Movements behind bars in Brazil (3)

Dignity is my central argument and I contend that dignity is the driving force behind Pentecostal practice inside of the prison and jails I studied.

Andrew Johnson

I’m following the story of the spread of Pentecostalism in the jails and favelas of Rio de Janeiro as told by Andrew Johnson.

We’ve seen how Pentecostalism adapts to the local environment and produces local leaders. But what’ the appeal of Pentecostalism in the first place?

As a sociologist Johnson argues it’s about the transformation of identity,

“Pentecostalism resonates so deeply with inmates like Carlos because it offers a belief system and a set of practices that enable an inmate to embody a new, publicly recognizable identity and a platform for prisoners to live a moral and dignified life both in prison and after they are released.”

Johnson witnessed firsthand how,

“Through their actions the Pentecostal pastors and volunteers literally embodied their belief that regardless of whether the inmates in Rio’s prisons were innocent or guilty of the crimes of which they were convicted, they were human beings worthy of redemption and deserving certain fundamental rights.

Faith in Christ enabled these desperate men in appalling conditions “to reject annihilation and affirm a terrible right to live.”

No government or social program can meet a prisoner’s deepest need. Only in Christ can they become a new creation—forgiven and set free to live a new life in him in the fellowship of God’s people behind bars.

Movements behind bars in Brazil (1)
Movements behind bars in Brazil (2)
Movements behind bars in Brazil (4)

Movements behind bars in El Salvador

If there is a hell on earth it would be an El Salvardorian prison. Two reports of what God is doing through multiplying movements among the gang controlled prisons of El Salvador.

Sirens blare and helicopters roar as the sun rises over the hills of San Salvador. It’s 10.30am on February 2nd, and nine police officers have just been ambushed. They got a call an hour ago about a stash house where members of the Barrio 18 gang were hiding guns. When they showed up, the gangsters blitzed them with bullets. One officer is dead. Five are in the hospital. Two corpses, identifiable as gang members by the tattoos that cover their bodies, lie sprawled on the ground.

Less than three miles away, in a neighbourhood controlled by the same gang, another group of tattooed men prepare for action in a dark hallway. Loud music, clanging metal and frenzied chatter bounce off the walls. Dressing carefully, the men watch the clock. At 2pm, they nod to each other, gather their supplies and open the heavy metal door.

Light streams in and the smell of fresh bread wafts out. The men break into pairs, hoisting cloth-covered plastic crates onto their shoulders, and head off in different directions. “Sweet bread! Garlic bread! Bread with ham! Pizza!” they shout. When the crates are empty and their pockets full of coins, the men return to the constricted quarters in the back of the Eben-Ezer church where they run the small bakery.

Over the past year, the church has become a refuge for recently released prisoners who are trying to leave the Barrio 18 gang and pledge themselves to God.

Read the whole thing

Notice the type of Christianity that is spreading in the darkest places. This movement is characterized by obedience to the living Word, dependence on the Holy Spirit and faithfulness to the Mission of multiplying disciples and churches. Exactly what we would expect.

182-NoPlaceLeft Behind Bars

Don Waybright describes how a Texas megachurch is fueling disciple making movements in prisons and around the world.

A previous interview with Don Waybright, missions pastor at Sugar Creek Baptist Church.

Don recommends Steve Smith’s book Spirit Walk:


125-Pioneering Movements in Prisons — Phil Alessi