaster averted in clear terms: "God is moving in unprecedented ways. The Holy Spirit is giving life where death reigns."
Today, those who have seen it describe Bellavista as "a model prison." A most unlikely beacon of hope in a land darkened by evil. More than 150 faithful inmates crowd into the prison chapel for daily services. Smaller groups meet twice daily on prison patios and pavilions. A daily radio broadcast offers counseling and helps inmates communicate their newfound faith to their families. During weekend visitations, inmates hold evangelistic services for their families and friends. Imprisoned men proclaim the freedom they have found in Jesus Christ.
In a recent thirteen-year period, Bellavista saw zero riots. And the murder rate dropped to less than one a year, a fraction of the forty-five monthly killings the prison once endured.
One telling sign of Bellavista's transformation occurred after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Colombian prisoners committed themselves to praying for the United States-and all those affected by the tragedy. As a show of their ongoing prayer support, a few prisoners carved a pair of praying hands, which were eventually delivered to then-President George W. Bush. The president kept the carving in the Oval Office to remind him of the faithful prayers of a group of former drug lords, terrorists, and hit men.
What has transformed the Jaws of Hell? Perhaps it is fitting to give one of Bellavista's inmates the last word:
"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise," says the convict. "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God."
I'll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I'll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, "You're nobody!" they're calling you "God's living children." -Romans 9:25-26 MSG
Excerpted from City On Our Knees by TobyMac Copyright © 2010 by TobyMac. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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