Argentina: The amazing transformation at Los Olmos prison


Argentina: The amazing transformation at Los Olmos prison

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Argentina: The amazing transformation at Los Olmos prison:


The Olmos prison in Argentina used to be notorious for murders, satanic activity and violent riots. Today, however, you can hear inmates and guards praising and worshipping God.

This all began with one man’s obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In the mid 80’s Pastor Juan Zuccarelli felt called to prison ministry in Buenos Aires. He had, at that stage, only done crusades in the city and was a bit daunted by the task of ministering in prison, but knew he had to do it. He was told that the only way he could get into the prisons would be to become a prison guard.

He applied for a position and found out that he would have to wait 8 months for the application to be processed. He hoped that God would change His mind in the meantime and that He would call him somewhere else. Amazingly, within a week, he was contacted by the prison authorities informing him that he had the position. Juan took up his appointment immediately and became a prison guard, knowing that he would use his position to preach the Gospel.

300 prisoners attended the first crusade in Olmos prison. Of those, 100 were saved.

Sadly, these men were then physically, verbally and sexually assaulted by their peers because of their commitment. The Lord revealed that the Christians needed to have separate cell blocks, to create a safe space for them.

In 1987 the idea was proposed to the prison warden, but he was completely against it. Juan remembered an old burnt-out cell block that had previously been completely destroyed. He told the warden that if he would give them that cell, they would fix it, paint it and turn it into the best cell block in the whole of Olmos. He suggested that when the government came to inspect the prison they could show that cell block off as the model cell block. The warden accepted the challenge.

21 prisoners started that first cell block and they were able to have times of prayer, fasting and Bible studies which produced amazing results. Eventually they took over the entire floor, which was previously known as the ‘Elephant’s Floor’. It was used to house the most dangerous criminals and even had an altar built to honour Satan. In the past, families would bring the inmates small cats and dogs to burn as sacrifices to Satan, giving him power over the prison. After much prayer, that entire cell block now belongs to Jesus Christ.

The Christians have 24 cell blocks today and 1,600 prisoners have been saved at Olmos.

Once the Christians started to multiply, a group of missionaries was sent from Olmos to another prison to begin a church there. As new prisons were built, authorities approached Olmos and asked them to help them start churches in the new prisons so that they could be built on a similar solid foundation. Up to 200 saved prisoners from Olmos have been sent to new prisons to set up churches. Their growth eventually took over prisons in the entire province. Today there are churches in all 40 prisons across the provinces of Argentina.

The government then contacted Juan to start a completely Christian prison (before, they had only set up churches within prisons). There were 3 small prisons which had been empty for about 2 years and the officials told Juan he could pick anyone he wanted and he would be given the keys.

Juan identified Daniel Tajeda, an evangelical Christian, to be the warden of the new prison. He was very young at the time and only 96th in line for the position. However, Daniel’s faithfulness outshone the other candidates and he was appointed as the warden of 10 prisoners. From there on it grew, from 25 to 130 inmates. This prison is called ‘Christ, the Only Hope’.

The authorities saw the excellent results and gave Juan another prison.

The government was not able to provide any funding for the Christian prisons. There were no beds and mattresses and the cells were completely empty. There was no electricity, running water or gas. They also needed computers and medical supplies. All of their needs have been provided for by donations from ministries outside the prison. This dramatically improved the image of the church in the eyes of the government.

‘Christ, the Only Hope’ prison has 270 inmates and is run strictly on Christian principles. The staff believe that the prisoners have the potential to change and this fact is proven again and again. The inmates have serious criminal records, ranging from robbery, to rape, to murder. However, when these same criminals accepted Christ in their hearts they changed.

What a fully Christian prison looks like, how it’s organized, and the results of this approach when it comes to rehabilitation.

The Olmos prison in Argentina used to be notorious for murders, satanic activity and violent riots. Today, however, you can hear inmates and guards praising and worshipping God.

The authorities agreed with an experiment: a prison with 270 inmates called ‘Christ, the Only Hope’, run strictly on Christian principles.

Prisoners have to follow strict daily routines that train them to be spiritually disciplined. They start each new day with worshipping God. At 6:00 AM all the inmates gather for a time of devotion and praise and this is followed by a time of prayer. They also fast twice a week. In the afternoons the inmates gather for Bible study and fellowship, and later in the day attend a church service. When the inmates go to their rooms, five intercessors take up their posts and begin to pray through the long hours of the night.

One prisoner said, “Although we are locked up physically, God has made us free spiritually. God has blessed us to be an example to the outside world.”

The prison runs a store house where inmates donate food and clothing. They cannot tithe in money, but the things that their families and other visitors bring them are tithed to the store house. This is used to help others in need, both families outside of the prison, and prisoners in other units.

Due to their good behavior, the inmates are granted many special privileges. They are not locked up in cells with standard iron bars. These have been replaced with bright orange curtains so there is complete freedom of movement. They are allowed generous visiting hours with their families and this helps them form strong social ties which will assist with integrating them back into society upon their release. In many of the job creation programs in the prison, prisoners are entrusted with the use of a wide variety of tools normally prohibited in other prisons. This allows the inmates to make money while being in prison so that they can support their families.

There has been no attempt by any prisoner to escape ‘Christ, the Only Hope’. There have been no riots either. If an inmate should cause any problems he is spiritually disciplined. His punishment is to pray, fast and read the Bible. Inmates are never put into solitary confinement.

The lifestyle practiced in the Christian prisons has attracted the attention of other prison authorities.

Judges noticed that criminals wanted to be sent to these prisons. The authorities decided to send one of Argentina’s most hardened criminals to one of these Christian prisons. Hector Sanchez had been sentenced for the rape and murder of two young girls.

Hector says: “When I first got here my family had abandoned me, so the director of the prison asked a pastor to come and visit me. The Lord rescued me even though I was such a bad person who did terrible things. I believe He has put me here because He has a purpose for my life. To those who knew me before I came here – my transformed life is a testimony.”

Statistics show that 45 out of every 100 prisoners who are released end up back in prison for committing another crime. In contrast, only 5% of prisoners from evangelical prisons relapse.

The prison also runs a rehabilitation centre for inmates under the guardianship of the church.

Selected prisoners with less than 4 years can serve, work and live at the rehabilitation centre during the week with no guardianship at all. Over weekends they return to custody. The work they do and the trust they are given helps them build confidence. When they are released into the outside world they are equipped with life-skills to help them make a success of their lives.

It took 21 years to build the Christian prisons to where they are today in Argentina, but it all started with the faithfulness of one man. The challenge to all Christians is to follow the call that the Lord has placed in your hearts, no matter how crazy it may seem. When you act in obedience, God always comes through for you. Like Ed Silvoso says, “See what you’ve never seen before, do what you’ve never done before.”

VIDEO – The unbelievable but true story of how a prison that was once run by the church of Satan has been transformed into one of the most powerful churches in Argentina. An eye opening testimonial of how the power of God can fully restore criminals, their families, and even a corrupt system. This will infuse you with hope!

Source: Juan Zuccarelli, Ed Silvoso


This e-book is a classic that’s only available on our website! Authors Michael Richardson and Juan Zuccarelli describe in detail how the revival in Los Olmos prison started, which changes it brought, how inmate leadership emerged and how the prison church was organised. Specific attention is given to the role of the prayer watches and how the revival influenced other prisons across Argentina. Detailed growth statistics are included.

E-book in pdf | original revival story | 42 pages | reading time: 45 mins

Revival Behind Bars book:

Source: Joel News, # 1179, # 1180,  August 11 & 18, 2020

See also

Prison Revival in Argentina

Christian missionary tortured in prison led 40 to Christ

Iran: How two women brought hope in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison

Remember those in prison













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