Seventh-day Adventist members and pastors in eastern El Salvador distributed thousands of books to 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 benefit two major correctional facilities, Ciudad Barrios in the San Miguel Department, and San Francisco Gotera in the Morazán Department. A total of 5,500 inmates are incarcerated in the two 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,” Edwin López, San Miguel 3 district pastor and organizer of the initiative, said. It is the first time churches in the region have participated in such a project, he added.
López shared that in early 2021, some church members who have relatives in the two correctional facilities approached him asking for Christian literature. Apparently, they said, officials at the 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,” López explained. “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 Book,” celebrated each year in May. The project was carried out after only a month of prayer and preparations, regional leaders said.
López said 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 them surpass donation goals, he said. López also reported 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 said.
Among the books distributed were several classics by Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, including editions in Spanish of Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages, and The Great Controversy, leaders reported. It also included books by other Adventist authors on topics such as prophecy, end-time events, and the seventh-day Sabbath.
Leaders shared that after getting the funds and purchasing the books, every church involved had a dedication service for the books on June 5. Members asked God for a special blessing on each book and the person receiving it. They also prayed “that God would touch many hearts in those facilities, so that even in prison, they may find true freedom in Jesus,” they said.
On June 9, a group including representatives of several church departments joined the pastor, elders, women’s ministries leaders, Master Guides, and leaders of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to take the books to the correctional facilities.
At the Ciudad Barrios facility, prison warden director Juan José Ramírez Montano and his deputy, Yime Daniel Acosta Alfaro, welcomed the books. “Every book will be given for a good use,” Ramírez Montano said. He assured the visiting committee that they would use some of the books for study workshops for inmates and that the rest of the volumes would be included in the prison library’s permanent 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 would be included in a Christian education program for inmates that is already offered, he said.
Across eastern El Salvador, sharing literature is a way of life, Alexis Romero, president of the East El Salvador Conference of the Adventist Church, said. Romero explained 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 said.
Against that background, Romero emphasized that giving hope to inmates through literature is part of the church’s mission. It is a project, he stressed, that allows them 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 said. “This is only possible if we unite to work together.”
Feedback from Participants
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 said. She explained that when López shared the plan with her, she could not help answering like the prophet Isaiah in the Bible, when he said to God, “Here I am, send me.” Alvarenga said, “I was moved by seeing workers and inmates receive those valuable resources, and now I will keep praying so God can impress many,” she said.
Amadeo Flores, first elder and Pathfinder leader at Las Delicias Adventist church, said 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 said. “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 said they thanked God for allowing them to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. They also asked for prayers. “Please keep praying so God can touch many people in these prisons,” they said.
López emphasized 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,” he said.