Christmas in Jail
Christmas 2019 will go down in the memory books as a great one. On the 23rd, I traveled to Bontoc to spend Christmas with Henry, another YASC volunteer stationed in the Philippines. We spent the 24th helping the youth group finish their preparations for the Christmas pageant. Instead of the traditional story, the theme of it was John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.” I ended up getting roped into participating in the singing at the end of the pageant. The pageant started at 8:30 that night, followed by the Christmas Eve service, coffee and snacks at the bishop’s house, and then finally dinner at 12:30!
In the morning, we got up and went to the Christmas Day service. I think this was my first time ever going to a Christmas Day service. I was surprised to see that there were over 100 people, which was significantly more than the Christmas Eve service. After church we went to the home of Padi Coriño, a retired priest, for lunch. It was a huge spread of food including roasted chicken, adobo, pesto noodles, grilled fish, and duck.
In the afternoon, we went with the youth group, a deacon, a priest, and some active women of the church to the county jail. We started our visit with a service. The homily focused on the importance of the human existence is to love one another. Following the service, we had coffee and got to talk with the inmates. A lot of the inmates are not locals, but had been caught for transporting marijuana from a region where it grows naturally. In true Igorot fashion, gongs were brought out. We spent nearly 2 hours playing the gongs and dancing. Local inmates were excited to see the gongs and those that were not local jumped in and were happy to learn how to play the gongs and dance. Some of the guards even joined in! In the Philippines, the Igorots (people from the mountain region) and their culture are sometimes looked down upon and stigmatized, so sharing this cultural practice was a splendid way to celebrate God’s love.
When we were too tired to dance anymore, we played a funny game. The object of the game was to place a pan lid on top of money on the ground. The players were blindfolded and had to try to find their way. After all the money was found, we spent more time talking. We finished by passing out apples to everyone and singing songs.
When we first talked about going to the jail, I was nervous about what I was going to see. What I found was nice facilities, cheerful people, and a wonderful afternoon. I overheard an inmate say that this was the best Christmas ever. I truly believe he meant it. Spending time together and spreading joy and love is the most ‘Christmas’ thing we can do. Just like that inmate, I think this Christmas goes down as one of the best.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!