The only words I can muster since my recent return from a Vision Trip to Rwanda are, “My heart is overflowing!” We spent a week with the Prison Fellowship Rwanda team and I am so impressed with how strong they are, the progress of the programs they are running and how they impact the lives of so many prisoners and their families through Jesus’s love.
First, we headed into the Rwamagana Prison where we sat with 15 small groups as they were studying the seventh lesson of The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ). Our seven PFI guests broke up into groups of two or three and were invited to sit amongst the prisoner groups. Of these 15 groups, only one was led by an external volunteer with prison access while 14 of them were led by internal volunteers (prisoners or corrections staff members who are so moved by the course that they complete an eight-hour training to become a leader). This practice is what sustained TPJ and in-prison ministry around the world during the pandemic. While prisons were closed to external visitors, our programs did not have to stop because God had prepared certified, trained staff on the inside!
Prison Fellowship Rwanda volunteer Francoise, currently the only external TPJ course leader
Each small group leader called on a couple of participants to share what the course has meant to them. Time after time, I heard, “I was living in the darkness, but now because of Jesus and His forgiveness, I am living in the light.” As more prisoners shared, I kept hearing answers of deliverance from darkness and having their burdens lifted as they learned of His forgiveness. One young man shared that he was in prison for stealing a motorbike and he was angry when he was arrested. All he could do was count how many motorbikes he would steal once he was released from prison. He told us that now that he’s nearly completed the program, this desire no longer lives in his heart. He has realized that he must take ownership and responsibility for his crime and because of this, he wants to be a better person once he released from prison.
A rare opportunity to sit among prisoners during TPJ course discussions at Rwamagana Prison
Over the next two days, we spent time around the Kigali and Ngara communities to see ministry activities happening within The Child’s Journey (TCJ), PFI’s signature child sponsorship program. Witnessing local song and dance, health checks and clothing distribution, we played games like Duck-Duck-Goose and Red Rover with the children and staff. Parents, caregivers and children also shared beautiful stories and testimonies of how difficult their life was before the program, and how it has helped them. Through TCJ, children of prisoners are matched with a Christian caseworker to guide them through life, often over the span of many years.
Children sponsored through TCJ receive program services like health checks to ensure wellbeing
One day, I sat in on a group discussion for children aged 12 and over on an important topic: planning for the future. They asked questions like, “Who are your five best friends today? Do they make you feel better about yourself or worse? When making decisions, do you think about who it will impact and could the decision stop you from reaching your goals?” Having the children answer these types of questions allowed them to think about where they are in life, where they want to be and what kind of influence their friends are. Not only does sponsorship provide material items like food and shelter for children, but it also ensures access to opportunities for increasing self-esteem, building hope and improving interpersonal relationships.
Rwandan children and caregivers gathered with smiles and laughter to welcome our group
We loved seeing all the happy faces as we distributed clothes (left) and played games, like jump rope (right)!
Many of us on the trip quickly realized how deeply woven the effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide are still in the fabric of the nation today. Tanya*, one of the TCJ caseworkers, lost her entire family, including her siblings and parents, to the genocide. A neighbor found her as an infant in a field and raised her as her own. Now, she has found healing and works at Prison Fellowship Rwanda to support children of prisoners with healing of their own. Only God the Father can bring about that kind of healing.
We also got to sit down at dinner with Bishop Deogratias Gashagaza, the Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. He is very well known throughout the region for the work he has done to establish reconciliation practices between the Hutus and Tutsis. This includes a longstanding Prison Fellowship Rwanda initiative, Reconciliation Villages*. In these communities, sprawled across the country with 864 homes, genocide survivors and perpetrators live alongside each other. They are places where convicted killers take responsibility for their crimes through reconciliation efforts and survivors and refugees offer forgiveness.
PFI Regional Manager Franck Baby (left), PFI Donor Relations Director Kristi Padley (middle), Prison Fellowship Rwanda Executive Director Bishop Deogratias Gashagaza (right)
Many of the people living in these villages have lived here for over a decade, including Lorince. During the genocide, two of her neighbors helped kill her family. She was pregnant at the time and had an infant, so she ran and hid for a long time. The men got out of prison years later and Prison Fellowship Rwanda invited Lorince’s and the neighbors’ families to live in the village together. When she moved in, she had not yet forgiven those who killed her family. She told us that during the genocide, she promised God that she would serve him if he saved her and her child. She heard God speaking to her, asking to forgive, and so she worked very hard to do so. Her face was beautiful with peace as she told us her story while sitting next to the men who caused her so much harm. It was truly awe-inspiring as only God can soften hearts like that.
*The Rwandan Reconciliation Villages are unique to Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and I’ve shared this with you because this is incredible restorative justice work. PFI also has efforts to increase the restorative nature of in-prison programming around the world through Sycamore Tree Project (STP). STP is an in-prison course focusing on responsibility, confession, forgiveness and making amends. You can read more about this much-needed work on restorativejustice.org.
Refugee Lorince, who lives in a Reconciliation Village, shares her story
God was truly with us on this Vision Trip to Rwanda as we all came away with hearts overflowing. Prison Fellowship Rwanda is powerfully transforming lives of prisoners, their families and victims of crime across the nation through their own and Jesus’s love. It was an incredible thing for us to witness that impact.
*Name changed for privacy
Given the current events in Ukraine, many people have reached out to us with concern for our brothers and sisters working with Prison Fellowship Ukraine and the surrounding ministries, and how to help.
First and foremost, we ask you to pray.
Second, you can give a gift to support our work across Europe and Central Asia. This is not emergency relief for the Ukraine – it is for what comes next.
Early estimates from the philanthropy research organization Candid has catalogued $440 million in grants and $333 million more in pledges for the victims. Those totals do not include individual donations, or donations from nonprofits and corporations that haven’t publicly reported their gifts – meaning the actual amount in aid is much higher. Our partners with the Hopebearer Foundation and many of the Prison Fellowship family have stood up around the world to provide much-needed assistance during this time of crisis.
What is not in place are support efforts for what’s to come. These long-term efforts are where Prison Fellowship International will be, as the ongoing needs will be significant. With your help, we will be there to continue sharing the Gospel with prisoners and their families.
In the meantime, please read on to hear of the herculean effort being made by the Prison Fellowship Ukraine, Romania and the Czech Republic teams to serve those most in need during this time.
Prison Fellowship Ukraine
The team in Ukraine is assisting with evacuation efforts and supplies for women and children. To date, they have helped evacuate more than 300 families and provided food packages which include flour, sugar, salt, porridge, canned food, and cookies.
An evacuation van being used by PF Ukraine to transport women and children to safety
Prisons and prisoners are are especially vulnerable at this time. Five prisons have been hit by shelling or gunfire throughout the course of the conflict. Fortunately, the prisoners and staff had been evacuated to bomb shelters, so no casualties have been reported from these incidents. Many prisons in Ukraine are a long way from urban centers leaving them unable to source food and other necessary goods while the supply chain is disrupted. Prison Fellowship Ukraine is purchasing goods including flour, tomato paste, tea, stew, and margarine, and delivering them to prisons to help sustain the prisons during this difficult time.
Groceries that were purchased by PF Ukraine for delivery
They have also purchased goods such as toilet paper, milk, rice, flour, and meat to help stock a center that is hosting Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). The center is run by Sergei, a friend of Prison Fellowship Ukraine. He opened the center initially to host children facing difficult family situations, but recently opened the doors to others that are displaced and in need at this time.
Check out this video that PF Ukraine shared of a group of Ukrainian children of prisoners expressing their gratitude for the assistance that they have received.
Prison Fellowship Romania
Prison Fellowship Romania has stepped in to provide much needed support for refugees crossing their border. PF Romania staff and volunteers have been collecting and creating care packages that are being distributed to refugees at Sighet Border as they enter. Some volunteers from PF Romania have even opened their own homes to host refugee families.
Prison Fellowship Romania delivering goods to the warehouse at Sighet Border
Prison Fellowship Romania has welcomed 46 children with disabilities, along with their caregivers, into their social center in Cluj. They are currently providing housing and meals for these families.
Families arriving at the PF Romania’s social center in Cluj
The PF Romania team is also bravely delivering aid within Ukrainian borders. They are driving trucks full of food and other disaster relief items to the front lines where they are needed most, including a refugee shelter in Ternopil.
PF Romania volunteers delivering goods to a shelter within Ukraine
Prison Fellowship Czech Republic
Prison Fellowship Czech Republic is hard at work building support and gathering relief items for those in Ukraine. They have held collection drives in Prague and Brno to gather backpacks, sleeping bags, lamps, batteries, hygiene items, winter clothing and food to be delivered directly in Ukraine to prisoners, their families, and prisoners who have been recently been released to defend Ukraine. In addition, they have collected more than $6,000 in funds to be disbursed to refugees.
The Prison Fellowship global family has come together in a big way to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters and we will continue to do so while praying for peace and safety within the region. Pastor Viacheslav, Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Ukraine, has remained in the country to direct the aid being disbursed by the National Ministry and pray with those who are seeking comfort.
See below for additional photos of the efforts.
From PFI President & CEO, Andrew Corley
Charles Dickens created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is one of the Victorian era’s great novelists. His stories still speak to us today. What is less well known is that Dickens was a believer and a follower of Christ and much of his writing is the result of personal experience. What is even more interesting is that he was the child of a prisoner.
Fired by righteous indignation stemming from his situation and the conditions of the poor in his time these became major themes of his work.
In A Christmas Carol, which sums up some of the major themes, we see Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart change. He starts with the immortal line “Bah Humbug!”… cold and hard, unable to think of others…..but Scrooge’s eyes are opened, and eventually he treats others with kindness, generosity, and compassion, embodying the spirit of Christmas
His life was transformed by perspective, understanding, and generosity.
I also want to encourage you with these words from the mouth of the creator of the Universe, whose birth as the fully God and fully human one we celebrate at this time:
“The Son of Man will come again with divine greatness, and all his angels will come with him. He will sit as king on his great and glorious throne. All the people of the world will be gathered before him. Then he will separate everyone into two groups. It will be like a shepherd separating his sheep from his goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to the godly people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has great blessings for you. The kingdom he promised is now yours. It has been prepared for you since the world was made. It is yours because when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I had no place to stay, you welcomed me into your home. When I was without clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you cared for me. When I was in prison, you came to visit me.’ “Then the godly people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you with no place to stay and welcome you into our home? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’ “Then the king will answer, ‘The truth is, anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.’”
—Matthew 25:31-40 ERV
At Prison Fellowship International, this is our goal:
Our wonderful donors, of which you are one, have risen again and again to the opportunity to partner with us. The impact is undeniable.
Thank you. You have no idea how appreciated you are.
And by the grace of God and with your support we are resolutely committed to accelerating into the future in 2021. This is the theme of our faith-filled strategic plan for next year.
It will continue because of the passion that God has placed in each of us, through the generosity of good people like yourselves and because it must according to the command of Jesus.
We still have many financial needs for this year and next. Would you help us with a special single gift at this critical time?
We are deeply grateful for your continued support, perspective, understanding, and generosity. And we cannot do this without you.
I sign off all my communication with the following signatory words: “We go because we must, we go well because we can”.
I might add “we also go because our wonderful supporters enable us to.”
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.
Prison Fellowship Uruguay recently received a donation of $500, and with this seed money, they established a hand sanitizing solution production line. The hand sanitizer is available in various scents, including lavender and pine.
Prison Fellowship Uruguay is donating the hand sanitizer products to prisons, as well as selling them at local markets to generate revenue for prison programs. Their long-term strategy is to partner with the Ministry of the Interior to be the supplier of these sanitizing solutions to Uruguay’s prisons.
The partnership will also support the rehabilitation of prisoners as part of Prison Fellowship Uruguay’s Canna Home, a half-way home for recently released, or selected soon-to-be-released prisoners. Established 13 years ago, Canaa Home provides the opportunity for residents to learn to farm and now also the production of sanitizer solutions as they prepare to re-enter their communities. This further reduces recidivism.
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Patricia Anne (Hughes) Colson, 89, beloved wife of the late Charles W. Colson, passed away peacefully on March 27, 2020 at her home in Naples Florida.
She will be deeply missed by her three children: Wendell and his wife Joanne, Christian and his wife Cheryll, and Emily; her five grandchildren: Charles and his wife Heather, Caroline and her husband Grant, Max, Stephanie, and Beckett; and her seven great-grandchildren: Rylee, Hayes, Charles Carter, Christian, Oliver, Finley, and Nathan.
Patty, who was known and loved by many, was born July 22, 1930, in Hoosick Falls, NY, to parents Joseph and Anna (Gannan) Hughes. Her older brother, Joseph, preceded her in death. She moved to Washington, DC in 1952 to work for Senator Ralph Flanders from her then-home state of Vermont. In 1964, she married Charles W. “Chuck” Colson (1931-2012).
Patty had a keen interest in politics, but she was best known for her resilient spirit, gregarious personality, and unstoppable sense of humor, all of which carried her through the years Chuck served in the White House, as well as the many public and private pressures of the Watergate scandal. After Chuck’s conversion to Christ in 1973, his seven-month prison term in 1974, and through the founding of Prison Fellowship Ministries, and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Patty, strengthened by her own faith in Christ, became an invaluable partner in ministry.
Even though Chuck’s schedule could mean days and weeks apart, Patty supported Chuck in every way and was keenly involved in every step of ministry. “Happy,” as she was affectionately called by Chuck and her family, adored delivering Angel Tree gifts to the children of prisoners, served as a wise counsel, and although she disliked flying, accompanied Chuck around the globe and into some of the darkest places in the world to bring the truth and hope of Christ to prisoners.
Most importantly, Patty had a personal relationship with her savior, Jesus. She knew and lived by His saving grace and trusted in His power to redeem and make all things new. Her hope in Christ brought her through many great challenges in life. And today, that hope is made sight, as she enters into the presence of the Lord.
Patty will be deeply missed by her family, her many friends, the women of Community Bible Study, and the thousands who have served in and supported the ministries. And, she will be missed by every prisoner whose life was made brighter by her smile.
Her life is a legacy of hope.
Funeral services will be private.
In Lieu of flowers, Patty has requested financial support for Prison Fellowship, The Colson Center, and The Acton Institute.
This obituary originally appeared on BreakPoint.org.
PFI CEO and President, Andrew Corley, shares some thoughts and encouragement as we adjust strategies and face the Coronavirus as a ministry family.
Global leaders have been working tirelessly responding to the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The pandemic has impacted every sector of life, from causing a shortage of necessities to limiting which family members we can see, and when.
COVID-19 has also impacted the PFI family. And with new information emerging every day, it can become difficult to feel sure about the condition of the world. But I encourage you to consider three eternal truths to help give us strength in these trying times:
Of course, that does not change our current reality. But it can change how we understand it. Instead of getting frustrated about the possibility of not achieving our quarterly goals, we must set new ones in preparation for a second-quarter that will be different than the one we expected.
Rest assured, the health, wellbeing, and safety of the staff, partners, national ministries, and global volunteers who comprise the PFI family—as well as that of the prisoners and families of prisoners we serve—is our utmost concern. We are grateful for the people around the world who are working to contain the virus and stand with those on the front lines making difficult decisions every day.
That being said, operating under challenging situations is also nothing new to us. While we are taking precautions and following the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), it is business as usual for us so far as what is in our control. By the grace of God, our vision remains to break the cycle of crime and restore lives worldwide through Jesus’s love.
PFI’s National Ministries around the world are still active and functioning, even in the midst of a pandemic. Though our staff is restricted from traveling internationally, program implementation by our affiliates is not impacted.
What could have an impact is a government’s response to COVID-19, especially when it comes to prison access? However, none of us can control that. Once restrictions are lifted, we will all be straight back in. With these changes, we have a chance to strengthen internal systems and fortify our infrastructure. We can emerge from this even stronger and better able to serve.
As you know only too well, many members of the PFI family are accustomed to operating in environments where infectious disease is prevalent. It is a daily reality, and our volunteers understand the importance of hygiene. I attended a graduation ceremony a week ago for 140 men and women in Thika prison, Nairobi, Kenya, where a vital graduation gift was soap. This was one way Prison Fellowship Kenya was battling the spread of disease in a prison that had a dedicated “cough corner” for those gathered for the graduation ceremony.
Vulnerable populations—especially prisoners—are at high risk of contracting the virus. This is a fact. PFI, through our National Ministries, has been serving these very populations for more than 40 years. We are uniquely positioned to continue ministering to prisoners and their families, even in this storm. It’s what we do every day. Thank God we are there.
COVID-19 will impact PFI’s operations. But we will focus on what is within our power to keep it business as usual. We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves and provide support as needed. In fact, our decentralized model allows us to better adapt to any situation, even something as unprecedented as COVID-19.
I attended a local church, with no communion or handshaking or embracing. No passing around of the offering plate. Not even tea or coffee. But we did sing this:
Father, hear the prayer we offer:
Not for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength, that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.
Not forever in green pastures
Do we ask our way to be;
But the steep and rugged pathway
May we tread rejoicingly.
Not forever by still waters
Would we idly rest and stay;
But would smite the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.
Be our strength in hours of weakness,
In our wanderings be our Guide;
Through endeavor, failure, danger,
Savior, be thou at our side.
Selah, Selah, Selah
Brazil is one of the most violent nations in the world.
According to the World Health Organization, 63,895 Brazilians were murdered in 2017. That marks the nation’s homicide rate as one of the highest in the world. On top of that, many in Brazil support violent policing methods, which have taken root in a popular motto Bandido bom é bandido morto (“The only good criminal is a dead criminal”).
But the support is not all-encompassing.
According to a study published in 2017 by the Centre for Studies on Public Safety and Citizenship at the University Candido Mendes, 73.4% of daily churchgoers, mostly evangelical Christians, reject the idea that “the only good criminal is a dead criminal.” The study also points out that evangelicals were the most likely to support the idea that a criminal can become a good citizen.
That belief is what has allowed the Association for the Protection and Assistance of the Condemned (APAC) to help so many people in Brazil.
Dr. Mario Ottoboni founded APAC in São José de Campos, Brazil, in 1972. Since then, Prison Fellowship Brazil has spread the program to over 50 prisons throughout the country. Dr. Ottoboni developed the APAC methodology centred around love. In a recent interview, David Van Patten, COO of Prison Fellowship International, spoke about how APAC works by counteracting Brazilians’ preconceptions about crime.
“The main, driving force is they’re saturated with a different view of who they are,” Van Patten explained. He went on to detail how APAC helps prisoners reconsider “who they can be in relationship to the people they’ve harmed, their families, and other people in the community.”
And there is a clear need for the APAC program within Brazilian prisons.
“What we’ve learned,” Van Patten said, “is that about a third of the prisoners in any prison want to change and can change. But without help, won’t change.”
And as prisoners have changed, so have the prisons. Within the APAC methodology, prisons don’t have guards or any other paid staff. They are run by volunteers, as well as the prisoners themselves. Unlike traditional prisons, which often focus on punishment, APAC prisons are institutions focused on love, forgiveness, and transformation.
While Brazil may be the birthplace of the APAC program, it is not the only place where it is helping to change lives. Prison Fellowships in Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile have all seen APAC programs work in their prisons. And Prison Fellowship national ministries around the world have noticed the success in Latin America, and are starting to experiment with similar models. Ministries in Europe, Asia, and North America are all beginning to experiment with programs based on the APAC model.
“The opportunity is bigger than our ability to fund it,” says Van Patten. “More governments and prison directors are asking for Prison Fellowship [International] to come in and do work in their countries than we can support. The bottom line is funding.”
You can support APAC programs around the world by making a donation to grow restorative justice programs today.
Support APAC Programs Today