Those in prison are cast off from society, often vilified and forgotten. But when they are invited to participate in an eight-week course that invites them to learn about Jesus, why He came, and what it means to follow Him, they can regain a sense of self-worth and inherent dignity.
Amavi’s bad life decisions led to his arrest and serving a prison sentence in Togo. “I used to seal from others in my community regularly until the police finally arrested me,” he says.
When Amavi first came to prison, he noticed some of his peers inviting others to join a course. Then, they invited him. “I decided to accept and joined The Prisoner’s Journey course,” he says.
During the course, learned there was a better way to live life. “My eyes were opened to what my life was really like,” Amavi says, “so I gave my life to Jesus. Through accepting Him as my Savior, He forgave my sins and transformed me. I feel a deep peace in my heart.”
When Amavi is released from prison, he plans not to return to his old way of stealing from others. “I have learned that I must be patient and work to earn my pay. Jesus is, and always will be, my light.”
Because Amavi chose to accept the invitation to participate in The Prisoner’s Journey course, he will now be able to return to his community restored.
Locked away, cut off from society, forgotten, Britney’s day-to-day routine serving a prison sentence was mundane. When there is nothing to look forward to—no visits or calls from family or friends, no celebrations, no special outings—it only increases the feelings of being hopeless and bored.
And Britney was bored. Then one day, something different happened—she received an invitation to participate in Prison Fellowship International’s eight-week in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey.
“I was not interested in the course,” says Britney. “I only signed up so I could come out of the cell.”
But after the second session, Britney realized she really needed this class because it could help her. She attended the sessions, learning about Jesus, why He came, and what it means to follow Him.
“The class impacted me in such a tremendous way—growing my knowledge of my Savior, building my faith, and showing me that all is not lost. God could still redeem and set me free. My mind became free and secure in my Father’s care.”
Britney completed the course, receiving a Bible and certificate during the graduation celebration.
When Britney was released from prison, she had accepted Christ as her Savior. She connected with a local church and continued to grow in her relationship with Christ. Soon, she was sharing her story to help others.
Today, Britney is a motivational speaker, especially for inmates. “I look at my graduation certificate each day. I say I will do everything for the will of God. I am grateful for the open door that gave me this start!”
Patricia was angry. Very angry. She believed she did not deserve to be in prison. Her anger continued to smolder until volunteers came to her prison, in Spain, and invited her to participate in Prison Fellowship International’s eight-week in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey®. Immediately, Patricia identified with Jesus’s story.
The program teaches about Jesus—who was wrongly accused and imprisoned—why he came, and what he wants prisoners to do with their lives.
“At first, I thought the lesson The Prisoner’s Journey was teaching is that Jesus was also imprisoned without reason—just like how I thought I was!” says Patricia. “It wasn’t until I finished the course that I realized what I thought was the lesson was wrong.”
Patricia learned that Jesus was a man full of goodness, who always forgave everyone—even when he didn’t have to. Even when he was wrongly accused.
“I also learned that Jesus was rejected by society as all prisoners are, which has helped my anger, my anguish, and my fears to shrink,” says Patricia.
Patricia says she now prays that we would not be blinded and hindered by our obstacles. And instead, that we would take advantage of them so that we can grow spiritually. Just like how God met Patricia in her anger and revealed himself to her, igniting a journey toward understanding and healing.
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.”
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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
Bible League International (BLI) and Prison Fellowship International (PFI) are partnering to develop solutions to the problems of crime and incarceration worldwide. This week, the organizations, which both have proven evangelism and discipleship programs in prisons around the world, are launching an evangelism and discipleship ministry, which invites prisoners to experience the transforming power and redemptive love of Christ, in Santiago, Chile—the first of 59 countries over the next five years.
“Each ministry brings complementary strengths, products, and relationships to this partnership,” says Jos Snoep, President and CEO of Bible League International. “Together we are able to reach so many more prisoners with the saving and transformative Good News of God’s Word, and then see their lives transformed.”
The organizations offer prisoners a continuum of evangelism and discipleship programming. Based on the Gospel of Mark, PFI’s The Prisoner’s Journey® introduces Jesus, who was also a prisoner, and is deeply relatable. This eight-week program is designed to run three times per year in each prison. Through 16 course videos, participants also hear stories from prisoners around the world whose lives have been changed through their personal journeys with Jesus. Upon completion of the program, course graduates receive their own easy-to-read Bible, God’s Word: Your Journey to Freedom from BLI, and are invited to continue their journey with Jesus through BLI’s Prison Project Philip Bible studies, a 52-lesson series embedded in the Freedom Bible.
BLI provides participants with the Bibles and training they need to lead the studies with other inmates. Each Prison Project Philip participant is encouraged to become part of a local church, whether behind bars or within their community post-release.
“The combination of these evangelism and discipleship studies is life-changing for prisoners,” says PFI CEO Andy Corley. “We’ve found when a prisoner is transformed at a heart-level, his or her chances of thriving outside of prison dramatically increase. We’re also finding it creates a positive shift in the prison culture. Prison officials are telling us there are fewer fights and a calmer atmosphere within their prisons after inmates go through the program. We believe this is an end-to-end solution to the problem of repeat offenders, and we’re grateful for Bible League International’s committed partnership in this effort.”
The two organizations first partnered together in 2014 when BLI donated 25,000 prison Bibles to PFI’s then newly launched program, which has since graduated more than 250,000 prisoners. In an effort to reach nearly 2 million prisoners in 59 countries by 2024, the partners plan to graduate 825,000 prisoners from The Prisoner’s Journey, distribute 688,000 easy-to-read Bibles in 11 languages, and enroll 416,000 participants in Prison Project Philip.
About Bible League International:
Bible League International serves under-resourced churches with Bibles and training to transform lives through God’s Word. For more information, visit bibleleague.org.
This story was originally posted on Christian News Wire.
Maria Jose bursts with joy at a gathering for children of prisoners in Colombia.
Maria Jose is nine years old. She is bright and outgoing, and her smile cheers a whole room. But she has a sad secret: four years ago her father Alfredo was sent to prison. He won’t be released until after she graduates high school. She misses him every day—so much she’s developed severe anxiety. Maria Jose looks forward to the few hours she gets to visit him each month. Today is that day.
She wakes up early, selects her best outfit, and pulls on her favorite knit cap to cover the bald spots on her head. Here’s a secret Maria Jose can’t hide: a year ago, she started losing her hair. The doctors call it Alopecia—they say it’s caused by chronic anxiety and severe stress.
The loss of Maria Jose’s father is unbearable. The loss of her hair is embarrassing. And the stares and whispers from children in her neighborhood make her want to disappear. In Colombia, it is especially shameful to be related to a prisoner. Basic things like food and medical care are scarce, because Maria Jose’s mother Consuelo can only work two days a week, as a housekeeper, for very little pay. Maria Jose worries about her mother, too, who has been so ill she was recently hospitalized.
“Taking care of our home and raising my daughter alone are so difficult without Alfredo around,” says Consuelo. “María Jose needs a father figure.”
Weak family relationships and lack of parental support, along with hopelessness and persistent separation anxiety are shared experiences among thousands of children of prisoners around the world. Heartbreakingly, these internalized struggles are also among the leading causes of adolescent suicide.
Thousands more children of prisoners throughout the world are in desperate need. They live in impoverished, unsafe conditions; lack food, clothes, medicine, and the chance to go to school. They need to know they are seen and loved. And through our caring network of supporters and God’s grace, thousands of children of prisoners in eight countries are receiving life-saving care and the opportunity to regain their hope and understand their value in the light of God’s love.
On her way to visit her father in prison, Maria Jose travels through a steep maze of hillside shacks to where Medellín’s mountains touch the valley floor. There stands Bellavista Prison. It’s scary to walk the overcrowded, cell-lined halls that house thousands of Colombia’s worst criminals. There are also thousands of prisoners, like María Jose’s father, who desperately need to hear about the hope and love only Jesus can bring. Our supporters are helping us bring justice and healing in response to crime by sharing the Gospel with prisoners.
After hours of waiting in a small holding room, Maria Jose is taken to the prison’s courtyard to see her father. A huge smile lights her face, as she practically leaps into his outstretched arms.
“It was worth it,” she later tells her caseworker.
Since her father has been in prison, Maria Jose has noticed a change in him. He talks about God now, and says he feels peace.
Alfredo participated in Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelism and discipleship program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, which introduced him to Jesus in a personal way. Alfredo says his time in prison has given him the opportunity to search for God.
“I want to walk with God, so he can help me rebuild my life,” he says.
With our supporters help, we have now reached more than 217,000 prisoners, just like Alfredo, in 30 countries, with the message of the Gospel.
María Jose, Consuelo, and Alfredo are beautiful testimonies of how our supporters’ gifts impact an entire family. The practical help and care they receive is making a true difference for families who have so little, but are now experiencing hope and restoration in a broken and hurting world.
Now, María Jose receives food, medical care to manage her incurable Alopecia, and emotional counseling to help her heal from the trauma of her father’s incarceration. That emotional support is so vital to regaining her confidence.
María Jose also has the comfort of a Christian caseworker, who visits her regularly to ensure she lives in safety and has opportunities to interact with other children of prisoners, get plugged into a local church community, and stay connected with her father in prison. This helps to build her relationships, ease her anxiety, and feel accepted, supported, and loved. Consuelo says it gives her hope to know people are caring for her family.
“I know I am not alone in this.”
We are so grateful for the difference our caring network of supports are making in the lives of families like Maria Jose, Consuelo, and Alberto. Just imagine the eternal impact of that support.
Give Now to Support a Family in Need of Practical Care and God’s Hope
When a group of ex-prisoners walked into Stephen James’s prison and began sharing their stories of change, healing, and forgiveness, Stephen didn’t think he’d ever be one of them.
“I went up to the guy who was running the ministry and said, ‘You don’t know how bad I’ve been.’ I started to list every bad thing I’d done in my life when he stopped me. He told me, ‘I don’t want to know about what you’ve done. We love you, and Christ loves you.’”
That day was a turning point for Stephen, who at 25 years old, was serving a four-year sentence in HMP Prison in Shrewsbury, England, for drug possession.
Stephen grew up in Leek, England, the youngest of five children. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother withered under his father’s physical and psychological abuse.
“There wasn’t any love,” says Stephen. “No encouragement, no investment in the children. We grew up in fear.”
Stephen often questioned the bad things that happened in his life. His school performance suffered, and at 15 years old he began to follow in his father’s footsteps, working construction by day and drinking his nights away.
“I lived my life in the bars, pubs, and clubs,” says Stephen. “And that progressed to drugs.”
It started with cannabis, and quickly spiraled into speed, ecstasy, and LSD.
“Then I was introduced to methadone, which is a substitute for heroin addicts. But to get it, you have to show up to the doctor with heroin in your system, so you can claim you were an addict.”
But it wasn’t just a claim.
“I started dealing. The low point of my life was using intravenously—injecting five to six times a day. I was suicidal and remember thinking I couldn’t carry on like this.”
In 1995, Stephen was caught and convicted for possession of heroin, and sentenced to four years in prison. He served two. At that point, he was convinced he would go back to drugs when he was released. But transformation was already taking shape, as Stephen began asking the God question.
“If you’d have asked me if there is a God, I would have said yes. But I didn’t know him personally.”
Near the end of Stephen’s sentence, men from Victory Outreach visited his prison. They brought ex-offenders with them, who shared their stories of brokenness, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse. This got Stephen’s attention.
“I identified with them,” he says. “I’ll never forget when I was in prison: I was abandoned. My family didn’t want to know me. Nobody visited me. I didn’t think my life could change. But they all said that Jesus changed their life. And that was the moment for me.”
Stephen cracked open a Bible and began his exploration of who Jesus is, why He came, and what He called Stephen to do. And he found the answers to his questions about life, and purpose, and identity. Stephen committed his life to Christ.
When Stephen was released from prison in August of 1997 he was determined not to go back. He moved to South Wales, where Victory Outreach supported his reintegration for two years, as he rebuilt his life. He worked construction while he went back to school, eventually earning a college degree in sociology and social studies. He met his wife, got married, started a family.
Then in 2008, prison loomed on the horizon, once again, when a group from Christianity Explored Ministries approached Stephen to develop a course, based on the Gospel of Mark, to be taught in prisons.
“I didn’t want to go back to prison,” says Stephen. “But I felt a calling to go back. It was clear that God wanted me to be involved in prison ministry.”
Stephen spent the next eight years developing and teaching what would become the basis for Prison Fellowship International’s groundbreaking in-prison evangelism and discipleship program, The Prisoner’s Journey®.
“The challenge was to write the course to fit the needs of the prison context, to make it adaptive.”
Stephen sat in on many courses, and eventually drew up a model that merged the course materials with several other proven in-prison courses, including Prison Fellowship International’s Sycamore Tree Project® victim-offender reconciliation program.
“We trialed the program for about a year, always asking for feedback from the prisoners.”
To keep the prisoners’ interests and accommodate varying academic levels, the course is mostly oral and the exercises are kept short and visual with questions and drawings on flip charts, and lots of repetition.
“We talk about where we’ve been in the course, and where we’re going. We work step-by-step through a theme each week, and look at a couple of verses. We keep the guys moving around a lot.”
In 2014, Stephen helped adapt the course for Prison Fellowship International’s The Prisoner’s Journey® program. It has since reached more than half a million prisoners with an invitation to learn about Jesus the Prisoner.
Stephen regularly watches men and women come into the course saying the same things he used to say—“I can’t change, you don’t know where I’ve been”—and seeing them, step-by-step, begin to understand and live the message and hope of Christ.
“One of the most rewarding things I’ve heard a prisoner says is, ‘I’m more free in prison than I would be outside, now that I have Christ in my life.’”
As Stephen travels the globe to train Prison Fellowship affiliate leaders to teach the course, he’s confronted by many challenges as an ex-convict. Yet, he says his life is constantly shaped and authenticated by the Gospel, and he wouldn’t trade prison ministry for anything else.
“Obviously, I’ve got criminal convictions. . . . It’s like I’m constantly vetted as a person each time I enter a new country. But I wouldn’t be doing this work if it wasn’t for the Gospel.”
“It is about loving the prisoner. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. And sometimes that’s tough. Because we’re good at loving people who are good towards us, who are nice people, but it really is about loving the prisoner.”
“And I haven’t been refused in any country yet. That’s an amazing testimony, isn’t it?”
Help other prisoners around the world hear the invitation to know Christ as their savior through The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program.
Learn more about The Prisoner’s Journey®