Church History in Prison Olmos
The Church in the prison is called “Christ the Only Hope” and these “free” prisoners present a very convincing case for this statement.
The beauty of Olmos is that only God could be the author of this incredible story.
After seeing this Church in action you will know that nothing is impossible and that no one can do it, only by faith. The grace of God can appear in unexpected places. Behind bars or not, freedom is only found in Jesus Christ!
In August 1951 it was the first recorded visit of an evangelical pastor to the prison in Olmos. Many others continued between 1951 and 1983 but a genuine revival never happened.
In 1983, mutinies occurred in jail. Rapes and murders in the areas surrounding the prisoners were almost impossible to control. Until the end of 1987, the violence was abundant in prison. The prisoners known as “The Smurfs” terrorizing other inmates. During this period, inmates compared the prison with cheese, because of the number of holes and the ability of prisoners to move from one cell to another. Sometimes prison was in the hands of prisoners.
The fourth of five floors of Olmos prison was known as the floor of elephants. It was a power center where all kinds of criminal behavior including riots, drugs, murder and rape were instigated. The riots began in the height of wickedness and dispersed throughout the provincial jail system leaving many dead in its wake. Slaughtering and satanic rituals were common practices in prison. In this way, they are constantly subjected to satanic dominion. The prisoners said they could see demons in the appearance of dwarfs, up and down the stairs. Many testimonies tell the overwhelming presence of evil ruling in jail. Inmates admitted that Olmos was the leader of the prisons of the province of Buenos Aires. The fourth floor spiritually controlled the entire prison system in the province. Mutiny, murder and rape were abundant in jail. The spiritual chaos was everywhere.
The beginnings of Juan Zuccarelli
In 1983, he was walking in the city of La Plata, and the Lord spoke to him and told him to minister in prisons. At first he rejected the idea because he never had links with any prisoner. But finally, with his wife Mary, began to take the first steps praying for prison.
In those days there was no way to enter prisons to preach. A brother in the faith, suggested to him been a prison guard and work for the Buenos Aires Penitentiary Service. Later he went to him to tell him he felt from God that Juan should go to the prison of Olmos.
Juan tells us: “For out this was the will of God, but inside I asked God if there was a mistake. I felt weird the first day. At that time there was no NCO school so we were given an orientation in Olmos. I had two trainers there. One of them explained the rights and responsibilities for each person and what we could or could not talk. Politics was a forbidden subject. I raised my hand and asked the instructor if there were any problems to speak of religion. He asked me which was my religion and I told him it was an evangelical Christian. He replied that he hated evangelicals. If you’re evangelical’ll have many problems with me, told me. From now I am the voice of God for you. Then he threw me out of the office. That one official at present is a servant of the Lord.
After this little incident I was sent to guard the wall with a gun to make sure that none escape. When I returned to work on Monday, my boss called me into his office. Who do you know here in jail?, he wonder then explained that had arrived an order where it was supposed to go to work in the administrative offices of the prison. Later I said, actually I have a friend here, Jesus of Nazareth! Glory to God!, and threw me out of his office.
In the new office where I worked, I saw several people come to the Lord. God had begun to touch some of the prison authorities, but still could not do anything for the prisoners. The rules do not allow it. The early days were very hard, just 4 of 3000 inmates were Christians”
One of the evangelists of the church who pastored Zuccarelli out of jail, José Luis Tessi, had a strong call to ministry of the Jail. He began visiting Olmos and found that there was an AM radio that was not in use because the equipments were broken. Then they began to seek donations. They spoke to the authorities and told them they’d fix the radio if they were allowed to have Christian programming. They agreed, it was. They told the first internal Shepherd to bring together some of his fellow prisoners to some meetings and from there began to form a cute little group. They tell us that the spiritual atmosphere was still difficult but reaching 1985 Zuccarelli, Tessi and prisoners worked together to make an evangelistic campaign in prison.
It was a crazy idea and nothing like that had happened in a prison in Argentina, but attended by about 300 and about 100 prisoners surrendered to Jesus Christ. Tessi gave a message that impacted deep into prisoners. And when they prayed, the Lord healed the disease and oppression released both prisoners and guards. In addition, a holy calm reigned in the environment of school auditorium where prisoners held the campaign. This was heard by all prisoners. As a result, the authorities granted permission to hold meetings two or three times a week. This was revolutionary for prison ministry in Argentina.
A church was beginning to form.
In the following years, God began to raise up leaders among prisoners. Tessi began helping with Bible studies almost every day. A man they called “Chiquito Delgado” Joined Garcia in leadership. Zuccarelli continued working in the administration of the prison which he facilitated the entry of the brothers to jail as well as allowing you to access the administration of grants for inmates brothers. Garcia and Delgado finished their sentences and left Olmos but God raised Hector Jose and Jorge to take their places. From 1985-1988 they lived with prisoners who were not yet Christians and had many fights in his walk with God because cohabitation arrangements. Repent and become a Christian is a sign of weakness in prison, and weakness makes you the target of attacks by other prisoners, who severely persecuted those who professed their faith in Jesus Christ.
Christians were constantly mistreated during this time. Recognizing that living in a war zone, lived fasting and praying.
In the evangelical cells, Christian discipline grew among the brothers. A book written by Yiye Ávila taught how to pray and fast, and started forming prayer chains. So much praying and fasting for 72 days in a row asking for more dedicated cells for evangelicals.
At an average of almost one cell per month, evangelicals began to anticipate taking prison for Christ. By the end of 1987 they occupied a cell in each of the five floors. Then, in early 1988, took six halls on the fourth floor. The brothers felt as if they had entered the Promised Land on the day that all moved to the fourth floor.
In 1991 the Church was in charge of Ramon, Daniel and Antonio. Three men of God took the place. Zuccarelli was appointed as the person responsible for the non-Catholic worship in the prison of Olmos. After many years of struggle and prayer, the dream began to be realized. 51% of the inmate population of Olmos, had become the gospel. All third and fourth floors were part of the church.
But the challenges grew up to Zuccarelli. The head of the Neuropsychiatric unit Melchor Romero, asked him to perform there as in Olmos. At that time the internal Pastor Olmos was Ramon Avalos. Ramón had reached with schizophrenia, mental escape, 37 offenses, he was illiterate, had been father Umbanda and was a very aggressive man taking psychotropic drugs nineteenth pills per day. God did a miracle healing him, saving and restoring his life; the shepherds began to teach him to read and write. Ramón pastored the 1,500 inmates in Olmos, when Zuccarelli asked him to be the first internal missionary. He was transferred to No. 10 Melchor Romero Unit to start a church in that place. God was manifested miracles, healing, releasing and baptizing many. After this they understood that they could form churches in other prisons outside Olmos, so they decided to send internal missionaries to other jails and this gave an extraordinary result. Soon prisons were built and prison directors asked the pastor Juan, to move fellow believers, in Olmos to new units, to ensure the good work. That was how Christians could get pavilions in all prisons of the Province of Buenos Aires.
Over the years Zuccarelli believed that this was the vision God had given him form Churches inside prisons, with their pastors and internal leaders; but vision, says the shepherd is like a mountain, when it reaches the top God shows you that there is a higher and you can do two things: stay to rest on top or conquer next.
It was the moment when the government of the Province of Buenos Aires called him making the proposal of having a fully Christian prison. With faith, he accepted. They gave him a hundred and ten prison inmates. The prefect Daniel Tejeda, was the first Director of the unit. Depending on the results, came the proposal to reproduce the work in a larger prison, about 300 inmates. The prison had no official name, the government asked his the name of the Church in Olmos and the pastor said, “Christ the Only Hope” then officially Unit 25, was called in this way.
This prison, unique for its characteristics, has become over the years into a model. In our country, different provinces took their example. Internationally, many parts of the world such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Russia, England, Germany, Switzerland, India, USA, Mexico, Peru, among others, implemented the program. In Johanesburg and Pretoria (South Africa) honored the ministry adopting the name of Christ the Only Hope for their churches inside the prison.
While the pastor Zuccarelli toured over 40 countries lecturing, leading the model used in Olmos, include his work in our beloved province. Currently 38% of the prison population in the province of Buenos Aires Is part of the program and have been more than 35,000 inmates by his ministry. And his work has transcended bars, since 2000, presides a farm of 96 acres for social reintegration, in Magdalena, where it is housed and taught different offices to former inmates to their subsequent reintegration into society will propitious. (see farm section).