Ten years ago, when Crossroads Guatemala first launched, its ministry was primarily among incarcerated gang members. But after a few years, they were not allowed to work with incarcerated men and women inside the prisons for security reasons. Undeterred, Pastor Byron Aguilar, the director of Crossroads Guatemala, started a church inside prison walls for the prison guards and has helped transform the culture of the prison in a unique and innovative way.
While Crossroads Guatemala’s ministry has focused on the nation’s civil servants for many years, they have always desired to resume ministry with the men and women behind bars. In 2019, they had just started making connections and distributing Crossroads studies at various prisons when the pandemic hit, and facilities closed to visitors. Byron and his team had been planning to meet with prison chaplain and Crossroads graduate, Miguel Castellanos, who was going to help facilitate the Crossroads program at El Boquerón Prison. But the pandemic delayed this partnership.
As the pandemic stretched on, Byron and the Crossroads Guatemala team noticed the financial hardship and food shortages that many prison officials and mentors were experiencing after an outbreak of COVID among the prison guards that hospitalized many over the summer. In order to make room in their church budget to support church members who had lost jobs during the pandemic and provide food to those in need, Byron’s congregation gave up their rental building. In order to care for those in need, the church has been without a physical location for most of this year.
In March, one year after the prisons closed, El Boquerón re-opened and Byron quickly made the two-hour drive, bringing with him a stockpile of materials and training Miguel to facilitate the Crossroads Bible studies. El Boquerón closed only two weeks later, but Miguel has been meeting with a group of thirty men in the prison each Thursday and has agreed to partner with Crossroads to distribute lessons that are dropped off at the prison gate.
Within the first three months of starting the Crossroads program, the impact was obvious. Many students had accepted Christ and desired to be baptized. Byron’s church collected an offering to purchase an inflatable pool. On May 13, 2021, seven Crossroads students were baptized at El Boquerón Prison. When Byron offered to store the pool for future baptisms, Miguel told him that they would keep it at the facility, because five more students had requested to be baptized the next week.
Excited by the success at El Boquerón and new opportunities to reach men and women in prison, Byron said, “Now we are planning another activity since they are now allowing relatives to visit the prison. We are going to help process the necessary applications with the authorities to bring a piñata for the prisoners and their families along with additional Crossroads lessons.”
Crossroads Guatemala has also seen more civil servants enroll in the studies with 10 members of the elite forces of the National Guard joining the program this year. The team also hopes to return to Mariscal Zavala Prison where the program has been on pause after the chaplain who had been serving as their liaison died of COVID.
Byron and his team are also looking to partner with new churches that will provide more mentors. “We can have students, but if we don’t have mentors to write them, we can’t operate the program. So, we must find churches that have a heart and concern for prisoners and that will provide mentors for us that will write letters and grade their lessons,” Byron said.
Despite the hardships and obstacles this year has brought, Crossroads Guatemala has continued expanding. Bryon said, “The pandemic was not able to stop the advancement of the Gospel.”