Reaching the Heights - The Miracle of Olmos

The Miracle of Olmos

In my last blog I made reference to our 12 day visit to Argentine in 1995. During our stay we visited Olmos Prison, near Buenos Aires. Olmos is a maximum- security prison, the largest in Argentina. It has 6 floors, each with 12 cell-blocks. A cell-block is designed to accommodate 24 prisoners. Therefore its design capacity is 1, 728 prisoners.

Years before our visit, the prison had been infamous and in total chaos. Crime, riots, murders, sexual abuse, extortion and male prostitution were “normal”. It was out of control and the authorities had, by default, allowed the mafia and drug dealers who were serving time to run the prison. However, by the time that we visited, a remarkable move of God had reversed this evil trend to such an extent that almost half of the prisoners were now Christian, and half of the cell-blocks were regarded as Christian cell-blocks. In fact there was a prison church called “Christ-the -Only-Hope” now based in Olmos Prison.

The transformation had begun is the mid-1980’s, when a man called Juan Zuccarelli was called to preach in Olmos. But the authorities would not sanction a chaplain in the prison service, so Zuccarelli got a job as a prison officer. There were only about 4 or 5 prisoners who were from an Evangelical Christian background in the prison at the time. Remember, Argentina is a predominantly Roman Catholic country.

As a prison officer, Zuccarelli was not allowed to preach to the prisoners, but a man from his home church, Luis Tessi, did come and preach. They got permission to use the prison radio station – which could not be turned off by the listeners! The church these two men belonged to prayed for the work in Olmos. They managed to run an evangelistic campaign inside the prison which 300 prisoners attended. There was a response to Tessi’s preaching: about 100 came forward for prayer. They were physically affected by the prayers such that many of them could not remain standing. It seems God had taken control as the two men prayed for the prisoners.

The vision expanded and the “Christ-the-Only-Hope” church was formed. Soon it had 240 members. By 1990 there were 400 members and by 1995, the Christian Community numbered more than 1,000. By the end of 1995, about the time of our visit, 45% of the prison population had “put their faith in Christ” and were members of the prison church. Remember, this was happening in the highest security prison in the province of Buenos Aires and the largest prison in Argentina.

Our party of about 20 people from the UK were ushered into the cathedral-like main hall. It had a very high ceiling and large rectangular windows high in the walls, but with no window frames. We were seated on bench forms inside a small roped-off area to one side of the hall. Then the prisoners were ushered in, streams of them. It was an all-male prison and many of the inmates really looked the part. Some were scared, others were aggressive looking to the point of being dangerous. And there were few, if any, guards in attendance?

Soon about 1,000 dangerous looking men surrounded us. It was a strange feeling. I felt scared, yet safe. Then they began to sing and worship, all in Spanish of course, but their faces were transformed. There was joy and such power in the singing. There was no doubt about its sincerity. It showed on their faces. These rough and very hard looking men, many of them seasoned criminals, worshipping God so whole-heartedly it brought tears to my eyes. It was very emotional, an experience I will never forget. Transformation had taken place in the lives of these people, such that even the guards and prison authorities trusted them. We didn’t need to be protected from them. They were not going to harm us. It was a remarkable experience.

It is interesting to note that, amongst the Christian population of Olmos at the time of our visit, of 604 prisoners released only 3 re-offended, less than ½%. Normally, in Argentina, some 50% of released prisoners re-offend and end up back in prison.

One other fact: The church in the prison is different from other churches, not simply because its in a prison, but because Christians leave each year having completed their sentence. About 300 leave this prison annually – some released, some moved to other prisons, others paroled. This means that if the church did not add new members, it would disappear in 5 years. Therefore, to maintain its present size it must win 10% of the prison population to faith in Jesus, every year.

Finally, the prisoners cannot practice their Christian faith in private. There simply is no privacy. They are constantly at close quarters. The church leaders, who are themselves inmates, have no textbook for how to manage this unusual situation. They have to rely on their good relationship with the prisoners and the respect prisoners have for them to keep order. A founding principle which is often quoted is: “To see what you have never seen before, you have to do what you’ve never done before” – Ed Silvoso

Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials. Smith Wigglesworth
In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. Eric Hoffer
Take what bothers you most as an invitation by God to work at solving that problem. Lance Wallnau
Without grace, life is filled with struggle, it is not a life we enjoy; but with his grace, we can enter the rest (peace) of the Lord and experience joy unspeakable and full of glory. Joyce Meyer
You never lose; you win or you learn. Nelson Mandela
Your behaviour won't change until your thoughts change. As long as you think, "I can't do this", you are never going to be able to do it! Joyce Meyer
I am not moved by what I see. I am not moved by what I feel. I am only moved by what I believe. Smith Wigglesworth
Leadership is not about titles, positions or flow charts. It's about one life influencing another. John Maxwell
If God is enthroned on my praise, who is enthroned on my complaining? If I enter his gates with praise, who's gates am I entering when I complain? Bill Johnson
When we believe in God's sovereignty, and not our own understanding, we'll see how our problems will never outweigh what God has promised us (Prov. 3:5 NIV) T D Jakes
Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Jim Rhon
If I give up my right to understand, He will give me the peace that passes understanding. Bill Johnson
Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. Winston Churchill
You can't change your life, but if you change your mind, God will transform your life. Kris Vallotton
In prayer we bring our spiritual enemies into the presence of God. Jarrod Cooper
Once in a while we manage to stumble on the truth, but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened. Winston Churchill
The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter. Winston Churchill
When the Lord says, "Do something", the favour needed to do it is already attached to the command. David Forster
Being powerful is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, then you aren't. Margaret Thatcher
The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but God will make us good because he loves us. C S Lewis
Fear is misplaced faith. Kris Vallotton
God has already seen every mistake, every failure and every weakness, and the good news is he's already forgiven you. He is not holding it against you. Joel Osteen
God is not nearly so interested in changing your circumstances as he is in changing you. Joyce Meyer
Pray, and let God worry Martin Luther
Those who never change their mind never change anything. Winston Churchill
What you do (for a living) is not who you are.  Celia Apeagyei-Collins 
 People who write you off when you fail know nothing about history and even less about life. No person ever fully succeeds until they fully fail. Lance Wallnau 
There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.  C S Lewis
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Jim Elliot
You never know how much you really believe anything until it's truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you. C S Lewis
If you know you are loved, faith is easy. It's easy to trust someone you know loves you. David Forster
Every moment that you spend upset, despaired, anguished, angry, afraid or hurt, because of the behaviour of someone else in your life, is a moment in which you have given up control of your life. Unknown
Remember, you do not have to live today by how you feel, nor by what you think about yourself, nor by what someone else thinks about you. The person who created you thinks you are wonderful, and he waits with open arms for you to agree with him. David Forster
Shift gears from doing something in God's presence to simply being in God's presence. Lance Wallnau
Your future doesn't depend on what is in front of you, it depends on who is in you. Lance Wallnau
Did you know that you are utterly and completely loved by God, without doing a single thing, good or bad. David Forster
no one knows how bad they are until they have tried very hard to be good.. C S Lewis
If we are living daily by faith, we will be constantly over our head; Beyond our ability to do this our that. We should all be in that place in some area of our life. If we are not, we will be like an old wineskin; too rigid and inflexible to receive the Lord's new wine. Rick Joyner
For a believer intimacy with God is not an option, it's a necessity. Guidance and direction depend on this intimacy and sensitivity to Holy Spirit. There is no substitute for the latter. Graham Cooke
Jesus reveals the Father to us. He gives us peace and rest. He is not a hard taskmaster. David Forster
The God who creates everything, pursues you. Don't let anyone tell you you're are worth less than that. Louie Giglio
In the kingdom, physical obedience brings spiritual release. Bill Johnson
Don't be surprised if you pray for nearness to God and he sends a trial. Nearness always requires dependence. Desiringgod.org
Our corporate worship doesn't meet a need in God, it meets a need in us. Sam Storms
How you feel is not who you are. Feelings are great servants and terrible masters. Kris Vallotton
There is a lot that is good in your life. Don't take it for granted. Don't get so focused on the struggle that you mis the gift of today. Joel Osteen
The enemy commits identity theft when you believe you must earn what God freely gives. Alison Brown
If you agree with your creator and receive what he freely gives, you will have serenity in your identity and confidence in your countenance. David Forster
If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got. David Forster
A satisfying and exciting life organises around an identity focused on Jesus, not the church..  Graham Cooke
Satan cannot impose his will on anyone, he has to have our agreement.  Graham Cooke
Every day adjust yourself to where God is taking you, that is, toward the prophetic vision he has given you. Lance Wallnau
Real faith is not faith in an outcome (of a particular situation or circumstance), it's faith in a person. David Forster
Be in no doubt that God will redeem the losses and mistakes of your past life. David Forster
God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because there is simply no such thing. C S Lewis
Wealth, women and status; these are the major temptations that can draw a man away from God. Each is morally neutral; yet given the appropriate significance, each can control us. David Forster
The devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist. Anon
Fear is the enemy of love. The two cannot exist together. We have to choose daily: Fear or Love. David Forster
You are not saved because of the quality of your faith. You are saved because of the object of your faith; The Redeemer! Tim Keller
Revival goes from the bottom up; Reformation goes from the top down. Therefore reformation is institutional and revival is personal. Lance Wallnau
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein
Inner peace is key to experiencing God's presence. Rest is a weapon against the enemy Graham Cooke
Fairy tales don't tell children that dragons exist. Children know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed. G K Chesterton
When you are at peace with God, you will be at peace with yourself and with other people. David Forster
You can believe in Christianity in the same way you believe that the sun has risen; Firstly, because you see it and secondly because by it you see everything else. C S Lewis
A little while ago I became old enough to start believing in fairy tales again. This means there are far better things ahead of me then what I have left behind. C S Lewis
Your unfinished destiny is your most potent argument with death. Graham Cooke
I am not focused on what I am not, I am focused on what he is for me. David Forster
Reaching the Heights