“The Gospel Keeps Me Free in Jail”

November 14, 2013 by Open Doors in Latin America/Caribbean

*Representative photo used to protect identity.

Thirty months after tribal rulers ordered his imprisonment under false charges of attempted murder and theft, Jaime Tenorio remains locked in a maximum-security prison full of murderers, thieves, guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug-traffickers eager to force him into joining their criminal schemes.

The rulers of the tribal reservation on Colombia’s western coast also confiscated his family’s land, leaving his wife, Marleny, without a home or livelihood to provide for her three youngest children ranging in age from 22 months to 9 years. Her family is barely surviving on her income as a day laborer farming other people’s land for USD $5 per day. When she finds no work, she and her children go hungry.

Their difficulties began when Jaime, a member of the Nasa tribe, angered indigenous political leaders by objecting to having his children educated in schools that promote traditional witchcraft. Though not yet a Christian, he joined OPIC (Cauca Multicultural Indigenous Organization), an indigenous Christian group that advocates for non-traditional education, in search of an alternative.

OPIC is considered an enemy organization by tribal leaders because it competes for federal funding and challenges the tribe’s traditional witchcraft-based school curriculum. At times, OPIC members have been harassed, threatened, expelled from their land and falsely accused of crimes.

Coming upon such an incident, Jamie came to the aid of a Christian woman while tribal leaders were trying to take her cows, falsely accusing her of having stolen them. In the resulting melee, someone hit Jaime. When he hit back in self-defense, tribal authorities charged him with attempted murder.

Jamie was sentenced to 20 years in prison at San Isidro, in Popayan, a four-hour bus ride from their village.

Under the Colombian constitution, which grants autonomy to indigenous governments, Jaime has no right to appeal the sentence.

Through a Bible study conducted by Prison Fellowship of Colombia, Jaime came to faith in Christ amid the violence of prison life. Today his three older children are students at the Open Doors Children’s Center where they too have become Christians. The eldest, Ferney, 20, shared the gospel with his mother, who also accepted Christ.

Open Doors has provided the family with financial assistance to buy food, telephone calling cards and weaving materials with which Marleny can make bags, hammocks and crafts items to sell. In October, Open Doors funded Marleny’s visit to see her husband for the first time in a year.

Living far from a church family, Marleny’s newfound faith in Christ has not been fed. Amid a daily struggle for survival, maintaining interest in learning more about God has not been easy for her. Those who practice the Nasa indigenous religion offer traditional witchcraft based solutions to her problems.

Though their son Faiber, 9, is excited about moving to Open Doors’ Children’s Center next year, the transition will be difficult for Marleny. The children have become Marleny’s emotional support, and Faiber helps her with chores and tending to his younger sisters. “He is the little man of the house,” she says. This will be a particularly beneficial change for Faiber, who, in a sad irony, attends the village school where he and his sisters are taught the very rituals that Jaime is now serving 20 years for opposing.

Amid the despair of separation from loved ones, Marleny is grateful for support that Open Doors provides her family and she enjoys the letters and constant encouragement she receives from those who have heard her story.

Ferney plans to help his mother after he graduates in December. Among his goals are finding his mother a church near home as well as strengthening and encouraging her with teachings he’s received during his years in the Children’s Center. He also plans to help her financially with earnings from a computer maintenance business he is developing with other students.

Though days are long at prison, Jaime and 40 other prisoners attend Bible studies with the support of Prison Fellowship of Colombia. “I greatly look forward to days when I can go to Bible studies, because there I learn much about the Bible,” he said. “Reading it makes me free, strong and able to handle this difficult situation.”

Along with Marleny, he is grateful for the encouraging letters they each receive from many countries. Although most are in English, which he doesn’t understand, he looks at the images and shares the letters with prison guards who ask about them. Jaime uses the opportunity to share his faith in Christ, telling the guards that many people are praying for him.

Please consider sending Jamie and Marleny a word of encouragement or scripture. In your letter, please do not mention Open Doors, give your full name or home address, or say anything against the government or other religions. Mail letters to:

Open Doors USA
Attn: Letter Writing Dept.
PO Box 27001
Santa Ana, CA, 92799

Father, such hardship for Jamie and Marleny must be difficult to bear except for the mercy and grace You pour out to them. Thank You that in prison Jamie received freedom from spiritual darkness and new life in Christ. And thank You that this faith has flowed into his children’s lives and to his wife as well. Sustain them, Lord-Jamie as he suffers in prison and Marleny as she struggles with faith and with caring for their young children. Thank You for Ferney’s desire to help his mother; strengthen him to be able to help both spiritually and financially. Encourage Jamie to continue biblical studies in prison. Soften the hearts of authorities to provide true justice for Jamie that he might be reunited with his family. May many in San Isidro prison, both guards and prisoners, see the light of Christ in Jamie as he lives out his faith in these harsh circumstances. In the name of Jesus, who sets the prisoners free, Amen.

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