Seventh-day Adventist church members and pastors in eastern El Salvador distributed thousands of books in two major prisons in the region on June 9, 2021. The initiative saw more than a dozen local Adventist churches join forces to fund, collect, and distribute the books to two major correctional facilities: Ciudad Barrios, in the San Miguel region; and San Francisco Gotera, in the Morazán region. There are a total of 5,500 inmates in both facilities, according to official statistics.
“Churches in eastern El Salvador answered Jesus’ appeal to reach out to the forgotten and outcast people in society to share a message of hope,” says Edwin López, San Miguel 3 district pastor and organizer of the initiative. This is the first time churches in the region have participated in such a project, he said.
Pastor López shared that in early 2021, some church members who have relatives in those correctional facilities approached him asking for Christian literature. Apparently, they said, officers at those prisons were opening doors for people to support inmates with inspirational books and magazines.
“I decided to motivate the churches to collect funds for those currently in prison,” Pastor López explains. “It was a big challenge but was carried out with a lot of faith.”
The collection of donations for the project coincided with the Month of the Adventist Books, celebrated every May, and was carried out only after a month of prayer and preparations, regional leaders say.
López says members of the 14 participating churches were thrilled to get involved and give personal funds according to their means. Some members even contacted relatives living abroad for their support, which helped surpass donation goals, he explains. López reports that churches ended up purchasing enough books not only for the inmates, but also for the guards and wardens.
“We managed to distribute almost 5,600 books,” he says.
Among the books distributed were several classics by Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, including Spanish editions of “Steps to Christ,” “Desire of Ages,” and “The Great Controversy,” leaders report. It also included other books by Adventist authors on topics such as prophecy, end-time events, and the seventh-day Sabbath.
Leaders share that after getting the funds and purchasing the books, every church involved dedicated the books to God on June 5. Members asked for a special blessing on each book and on the person getting it. They also prayed “that God could touch many hearts in those facilities, so that even in prison, they may find true freedom in Jesus.”
On June 9, a group including representatives of several church departments joined the pastor, elders, women’s ministries leaders, Master Guides, and ADRA leaders to take the books to the correctional facilities.
At the Ciudad Barrios facility, prison warden Juan José Ramírez Montano and his deputy Yime Daniel Acosta Alfaro welcomed the books.
“Every book will be put to a good use,” Ramírez Montano said. He assured the visiting committee that they will use some of the books for study workshops for inmates and that the rest of the volumes will be permanently included in the prison library collection.
At the San Francisco Gotera facility, prison warden Francisco Javier Ortiz said he was impressed by how many new Christian books were donated. Every book will be included in a Christian education program for inmates already offered, he said.
Across eastern El Salvador, sharing literature is a way of life, says Pastor Alexis Romero, president of the Adventist Church in the region. Romero explains that under the theme “Messengers of Hope,” church members share the Spanish edition of Priorities missionary magazine and other Adventist literature with their neighbors, relatives, and friends every month.
“We want to flood the eastern region of the country with inspiring literature,” he says.
Against that background, emphasizes Romero, giving hope to inmates through literature is part of the mission of the church. It is a project, he emphasized, which allows us to share the plan of salvation in prisons.
“Our greatest goal is to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus assigned each one of us,” Romero says. “This is only possible if we unite to work together.”
Several participants shared how much the initiative meant for them and how much they enjoyed distributing the books.
“For me, it’s a great privilege to preach the good news by giving hope to those in prison,” church member Jesús Alvarenga says. She explains that when Pastor López shared the plan with her, she could not but answer like Prophet Isaiah in the Bible when he told God, “Here I am, send me,”
“I was moved by seeing officers and inmates receive those valuable resources, and now I will keep praying so God can impress many,” she says.
Amadeo Flores, first elder and Pathfinders leader at Las Delicias Adventist Church, says he enjoyed helping to collect the funds to purchase the books and then assisting in their distribution. He is also glad to see members involved in the process.
“We have witnessed how many members believe in this ministry and have supported the initiative so we could purchase more volumes,” Flores says. “We believe that thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, many people will be drawn to Jesus.”
At the end of the initiative, church leaders and members say they thanked God for allowing them to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. They also ask for the prayers of others.
“Please keep praying so God can touch many people in these prisons,” they say.
Pastor López emphasizes that this is not the end but just the beginning. “With God’s help, it is our goal to carry the hope in Jesus to other correctional facilities.”