Almost a year after the border between the United States and Mexico closed due to COVID-19, the Lord has been faithful and continues blessing the women’s prison ministry in Piedras Negras.
Dra. Gloria De la Peña, Texas Baptists River Ministry missionary and ministry leader, has been visiting the women in prison and taking them hygiene kits for over 18 years. During these visits, De la Peña would spend time worshipping, studying the Bible and praying with these women. Her visits were stopped at the beginning of March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, De la Peña has continued delivering hygiene kits to the prison without being able to see any of the women.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, all outside visits were suspended from the prison in order to protect the men and women inside. However, I have seen the Lord’s hand at work all of this past year. Every time I would drop off the hygiene kits, the guards told me the women were asking to see us in person– even if we had nothing to bring them,” shared De la Peña. “Apparently, many even continue meeting by themselves to study the Bible and sing hymns.”
Although De la Peña was not able to continue visiting and doing Bible studies in person, bringing the hygiene kits enabled De la Peña to keep some form of contact with the women. For many of these women, De la Peña was the only person who would bring them these necessities.
“Most of the women found in this prison are not from the Piedras Negras region having come from other states in Mexico. For this reason, many of them don’t have anyone willing to provide them with basic personal items,” De la Peña explained.
“Knowing that someone is thinking about them or even having something to call their own is really important for these women. When we take care of their needs through these kits, we can teach them a little about Jesus’ love for them. This is why it is so important to never stop helping them or sending them things,” she shared.
Inside the kits, there are several different personal hygiene items such as shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes – all of which are travel sized in order to fit in transparent Ziploc bags.
Staying optimistic about the future
“We are waiting for things to change this year so we can openly visit the prison, but if they don’t change we know that the Lord is still in control, seated on His throne, and providing for these women’s needs through missionaries in Texas and the River Ministry,” explained De la Peña.
“I thank the Lord for the River Ministry and for all the missionaries who know and love these women as much as I do,” she shared.
Although the pandemic has affected the way De la Peña’s prison ministry traditionally operates, the Lord has allowed her, along with other missionaries’ and ministries’ help, to continue reaching out to the 105 women in the Piedras Negras prison.
“Recently, the Lord opened the door for two missionaries to go inside the prison for 10 minutes. In these 10 minutes, we were able to pray and briefly share the love of God with them – which was a completely different experience from our weekly Bible studies prior to the beginning of the pandemic,” shared De la Peña.
In spite of the many restrictions placed on recent in-person visits, De la Peña and the women she serves are patiently waiting for the day where they can worship and study the Bible together once again.
Praying for spiritual growth
“While we wait for our circumstances to change, we can still pray for the women’s physical health and spiritual growth. Being in prison during these times has proven very difficult for all of them. Many worry about the conditions in which their families and children might find themselves in,” said De la Peña.
In the same way, De la Peña asked for people to be praying for her health and that of her family so they may continue serving the Lord and the women in prison with renewed strengths.
“This prison ministry is not mine; it is the Lord’s,” De la Peña said. “I am merely a servant taking things to the prison– just as one of my favorite Bible verses says, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ (Luke 17:10). This is the ministry the Lord has given me to work on, and I do it with much love and to glorify my God!”