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Francisco's Story: God in a Detention Center

Francisco served as the prayer ministry leader in a large church on the Southside of San Antonio, TX. One afternoon, Francisco and a friend were stopped by a police officer while driving home to get ready for an all-night prayer vigil. The police officer asked for his documentation, however because Francisco was undocumented, he did not have any paperwork and was arrested and taken to a local detention center.

Back in El Salvador, Francisco had a criminal record and spent time in jail for his actions. It was in jail that he became a Christian and turned from his old ways to serve God. When the officials put Francisco’s name in their system, they saw his criminal background and advised him not to get a lawyer because his case was one of the most difficult to pardon. They said it was best to sign the paperwork and leave back to his country, and that if he chose to stay, he would be in jail for a long time.

Weighing the cost of hiring a lawyer and possibly be reunited with his family or signing the paperwork to return to his country and never see them again, Francisco decided to stay in jail and trust God. Leaders from his church prayed for him and connected him with good lawyers. Unfortunately, every lawyer that came refused to take his case because they said it was indefensible. In the midst of rejection after rejection, Francisco maintained his faith and stayed in the jail.

During his time in the detention center, Francisco found a small room where people were getting together to pray for one another. He attended the meeting and afterwards asked the official if he could host a small prayer service in that room later in the week. The official granted him permission. They held their first prayer service and a total of 10 people came and had a powerful time in God’s presence. Word began to spread and the following week over 80 people came, so they decided to make two services in the detention center room, one at 10:00am and another at 2:00pm. Francisco commented, “Our services were so powerful, it was as if we were free and not in prison.”

The prayer services continued on for weeks, and one day Francisco asked the official if he could read from the Bible and he said yes. The official told everyone to be quiet and listen to his 15-minute sermon, and slowly people began to give their lives to Jesus. Francisco found favor in the eyes of the official, and every night before they turned out the lights, they asked him to read the Bible and say a prayer for all those detained. By the end of Francisco’s time in the detention center, over 80 people had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and over 20 people had reconciled themselves to God. Francisco testified, “I received so many letters from people thanking me for what took place during that time from all over the world, some who made it through the system and some who were deported back to their countries. The Lord has been amazing.”

After 5 failed attempts in finding a lawyer, Francisco finally found one who agreed to take his case and get him out. Francisco shared with me, “He was one of the worst lawyers in San Antonio, but God used him to take me out of that jail. God did this to show me that it was Him who had the power to deliver me and not man.” When Francisco was released, he went directly to the church where he found a group of people praying for his release. The pastor of the church paralleled this experience to the miraculous release of Peter from prison, as the book of Acts describes, “He [Peter] went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.”[1]

It has been 8 years since Francisco was released from the detention center. Today, Francisco pastors a small immigrant church of 40-50 people in San Antonio. He has attended all of his court days, and currently awaits his final hearing to determine whether or not he will be allowed to stay in the US. In asking about his desired outcome for his situation, Francisco shared the following:

“I wish the officials would take it on a case-by-case basis and see that since I have arrived I have done my part. I have preached the gospel of Jesus. This helps people stay out of drugs and off the street. I work 10 hours a day and construct schools where people go to learn. I have a family, a church, a house, and a car. In reality, I don’t need for them to give me papers – that’s not important to me. All I want is the opportunity to return to my country to see my family and return to the US to be with my wife and kids. I remember when I originally left I said bye to my mom, and that was the last time I ever saw her. She died 2 years ago. Many people only see us as criminals, but we work hard and do our best to get ahead. I don’t think I am hurting anyone; I just want to see my family.”

Note: This testimony is based on a true story. Pseudonyms and alternative locations were used for the protection of those involved.

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Daniel Montañez was born in Visalia, CA to a Mexican mother and a Puerto Rican father. He is a Ph.D. student at Boston University and an adjunct instructor for the Latino and Global Ministries Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the director of Mygration Christian Conference, and the director of the Migration Crisis Initiative for the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). Daniel is dedicated to serving his Latino/a community at the intersection of the Church, the academy, and the public square.


[1] Acts 12:12 (NASB)

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