“The church is ours. It belongs to those of us on the inside.”
I’m following the story of Pentecostalism’s impact in Brazil’s prisons as told by Andrew Johnson. Only a movement could thrive in such a harsh environment.
Throughout Latin America, Pentecostalism flourishes because it adapts itself to the local culture and produces local leaders.
Pentecostalism thrives behind bars because it has adapted to this harsh environment by taking on the structure and function of the prison gangs.
According to Johnson,
“Both gang and prison church claim part of the prison as their own, each implements and enforces a set of rules for their members, and each provides a strong identity to participants and oﬀers them protection and community.”
The music in the churches has the same beat as the music in the streets, and pastors preach in the same language used in conversations at the bus stop, in corner cafés, and in the local markets. Leaders can rise from the congregations without having to go through seminaries or other educational institutions that are available to the middle and upper classes but largely closed to others.
The incarcerated leader preaches, sings, prays, fasts, suﬀers, and praises alongside the other church members. Inmates not only set the vision for the future of the prison churches, they also negotiate with gang and prison oﬃcials and make themselves available to meet the spiritual and sometimes physical and emotional needs of inmates twenty-four hours a day.