I would like to share with you a real-life story about two friends and the testimony they shared in the chapel of Rýnovice prison. Before I start telling this true story, I have to go back in time to introduce to you the two protagonists and shed some light on their previous lives. The story starts with gossip, hatred, pain and fear, but ends with reconciliation, understanding, cooperation, forgiveness and hope.
There were once two young men who lived in the same town. They knew about each other but hadn’t met yet. What they had in common was that they were both drug addicts. At some point, they finally met and became friends, although I am not sure you can call a relationship between two addicts a friendship. Anyway, they started spending more time together, selling drugs together and supporting one another.
But, as expected, the drugs eventually took their toll and started tearing them apart, destroying the core of their being. Their characters changed and so did their priorities. They started badmouthing, stealing from and generally hurting each other. I cannot say which of the individuals was worse. They both share the blame for what happened between them. They started hating each other to such an extent that it could not end well. Eventually, revenge and retaliation followed. It went so far that one of them contributed to the other ending up in prison. And even then, they hadn’t stopped. The one who was not in prison continued to do bad things to the other one until he too ended up in prison!
Even though they landed up in different prisons, the hatred didn’t stop. They both spent their evenings thinking about how they would get back at each other when they got out.
Back then, they had no idea that their paths would cross sooner than they imagined. They would end up standing side by side, face to face in the same prison. What none of them could imagine actually happened. And so, they crossed paths once more, and it happened in the strangest place one could ever imagine. That place was the chapel of Rýnovice prison, and they met because they both, independent of each other, decided to enroll in the program called The Prisoner’s Journey®.
I think that on the day they met again, they both had very mixed feelings about what was going to happen and doubts about where it was going to lead. But God wanted their paths to cross again, and they even ended up sitting next to each other in the chapel. As they sat there, they started sharing their lives again, explaining each other’s point of view, and most of all, apologizing to each other.
The idea of forgiveness started taking shape.
With each subsequent meeting, their relationship flourished. They started cooperating and reading the Gospel of Mark together. They watched videos of bad deeds that ended in compassion and hope. They even drew the scene of the Last Supper, which is all about betrayal but also forgiveness. Instead of war, peace entered their lives. Out of hatred came a new, true and pure friendship—a friendship without drugs. They promised each other they would no longer pursue revenge once they were released. In fact, they were quite sad that the program was ending.
Not only did they find out about the Lord Jesus and the reasons why He came to the world, but they also resolved a long-standing conflict between them, forgave each other and became friends again.
Everything written above is true because I was one of the two friends!
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.