Author’s note: In Ecuador, I met a team of church planters who are sharing Christ’s love in a city jail. They’ve helped hundreds of people come to know Jesus, including an ex-convict named Ruth. This is her story.

Life was good for me. I’d become a professional singer, I had many friends, and I was earning good money. I was born and raised in Ecuador, but I had built a happy life in Italy.

Then about eight years ago, I decided to return to Ecuador to visit my children and sister. When an acquaintance heard about my upcoming trip, he asked me to take a package to give to his family back home. Many Ecuadorian acquaintances living in Italy had made similar requests of me before, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

After I arrived in Ecuador, some family members of my acquaintance in Italy came to get the package. “Why don’t you take these drugs back with you to Italy,” they asked, handing me a small package. “We’ll pay you 8,000 euros to do it.”

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I told them I wasn’t interested.

A few days later, they approached me again, this time with an offer of 10,000 euros. Again, I refused.

I hoped I’d never see them again, but a couple days later, they were back. This time they had guns, and they took my children and my sister hostage. I was so scared. I took the package; I had no choice.

On my return trip to Italy, my worst nightmare came true. I was caught for drug trafficking and eventually sentenced to eight years in prison.

In jail, I became very depressed. I even tried to kill myself.

Then one day while I was working at my job making purses, a group of Seventh-day Adventists held a church service at the prison. As always, I was very angry with everyone, so I was making as much noise as possible with my hammer to be disruptive. Mariana, one of the Adventists, invited me to come worship with them. I had no desire to hear about God, so I refused and kept working. But then I hammered one of my fingers really hard. At that point, I figured I could use a break so I sat down to listen to the sermon. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing—it seemed like the message was meant specifically for me. I started crying; I didn’t know what to do.

After the service, Mariana gave me a Bible. I began reading it and attending church regularly. I fell in love with God’s Word. My life, which had been pretty wild in the past, slowly began to change. Now, thank God, I’m a completely different person.

Mariana gave me Bible studies, and when I accepted Jesus, she encouraged me to get baptized. “No,” I told her. “I’ve made a promise to God that I’ll get baptized when I’m released from jail.” And I kept that promise. Thanks to His mercy, I only served four years and four months of my eight-year sentence. When I was released three years ago, I joined a loving Adventist church.

I didn’t have any money to get a place to live, but my church friends scraped together enough for me to rent a single room in someone’s house.

I had no bed to sleep on the first night, so I laid a piece of flat wood on the floor and fell asleep. Around six o’clock in the evening, I received a phone call. “Sister Mariana told me you need a bed, so I’m bringing one over now,” the church member said. Over the next few hours, other church members brought me blankets, clothes, food, and even a little stove!

Sometimes, I still struggle to make ends meet. But I have the best thing, and that’s God’s love in my life. He’s always there for me, and I’ve never been alone. I’m free now, in every sense of the word.

[Photo: Ruth, right, with Mariana, a church planter who shared Jesus with her in jail.]

By Ruth Ramirez as told to

Laurie Falvo Mission 360° editor