Dear PFI Family,
There are some lovely video compilations on the internet of families being reunited with their loved ones after being separated. It doesn’t matter if the person returning is male or female, what their skin colour, ethnicity, or tribe are, whether they are in the military or a grandparent, the joy of receiving a loved one home is a deeply resonant and emotional thing to experience or to observe.
So universal are the emotions this evokes that at the south end of the upper level of the iconic St. Pancras railway station in London stands a huge statue that beautifully captures the moment. The Meeting Place is a nine-metre-high (30 ft), 20-tonne bronze sculpture of glorious emotive art that depicts a couple embracing after separation.
As I watched one of these video compilations recently, I was reminded of a time when I was parted from my daughter for two weeks when she was four years old. Each night I rang home, and each night Abby cried – heart-breaking for a dad who was 50% of her naming committee (Abigail Amy means “father’s joy; beloved”). It was late when I eventually arrived home, and though the children were sleeping, I went in to kiss the daughter I had missed so much. But as I kissed Abby’s forehead she woke up. After a flustered couple of seconds she realised this was not a dream; dad was actually home. She gasped, yelled my name and wildly flung her arms around my neck without letting go.
I will never forget that moment.
We know every child with an incarcerated parent faces the pain of this loss and separation, and it can be deeply damaging. So much so that we have made the visiting of parents a vital component of the Children of Prisoners Program. The results have been outstanding. And many of the other national ministries who do not run the program hold “relationship events” inside or outside prison that have the same healing and restorative impact.
Jesus told many stories about moments just like this in parables like the prodigal son or the loving Father (take your pick), the lost coin, or the 100th sheep. The outcome is the reuniting of formerly estranged people, and the dominant inspiration and loving genius behind the reuniting is God himself. The wayward son is me…and you…and the prisoner.
This year has been a challenge for all of us. And even though we prepared for many situations, far more have surprised and stressed us. But as I look back at 2020, what I am most thankful for is God’s love and faithfulness and the courage we gained despite the confusion. God has come closer to us, often through your faithful support; He has enabled our ministries to better serve the needs of prisoners and their families in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise considered had it not been for the pandemic.
Thank you for partnering with us this year. We have seen God’s love, care, and provision, and I trust you have too. I am deeply grateful for your generosity. It is your support that enables us to provide the hope and good news of God’s love to those who are often ostracized and overlooked.
And all this is worth giving thanks for.
President & CEO
Prison Fellowship International
WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 12, 2020—Prison Fellowship International (PFI) and Biblica, the International Bible Society, recently announced a strategic partnership to engage children of prisoners worldwide. The goal of the five-year partnership is to introduce the transformative power of God’s Word to 40,000 children who have an incarcerated parent. Under the agreement, Biblica will provide age-appropriate Scripture resources for children and caregivers which will then be distributed through PFI’s Children of Prisoners Program.
“The partnership with our friends at Biblica will help provide a vital intervention these children desperately need,” said PFI President and CEO Andrew Corley. “Life-changing resources are an integral part of PFI’s strategy to transform young lives and break the cycle of crime. Both PFI and Biblica are committed to putting the Bible in the hands of children and their families. By working together on this common goal we can do much more than either organization could on its own.”
“We couldn’t be more excited about this vital partnership with PFI,” said Geof Morin, president and CEO of Biblica. “This shared effort to bring Gospel transformation to some of the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten kids fits squarely into our highest mission hopes.”
More than 14 million children around the world have lost one or both parents to imprisonment. They are among the most vulnerable groups in the world, suffer from the worst effects of marginalization and poverty, and are at high risk of exploitation, abuse, and neglect. The stigma of parental incarceration is particularly devastating for children as they experience the resulting trauma, shame, and significant financial challenges. Without intervention, these children are unable to overcome these obstacles, increasing the risk of repeating cycles of crime, poverty, and shame.
The partnership is part of a new PFI program in which children of prisoners are connected with a local church-based volunteer who will mentor each child throughout the year. These mentors will serve as tutors, using Scripture as the basis for achieving both spiritual and educational outcomes. Education is a critical factor in improving the safety, health outcomes, and overall resilience of vulnerable children. Additionally, belonging to a church community has been proven to reduce tendencies toward depression, substance abuse, and suicide by improving emotional and mental health, social support, and greater satisfaction in life.
About Prison Fellowship International
Founded in 1979 by Charles Colson, Prison Fellowship International (PFI) is dedicated to transforming the lives of prisoners, their families, and victims through their global network of 116 ministry partners. The vision of PFI is to break the cycle of crime and restore lives, worldwide, through Jesus’s love. Learn more at www.pfintl.wpengine.com.
About Biblica, The International Bible Society
Biblica is a global Bible ministry that inspired by radical generosity. For more than 200 years, Biblica has helped people beyond the reach of God’s Word discover the love of Jesus Christ producing relevant and reliable Scripture translations and resources that serve people on the margins of the Gospel – the unreached, unengaged, unseen, and unwanted. Visit www.biblica.com for more information.
President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), Andrew D. Corley, and Lácides Hernández, president of Confraternidad Carcelaria de Colombia (Prison Fellowship Colombia), recently had the honour of being guest speakers at the Second Annual Latin American Congress of Restorative Justice. The event, hosted by countries Colombia and Argentina, took place virtually June 30 – July 3, 2020.
The theme for this year’s congress was “Building a culture of dialogue, peace, and human rights” with the objective to create a space for reflection and foresight in the restorative justice field and the culture of dialogue, peace, and human rights that contribute to building societies which have more solidarity, tolerance, participation, and inclusivity.
“It was a great privilege to be asked to speak,” said Corley. “In this endeavour, PFI worked alongside a global movement of partners who are committed to a more just society based on the principles of restorative justice. While PFI has been involved in restorative justice initiatives for over two decades, all efforts that support a culture of dialogue, peace, and human rights should be welcomed and encouraged. I am therefore very honoured to have played a small part in helping the congress achieve these goals.”
More than 1,200 participants from Latin America, Europe, and North America attended the congress, which included five panels and three experience sharing sessions. Corley spoke during the first panel on “Interpreting the nature of what is restorative: philosophical and epistemological contributions about the restorative field and the culture of peace.”
Hernández, who is also a PFI board member, served on the Executive Committee for the congress. He was part of the second experience sharing session, discussing the restorative approach from the models of indigenous, community, therapeutic, transitional, and transformative justice. “Within Latin America, there is a definite interest in transforming the justice system,” said Hernández. “Therefore, restorative justice is seen as an important complement to the traditional justice system.”
Restorative justice furthers PFI’s vision of breaking the cycle of crime and restore lives worldwide through Jesus’s love. The organization’s work in the field dates back to 1996, when they launched the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation (restorativejustice.org) to serve as its knowledge base. Now internationally recognized experts in the field, PFI has implemented restorative justice programs in over 40 countries.
The premise of restorative justice is that justice should repair the harm that comes from wrongdoing. Woven into this definition are three key ideas: encounter, repair, and transform. The ideas are interconnected, and together they represent a journey toward well-being and wholeness that victims, offenders, and community members can experience.
Other event speakers included leaders from professional, academic, governmental, and civil society institutions from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Bolivia, Uruguay, Spain, and Norway.
The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program is changing hearts and minds across the globe. The program was recently implemented in the Caribbean region. Mitchum, a prisoner in the Cayman Islands, says before taking the eight-week course, he worried a lot and regularly felt depressed and confused.
“As I listened to and watched the videos and participated in The Prisoner’s Journey, I found out who Jesus really is,” says Mitchum. “He is the Son of God and came to save us from sin.”
Halfway through the course, Mitchum and two other men asked to be baptized.
“It was the best decision I ever made in my life,” says Mitchum. “I have found my Lord and Savior. Any problems I have, I take to Him in prayer and ask Him to show me the way. I ask him to protect me each step that I take and the choices that I make. I have an inner peace that can only come from God.”
Give a to Help Prisoners Like Mitchum Hear the Gospel
Samuel in Colombia is no stranger to difficulty. At five years old, he faces physical challenges and developmental delays due to complications at birth that affected his brain. He is prone to frequent convulsions, has difficulty walking, and must still wear a diaper.
But that’s not all.
Samuel is also growing up without a father because his father is in prison. When the breadwinner of the family goes to prison, families are often left in dire situations and the mother or grandparents are left to work and care for her children alone. Children are often scarred emotionally from their parental separation and from the stigma and isolation they experience among their peers and communities because it is shameful to be associated with a prisoner. Despite their innumerable challenges, Samuel’s mother lovingly cares for him. Still, she struggles to give him everything he needs.
Samuel recently joined Prison Fellowship Colombia’s children of prisoner sponsorship program, which has provided additional support to help lift their burdens. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Colombia, health was an important part of PF Colombia’s children’s program, providing food, training caregivers on health and safety issues, and monitoring the mental and emotional health of children and caregivers. And PF Colombia provides specific training and support for children with special health needs, like Samuel.
Samuel’s mother says she is comforted by the spiritual and emotional support and strengthened by the material assistance. With it, she is able to provide Samuel the dignified life he deserves, and Samuel will grow up knowing he is loved by many.
Give Now to Provide Special Support for Children Like Samuel
Twelve-year-old Seethal remembers the day the floodwaters seeped into her home and rose. In October 2019, India receive the heaviest monsoon rainfall in 25 years, leaving homes, shops, and hospitals waterlogged and many families in danger and displaced. Seethal’s family was one of the lucky ones, as a rescue team brought her, her mother, and brother to safety. Their home, however, suffered a great deal of damage and many of Seethal and her family’s precious few belongings had washed away.
As a child of a prisoner, Seethal and her family have already lost so much. Prison Fellowship India (PF India) stepped in to help, enrolling Seethal in the children of prisoners sponsorship program, which provides her with regular food, clothes, educational, emotional, and spiritual support through a one-to-one connection with a child sponsor. Together, Seethal’s family and PF India prayed for God’s provision. He answered their prayers through Seethal’s sponsor, who provided a special monetary gift.
Amazed and grateful, the family used the money to make a partial repair to their home and buy Seethal a new dress to replace one she lost in the flood. Their home was in need of more repairs, but the family continued to trust God. And then, unbidden, Seethal’s sponsor sent another gift! The money was enough to finish their home repairs and replace more goods lost in the flood.
The support of a sponsor can mean so much to a child of a prisoner and have the power to restore more than material goods, including their hope and faith in a God who cares for them deeply.
Give a Child of a Prisoner the Gift of Hope
Cristihian Melo is a graduate of The Prisoner’s Journey program offered by Prison Fellowship Uruguay. He shares his story:
“I was incarcerated in the Durazno Prison for 11 months. I agreed to attend the course when I was invited because I told myself that it would just be listening, watching some videos, and filling out a book. I thought it will be good to read a little—and that was the only thing that mattered to me.
But something happened while I participated in the sessions. I became interested in the Gospel of Mark workbook. Then, I was shocked by the videos. I looked forward to the sessions and knew my head had changed.
Today, I am free. I have changed my way of thinking. I am with my family again. I have a house and I am working. I no longer want to do wrong. I have a different way of seeing things. This course changed my thinking and God changed my life.”
Help A Prisoner Like Christihan Today
As soon as Prison Fellowship Zambia learned of the COVID-19 pandemic, they realized the probable impact in Zambia and sprang into action.
Sensing an imminent lockdown, the staff wasted no time in organizing a food distribution for caregivers of children in the program. At the distribution, they enforced social distancing and kept the groups to ten people. They also provided information about COVID-19. Each caregiver received instruction on handwashing, hygiene, and social distancing practices.
Since the lockdown in Zambia, the staff has used innovative ways to serve children, like connecting through phone calls and WhatsApp.
Help Protect The Most At Risk Today
Despite strict COVID-19 lockdown guidelines prohibiting Prison Fellowship Nigeria staff or volunteers from entering prisons, the Gospel continues to reach prisoners in Nigeria through The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program and other initiatives.
Today, while external volunteers cannot access prisons to facilitate The Prisoner’s Journey, the course continues to run via prisoner volunteers and prison officers. However, many of the program’s graduation ceremonies—a highlight for prisoners—have not been able to take place.
While it is unclear when prisons will reopen their doors to visitors and outside staff, Prison Fellowship Nigeria is not deterred. In addition to The Prisoner’s Journey, they continue to innovate new ways to reach prisoners and meet their immediate needs. In response to COVID-19, Prison Fellowship Nigeria created a new program to make hygiene kits for prisoners. This program gained so much traction, it inspired one prison to provide financial support to create more kits to be distributed to every prison in the country.
Help Support COVID-19 Relief Today
Melody did not feel good about herself. Her mom noticed when her grades started dropping and she no longer wanted to go to school. At the tender age of 10, all Melody wanted was to fit in with her peers, but she says she felt different.
Melody is different. She is the child of a prisoner, and in countries like Zimbabwe it is shameful to have a parent in prison. Families like hers are often cast aside by their communities and to make things worse, they often cannot afford life basics such as food, shelter, and clothes—let alone school uniforms.
Melody did not have a school uniform, and this made her stand out even more.
“Without a uniform, I don’t feel like I belong,” she said.
For children like Melody, a school uniform can mean the difference between loneliness and a sense of belonging—something Melody desperately needs at this critical time in her life.
The Children of Prisoners Program staff in Zimbabwe encourage the continued education of each child in the program, which includes providing support for school supplies and materials, including uniforms. They provided Melody with two dresses, two pairs of socks, and a pair of shoes for school.
Melody was humbled and grateful. She knelt in thanks as she received the package from Prison Fellowship Zimbabwe.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “Go and pass my gratitude to others!”
Melody now feels much better about herself and can be seen at school happily chatting and playing with her classmates. The gift of a simple uniform has helped Melody see something she couldn’t see before: a future.
“The sky is the limit!” she says.
That’s the difference a uniform makes.
Give Now to Provide Uniforms for Children Like Melody