A group of ladies from the language school here in San Jose, Costa Rica spent the day ministering at a women’s prison. We worked with a group of about 30 women who all had children living with them in the prison. The women are allowed to keep their children until age 3, then they go to live with other family members or go to an orphanage. After the children leave, the mothers are transfered to another part of the prison where the rest of the 500 women live.
I held a baby that was 5 days old, born in prison. And I thought about the message that God might be sending through his little life. If I believe that all babies are a gift from God, then that includes this baby. Born under less than ideal circumstances, to a mother who has made less than ideal choices, why would God do that? But as I watched those mothers kiss and hug their babies, I realized that God was sharing his love with them through these little babies. These children bring joy into sad lives. They speak of a second chance for women who have made so many bad decisions that they have landed in prison. They are pure love, loving their mommies who (to the world) are not very lovable. For some of those women, the love of a mother for her child and a child for his mother might be the purest form of love they have ever experienced.
Is it hard having a baby in prison? I image so. There’s no Dad to give Mom a break when she’s exhausted and frazzled. There’s very little privacy, so everyone hears when a baby cries through the night. There’s no clean space to let the babies learn to crawl. I don’t know how they get diapers, I doubted that several of them were even wearing diapers. There’s a torturous good bye after 3 years. And when Mom leaves prison, she has another mouth to feed.
But this baby also represents a fresh start, of sorts. A clean slate. This baby doesn’t know about the mistakes his mom has made, and he doesn’t judge her either. Mom, who probably has her own issues with how she was raised, now has the opportunity to either repeat mistakes or do things differently. Having a baby is a chance to practice making right decisions, making decisions for the good of another. Some of the mothers seemed like naturals- they had strong maternal instincts. Others seemed like they thought of their children like little dolls or like a mini-me best friend- that’s not a natural motherly role. But regardless of whether I thought they could use a parenting course or not, God has chosen, in his omnipotence and mercy, to show these women how much he loves each of them by giving the best gift imaginable (aside from forgiveness of sins). Not only does he forgive them, he blesses them. Now that’s an amazingly loving God.
I thought about these things as I held this 5 day old baby, born in prison, and wondered about the meaning of his life. I wonder who this child will grow up to be. And I marvel at the risk God takes each time he trusts us with one of these precious little gifts.
Here’s the 5 day old baby that I got to hold. Imagine, being born in prison.