My Hispanic Friend and the Holy Spirit

Posted on August 17, 2019


While in jail a few weeks ago I ran into a couple of friends, one new and one old. Let me hasten to add that I was in jail to teach the Bible with a group of Christian men and women who go into the Tuscaloosa County Jail every Tuesday night. So, I go into the jail, and come out the same night!

I have witnessed a lot of events in the jail since I joined this ministry in 2000. Near riots for one, with lots of screaming, deputies charging through the corridors to get to the scenes, and, at the very other extreme end of the human condition, weeping and quiet at the work of the Holy Spirit in lives.

The jail, I’m thinking, is a microcosm of life on the outside. I know some of you may be shocked to compare all the sinners in the jail to those of us reading the newspaper today, but, alas, that is the human condition. Or as the Apostle Paul, a great phrasemaker and the maker of early Christian theology, put it: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

I long ago learned not to ask my “parishioners” what they did to earn a place in the Jail. While I am curious, being a professional social scientist and kind of nosy by nature, as to what befell them to end up as my inmate congregation, I discovered that knowing one was passing bad checks and another was a murderer made a difference in how I perceived of them. I always tell them—and mean it—that I’m not interested in how they got there: I am interested in where they are going.

Since I grew up in South America and speak Spanish, I always try to carry a Spanish language Bible to give any Hispanics I run into, and maybe abstract my preaching in English with an occasional summary in Spanish of what I am saying in English when I find one or more Hispanics among the listeners.

Most of my Hispanics have been in the U. S. for several years. I suspect most of them are illegals. And most only speak or understand enough English to get by at work. I always admonish them to get into some English-language training because language is the key to any culture, but they tend to live and work together and few avail themselves of some great English as a second language courses, such as the program run by First Baptist Church which I’m familiar with.

Like all of us who go to the Jail on Tuesday nights, I’ve had my share of serious and humorous events over the years. One day a jailer called me up and asked if I could come down to the Jail and listen as three recently arrested Hispanics made telephone calls.

I went down and met the three and told them, all in Spanish of course, to go ahead an make their calls while I sat and listened, presumably to ensure the jailers that they weren’t planning their escapes.

The first one got on the phone and started babbling in a dialect totally unknown to me.

“Whoa,” I told him. “What are speaking? Quiche?” I guessed, a dialect spoken by about a million Guatemalans.

“Si señor,” he answered, very apologetically.

“Carambas, hombre, habla en español, ¡no entiendo nada de Quiche!” Speak in Spanish, I don’t understand a word of Quiche. He resumed in Spanish and we got along just fine.

The jailer asked if anything was wrong. I told him no. It would have taken me too long to explain. “We worked it out, fine. They’re ok, just trying to get word to a friend that they were in jail for drinking and driving,” something like that, not playing the great escape.

A few weeks ago, I found another Hispanic, this time a Mexican from the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, in cell block A-5 where I was preaching and teaching that night. We chatted a bit before starting and the rest of the guys usually get a kick out of hearing us talking in Spanish. They know the Hispanics are lonely and they like to see them find a friend they can communicate with in their own language. Some men in jail may be mean and beyond redemption, but most aren’t. Showing compassion is not looked upon as a strength in jail or prisons, but there it is.

At the end of our session I ask all to form a circle and then I ask for a “prayer warrior” to offer a closing prayer. There are usually two or three who really know their Scripture and how to pray.!”

No one volunteered.

“Ok,” I said, as I usually do in moment of silence such as this. “I’ll volunteer someone just like in the service.” I looked around for someone I knew who was engaged and might offer a prayer, and they all looked at each other and then nodded their heads at my new Hispanic friend.

What, I’m thinking? So, I have learned to let the Holy Spirit take charge when I’m at a loss for words or actions, and I nodded to, let’s call him Jose for now, to go ahead.

Jose ripped off a Spirit-filled prayer that left me astounded. Everyone’s head was bowed and eyes closed and they were obviously all listening, but it was all in Spanish!

At the end, all eyes opened, and one guy asks, “What did he say?”

I gave them a limp thirty second summary of about a two-minute Spirit-filled prayer that blessed me and blessed all his brothers.

Later, sitting with a couple of the guys waiting for the guard to come and let me out, Jose came up to me, again rather shyly, and asked me to pray for me. I did and let the Spirit do it for me. He thanked and went off to a corner while I sat down and resumed my conversation with a couple of the guys.

I looked over at Jose and tears trickled down his face. He was a bit embarrassed, but I knew the Holy Spirit had blessed him. I just delivered the message, but it came to him in his native language and I thank the Lord for that blessing in my own life.

I left jail that night, my heart and spirit lifted.

If you would like to be a part of the jail ministry, just zip me a note at my email address below and I’ll make sure you get instructions on how to do it. We need ladies and gents. We’re not looking for perfect Christians who can do everything beautifully, but folks with a desire to love on and help others

Published as “Jail ministry needs folks who want to help others,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday June 30, 2019.