Most of us have heard the saying, “It can be hard to understand someone’s struggle until you walk a mile in their shoes.” I had the privilege of visiting the Prison Fellowship team in Malawi and they invited me to walk with them both physically and spiritually as the led me through how they serve the children in The Child’s Journey.
Our day began at 6:45 am, as we would be heading out to visit some of the children and see what a typical home visit looks like for the Malawi team. Home visits are conducted at least once per quarter for each child in the program in order to allow staff to inspect the home and ask the family about any targeted support that they may need. After driving for more than 3 hours, we came to a side road riddled with pot holes. We slowly followed it for a few miles, grateful that we hadn’t lost a tire along the way. Finally, we stopped in front of a brick hut and saw Chimwemwe (Program Coordinator), Kelvin (Sponsorship Coordinator) and James (Caseworker), getting out of their car. Chimwemwe held colorful chitenges, multi-purpose fabric that women in Malawi tie around their waist, for us to wear. “You are now Malawi women!”, she beamed as we finished tying them.
I was relieved to have arrived before I noticed that they were beginning to walk down a dirt path adjacent to where we parked. Kelvin yelled back, “We will park here and it is a short walk to the children.” The short walk to the house turned out to be 2.5 miles of washed out mountain roads – over streams, gullies and loose rocks. After more than an hour of walking – exhausted, sweaty, and bug-bitten – we finally turned into… a corn field. How they knew which row of corn to turn inside, I will never understand. Kelvin said it’s because they have “God’s GPS” in their brains. In a way, I guess that is true. If we listen to Him, He will lead us to those we can show His grace to.
The corn field opened to reveal a small brick structure with a thatched roof. Children were playing in the dirt in front of the house while a couple of neighbors were nursing their babies. Their mother had gone to harvest some food from the surrounding fields. While waiting for her, Chimwemwe introduced the children, who stared at us shyly. “What is your favorite part of the program?” she asked the oldest son. “Juice” was his succinct reply. Slowly they came over to shake our hands or sit.
When the mother returned with her harvest, Chimwemwe and James went through the questions on their home visit form: Had the children been sick? Do they need additional food supplies? How long do they anticipate their harvest will last? Are the children attending school? The responses were noted with care. After the initial questions were asked, Chimwemwe asked the mother how many people lived in the single-room home – seven. She then spoke with the family about how they could help them create an addition to the structure to give the children more space to sleep and fix leaks in the roof. The mother’s face lit up with joy as they began preparing the plan to bring those improvements to fruition. Next, Chimwemwe and James measured each child so that they could get them new school uniforms, as uniforms are required for all schooling in Malawi. As we were leaving, the mother grabbed our hands, squeezed them and quietly said, “Zikomo, zikomo.” – “Thank you, thank you.”
The trek back to our car was somehow more difficult going the other direction. We stopped multiple times to catch our breath and have relief from the blazing sun. During one of these rest stops, I realized this was the path that the children walk every day, twice, to go to school. When they say that they walk miles uphill both ways to go to school, they mean it. No buses or cars could possibly reach anywhere near their home. How do they do it? I asked Kelvin if this was an example of one of their most remote families – surely they didn’t have to walk hours for each one when they serve more than 500 children through their program. He responded, “This is a typical journey to see our families. After their family member commits a crime, they want to hide in a remote location, away from judgment. They don’t want people to find them.” The work didn’t stop once we finally got back to the car. The Malawi team began unloading backpacks, food supplies, and a Bible in the mother’s heart language. These were given to the grandfather of the children we had just visited for him to give to them the next day.
That visit showed me the true amount of work that each member of field staff puts into serving the children – and it is incredible to see. Chimwemwe described it best when she said, “Being a part of The Child’s Journey is not a job, it’s a calling. If I saw it as a job, I would always be tired. But it is my calling, so it brings me life.” We hope that you will keep our field staff in your prayers. They are so grateful for the support given by child sponsors in order to enable them to live their calling and provide care to the children of prisoners.
Breaking the cycle of crime is difficult. But through a holistic approach that cares for prisoners’ spiritual lives, physical needs, and family relationships, it’s not just possible—it’s happening. Florence, a prisoner and a mother of two from Zambia, will tell you.
“I was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor,” says Florence. “I felt sorry for myself, but there was nothing I could do at the time.”
When Florence went to prison, she left her young daughters, Ketty and Chisenga, in her father’s care, but he struggled to provide for their needs. Ketty and Chisenga stopped going to school because they couldn’t afford to buy shoes, clothes, and school supplies.
“I was so annoyed with myself because I was the one who had been providing for them, but now I couldn’t,” says Florence.
When it seemed hope was lost, a team from Prison Fellowship Zambia visited Florence’s prison to tell the inmates about a program that cared specifically for children of prisoners by providing them with food, clothing, spiritual care, home visits, and helping them pay for school fees.
Florence immediately registered her girls and, through Prison Fellowship Zambia, saw something greater at work in her life. While the staff sought out her children in their hometown, volunteers began visiting Florence and sharing about God’s love and faithfulness.
“I have seen the hand of God in my life,” says Florence. “I saw it while in prison. . . . After hearing the Word of God, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. That very day was the beginning of my transformation.”
To learn more about what it looks like to follow Jesus, Florence joined Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey®. Through it, she learned more about who Jesus is and what he calls her to do with her life. After graduating from the eight-week program, Florence decided to take her faith one step further and join Prison Fellowship International’s Sycamore Tree Project, where she learned what it looks like to take responsibility for her action and make amends to the people she hurt.
Florence now considers herself a changed woman with a new focus in life.
“The greatest desire of my heart now is the Bible. I am very grateful to God and to Prison Fellowship Zambia. [They are] Indeed doing amazing things in the lives of inmates and their children.”
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
The quality of life for hundreds of children in Malawi is about to improve thanks to a new partnership agreement between Prison Fellowship International and Prison Fellowship Malawi. After a year of preparation, Prison Fellowship International’s child sponsorship program launched in Malawi on November 1. The program commenced with the enrollment of the first 140 children, who will receive food, clothing, access to education, regular medical check-ups, and spiritual and emotional care.
There are millions of children around the world who have lost one or both parents to imprisonment. Many live in dire circumstances, struggling to live a normal, safe, healthy life while their parent–often the family’s breadwinner–is behind bars. Some are forced to beg for food or must drop out of school to work in dangerous conditions. And many are stigmatized and discriminated against for being associated with a criminal.
Prison Fellowship International’s child sponsorship program works in partnership with Prison Fellowship affiliates around the world to rescue, restore, and rebuild the lives of poor and vulnerable children of prisoners. The program ensures children have safe housing and protection from exploitation, and abuse, as well as proper nutrition, medical care, access to education, and the opportunity to develop emotional and spiritual strength. In addition, the program helps children maintain a relationship with their incarcerated parent, which is vital to their wellbeing.
“Prison Fellowship Malawi has been part of the Prison Fellowship International family for nearly 20 years, and their heart and passion for prisoners and their families is at the core of their organization,” said Michele Leith, associate program manager at Prison Fellowship International. “Over the last five years, the child sponsorship program has grown to reaching nearly 6,000 children around the world. With Malawi as our newest program partner, we know that thousands of children who are currently hidden and wondering where their next meal will come from or afraid of what their future holds will be seen, known, and loved, and have a chance for a brighter future.”
The child sponsorship program currently serves 5,716 children throughout Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Over the next year, Prison Fellowship Malawi plans to expand care to 300 children of prisoners. And by 2024, Prison Fellowship International aims to expand the program to serve 800 children in Malawi. Visit pfintl.wpengine.com/malawi for more information or to sponsor a child from Malawi.
Prison Fellowship Malawi
Prison Fellowship Malawi was founded in 2001 and is active in 30 of the country’s prisons.
This story was originally posted on Christian News Wire.
Children of prisoners are well acquainted with the unexpected twists and turns life can take. One day, they’re a carefree child, and the next their father or mother is ripped from their life and sent to prison. It’s truly amazing the difference one person can make in the life of a child in need.
Fourteen-year-old Yvonne, in Rwanda, knows this firsthand.
We found Yvonne three years ago, living in the care of her older sister, because both of her parents are in prison.
Imagine being an adolescent girl and losing both parents during a time when you need them most. Gone is the security of a parents’ love and the consistency of their presence. What’s worse, in Rwanda children under 18 years of age aren’t even allowed to visit their parents in prison. Yvonne won’t be able to see her parents for another four years, and they won’t be release until she is 28 years old.
Yvonne’s life is a beautiful, true story of how just one special person (a person like you and me) can transform a life. Yvonne’s supporter has developed a relationship with her, and she recently shared how much this relationship means to her:
“I never imagined someone besides my parents would love me this much.”
Because of that one person, Yvonne is well fed and clothed. A Christian caseworker also visits Yvonne regularly to ensure she lives in safety, has opportunities to interact with peers, be connected to a Christian community, and is able to continue her education.
“I was excited that I was going to study without being chased out [of school],” says Yvonne.
Yvonne’s education is critical in helping her grow into a confident young woman. Her supporter paid Yvonne’s education four years in advance so Yvonne will never have to worry about being able to finish school. But beyond her education, Yvonne couldn’t have imagined what more she would receive through the generosity of someone like you.
“My life has changed. Other children in the neighborhood and at school ask me about my life because they can see how happy I am and how I look good. I tell them that somebody they don’t know loves me.”
Give Now to Support a Child in Need of Practical Care and God’s Hope
Photo: Norman Nyakapadza could not hold back his expression of love for his family, after he enveloped his wife and children in an embrace.
Children of prisoners in Zimbabwe are celebrating after Prison Fellowship Zimbabwe (PFZ), an affiliate of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), successfully lobbied to overturn a prison visitation ban. This is a breakthrough for Zimbabwean children of prisoners under 18 years old, who were not permitted to visit anyone in prison—even their incarcerated parent.
“There is a growing awareness and evidence, globally, of the significant impact on children and inmates when children can visit their parent in prison,” says PFI’s International Director of Child Sponsorship Adam Hutchinson. “Studies show children who maintain a connection with their incarcerated parent report higher feelings of safety, stability, and overall emotional wellbeing. There is always a reduced likelihood of a parent re-offending after release, meaning families are stronger and children are better care for.”
After a series of meetings with the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Service to present prison visitation as a rehabilitative tool for prisoner behavior, children from five families in PFZ’s children of prisoners program were granted visitation. Some, like 10-year-old Precious, had not seen their fathers in nearly a decade.
“Feedback from these families is that the children’s behavior changed positively and they couldn’t stop talking about such a memorable event,” says Wilson Femayi, PFZ children of prisoners program manager. “The prison social workers also reported a remarkable behavioral change in inmates who met with their families for the first time.”
After the successful trial visitations, government officials agreed to institute an annual visitation week open to all children of prisoners throughout the country. The impact of this decision has encouraged Prison Fellowship International affiliates in Rwanda and Zambia to make similar appeals to their own prison visitation laws, which are already yielding similar results.
About Children of Prisoners Sponsorship:
Prison Fellowship International’s child sponsorship program helps rescue, restore, and rebuild the lives of innocent children of prisoners throughout eight countries. Through one-to-one sponsorship relationships, children receive access to food, medical care, education, safety, and spiritual and emotional support. Prison Fellowship International affiliates deliver these services through partnerships with local government, NGOs, and churches.
I Forgive Those Who Massacred My Family
My name is Ornella, and I am a volunteer for The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program in a Rwamagana prison in Rwanda.
My parents were refugees and my other family members were massacred during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I couldn’t bear to go to prison and meet some of the perpetrators of the genocide, who killed my relatives. But being trained by Prison Fellowship Rwanda on different topics regarding Bible studies and forgiveness, I decided to forgive them and now I’m able to minister to them.
I participated in the graduation event of Rwamagana prison.
I was especially touched by the testimony given by one graduate who declared the teachings of The Prisoner’s Journey® changed his life.
He used to steal materials that belonged to other inmates. He said, “Since I have started following the course, I’ve stopped sins and repented from all sins I committed against God and the community.”
Help others experience healing through Christ so they may also share God’s message of grace to prisoners around the world.
Learn more about The Prisoner’s Journey®
I Want to Be a Part of This
Mr. Saihemba is an officer in a Chondwe prison in Zambia. As he observed the inmates participating in The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program, and the heart changes that occurred within them.
“This is the ministry of the century, and I want to be a part of it,” he says.
Help us continue to reach out to prisoners, their families, and even prison officials with the love of Christ.
Learn more about The Prisoner’s Journey®