Adventist Church in Puerto Rico Provides Day of Respite to Female Inmates

The group of women from the correctional facility in San Juan, Puerto Rico, smile big at the Rodríguez home in Mayaguez, after spending a day celebrating a day of relaxation and fun activities, June 8, 2017. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

June 13, 2017 | Mayaguez, Puerto Rico | Libna Stevens/IAD

Welcoming three-dozen women from a correctional institution in San Juan, is one of the biggest highlights of the year for Pastor José Alberto Rodríguez, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Puerto Rico, and his wife, Christina. The couple, who live in Mayaguez, have opened their home to these women every year for the past six years.

A young woman copies some of her favorite verses from the Bible on the poster board provided at the Rodríguez home. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

The institution in San Juan is a type of halfway house facility for those with criminal backgrounds serving the final period of their sentences. The bus ride to Pastor Rodríguez’s home in Mayaguez takes about three hours, and when the women arrive they wear big smiles on their faces. It is an opportunity for them to spend time away from their problems, their troubled past, and an uncertain future. During the visit they are encouraged to draw, color, mingle, feast on delicious food, sing, and hear about the love of Jesus and the hope He can bring to their lives.

Pastor Rodríguez is grinning from ear to ear as he watches the women laugh and draw and color together. “This is your home,” he says. “You get to serve the food yourself, as many times as you would like and you don’t have to ask me permission to sit here or there or use the restroom. You are home to relax and take in the day.”

“Grab a lollipop or a piece of candy in front of you and taste how sweet,” says Christina, during the special reception. “The love of God is as sweet as honey, and the more you taste it, the more you will want.

Teresa holds the picture she drew next to Pastor José Alberto Rodríguez, president of the church in Puerto Rico, in his home in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

“God’s love can transform you because you are His princess, a daughter of the King of Kings, and He wants you to feel valuable, loved, respected and welcomed in our home today,” she continues.

Experiencing God’s Forgiveness

Teresa, a 38-year-old mother of four, draws a cross and a heart and calls out “Papá mira” or “Father look,” as she shows her pencil drawing to Pastor Rodríguez. Rodríguez has been a father figure to Teresa since they met.

Teresa’s dad died recently and says she never met her biological father. “I love Papa Rodríguez, he has always told me that I’m special and that he sees me preaching one day.”

Her life story is long but she thanks God that He changed and transformed her by the loving sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for her.

“I went from being called ‘the wolf’ on the streets to now a princess of the Lord,” says Teresa. “God’s mercy and grace have rescued me time and time again from the grasp of the Enemy.”

Items collected by ADRA West Puerto Rico church volunteers as a gift for each of the women being celebrated during the day. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

There are still things she needs to work on in her character, she says, but she’s taking Bible studies, has completed therapy courses and is currently selling newspapers during the day.

On good behavior, women at the facility can hold a job during the day and use a family pass every month, but are supervised all day. The center provides therapy, training courses and evaluations regularly, according to Rodríguez.

Teresa takes one day at time and wants to help the homeless and the needy when she gets out. “I know God is refining me and preparing me to share my testimony,” she says.

Teresa sang about God’s love and forgiveness during the special program at the Rodríguez home. Other women also took part in drama performances.

Each received a gift bag filled with toiletries and a pajama set thanks to church members who brought in donations and items to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) office in West Puerto Rico.

Sharing Love

Jennifer smiles as she shows off a home-made outfit brought in by the group of women from the Buena Vista Cayey Adventist Church standing close to her. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

“I don’t want the church to close their eyes to the needs of people in prison,” says Rodríguez. “Many of those incarcerated have lost their identity, their families, and it’s difficult for them to start all over again,” he explained.

“We have to do our part to share God’s love and forgiveness and help them succeed in life and for eternity.”

Doing her part to bring happiness to the group of women was just what Alba González wanted. She traveled from the Buena Vista Cayey Adventist Church, in Cayey, more than 150 kilometers away. González brought six other women from her church to sing and surprise Jennifer, who is nearly eight months pregnant, with a baby shower.

They collected baby items, made baby outfits and provided all the baby’s and mom’s needs.

“We wanted to be here and show our love to this new mom for whom Jesus died on the cross,” says González. The group from Cayey had met Jennifer back in March when they visited the center and spent a fun day playing games and doing crafts with the group of women.

“The church heard our request for brand new baby items for Jennifer and we collected so many that we had to prepare other packages to help other mothers in the community,” said González. “We just couldn’t miss experiencing this moment with her.”

Opportunity to Grow

Antillean Adventist University President Obed Jímenez (right) shows Viviette how her diploma ceremony would look like when she completes her nursing degree. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

For Viviette, 31, the day was one of the happiest that she will never forget. She was dressed with a cap and gown and was presented with a sample diploma that she could receive when she graduates from university.

“In life there is always time to grow, and you will get that opportunity, Viviette,” says Rodríguez.

Dressed in academic regalia, President of Antillean Adventist University Dr. Obed Jímenez presented a scholarship for Viviette to study a nursing degree and showed her a taste of what it would be like when she would receive her diploma. Tears filled her eyes at the thought of experiencing that accomplishment and the possibility of a better future for herself and her family.

Anette Cruz, director of chaplaincy at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Puerto Rico, praised the work of the Adventist Church. “We know the love of God through your love and commitment as you provide resources so that others can have new opportunities.”

Moved by Love

It’s been 12 years that Rodríguez has been working with Puerto Rico’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in ministering to men and women in prison facilities across the island. It is that relationship and commitment to assisting those in prison that has driven him to raise funds on the church’s radio stations, invite entire churches to donate funds and toiletries, assist women in starting micro businesses through ADRA projects, and speak to those confined about God’s redeeming power and transformation.

Sinaira Camacho, director of the center, thanked the church on behalf of the center and the 13,000 men and women in correction facilities across the island. “I publicly commit to working closer with the department to keep the doors open to the church and its ministry to help those confined in our centers.”

Anette Cruz (right), director of chaplaincy at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Puerto Rico, praises the work of the Adventist Church as Sinaira Camacho next to her looks on. Image by Libna Stevens/IAD

So far the 36 women have been receiving Bible studies from Adventist Pastor José Marrero, who began prison ministries at the San Juan women’s facility in October. Two of the women will soon be baptized, he says.

“The only thing that moves us is the love of God and we will continue to partner in this ministry,” says Pastor Rodríguez as the celebration draws to a close. Rodríguez smiles with a twinkle in his eye like he would about his own two grown children and two grandchildren. He sees all 36 women who spent the day at his home as his daughters, as children of God. He sees the potential in each one and encourages the team of 20 church leaders and members who took part in the special day to get others involved in prison ministries.

The Adventist Church across Puerto Rico is preparing to mobilize all the churches to focus on helping 436 young adults correction facilities who do not have any close family or relatives, on Sabbath, October 21, 2017. Church members will collect toiletries and needed supplies, spend the day with them and share love and the hope of salvation.

To learn more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Puerto Rico, visit

To view more photos of the activity, visit HERE

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Categories From the Field, RSS English | Tags: | Posted on June 14, 2017