ROSARIO, Argentina — Georgia Baptist missionary Jason Cobb is awed by the Lord’s power to change lives, even among the most hardened criminals he ministers to in the prisons of Argentina.
“These guys have just been transformed completely,” said Cobb, who was called to international missions out of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. and has been working in prison ministry in Argentina’s most violent city for the past six years. “It’s the most fruitful ministry I’ve ever done.”
So successful is Cobb's ministry in an daround Rosario that it got a mention by The Associated Press, the world’s largest newsgathering operation, in an article that circulated around the globe last week.
The article took an in-depth look at a revival underway inside Argentina’s prisons.
“Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers,” the article said. “Over the past 20 years, Argentine prison authorities have encouraged, to one extent or another, the creation of units effectively run by evangelical inmates.”
The AP article plugged the ministry Cobb and his wife Natalia are part of, called The Puerta del Cielo ("Heaven's Door").
“One of the things I love about working with criminals is you don’t have to convince them that they’re bad,” Cobb said. “Criminals admit that they’re sinners. The ones who admit that and repent … they’re the reason I do what I do.”
Rosario, a city of some 1.3 million people, has high levels of poverty and crime. It is a major port for the illegal drug trade and has fueled two factors that has caused the prison population of swell: violence between rival gangs seeking to control drug markets and a huge population of addicts.
For the addicts, Cobb said, prison forces them off drugs, which is a crucial part of being able to get them to understand the gospel.
“For some of them, this may be the first time in many, many years that they’ve been sober,” Cobb said. “So, this is our opportunity to reach those guys.”
Cobb chuckles when asked how many inmates he has baptized in the prisons of Argentina, because he doesn’t keep track. “It’s in the hundreds,” he said. “I really don’t know.”
Fayetteville First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Jim Thomas said his congregation has supported Cobb's ministry for many years.
"He has been very faithful to pursue the Lord’s will and make an impact wherever he is," Thomas said.
As a young man in Fayetteville, Cobb did short-term mission trips to various countries in South America, which created in him a hunger to do more.
“I told God if he wants to use me for full-time missions, that I am available, that I’m willing to go,” he said. “It was about three days later that I was offered that opportunity.”
His initial missionary assignment was in Africa, helping to build schools and homes, only later discovering his passion for prison ministry.
Cobb told The Christian Index about a young cocaine addict who ended up in prison for theft. His addiction had alienated him from his family, and he was spiraling downward.
“Going to prison was the best thing that ever happened to him,” Cobb said of the young man. “He got sober. He was able to hear the gospel message. He got saved. He got baptized. It was a total change in his life. As a result of his salvation, his entire family has become Christians now. It was a transformation not only for him but for his entire family.”
Worship services inside Argentina's prisons tend to be full of emotion, Cobb said, because the inmates are so thankful for their deliverance from depths of sin.
“These guys are on fire for Jesus,” he said. “There’s no way you could calm their enthusiasm. They clap their hands. They sing in loudly. They raise their hands. It’s all of that.”
For more information about Cobb's ministry, reach him at email@example.com.
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