Biova is the mother of four children and while she grew up going to church, she had turned from her faith in adulthood. When her husband was taken to prison, she faced an uncertain and worrisome future, but she felt like she had no one to talk to. She felt the stigma of having an incarcerated spouse as people she once counted as friends turned her away.
When The Child’s Journey program enrolled three of Biova’s children, she started participating in the caregiver support group organized by the program – though she did so half-heartedly. Why would these people treat her any differently than her friends had? However, Biova found herself going to every meeting and slowly she began to open up to the teaching and to the other caregivers around her.
She shared, “One day when I was on my way to the caregiver support group, I carried my daughter along on my bike. At one point on the way, my daughter’s foot went through the spokes of the bicycle tire. My heart filled with panic and I quickly stopped the bicycle to check her. To my relief, I saw that although her shoes were ripped in half, her foot was not injured. When we arrived at the meeting, the TCJ volunteer told us the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and how God protected them from the king’s fiery furnace. In that moment, I knew that it was God who protected my daughter on our way to the meeting.”
At the end of our group meeting, I approached the volunteer and asked him to help me become a Christian. He prayed for me and encouraged me to attend church regularly. From that day on, I started going to church with my children. My husband was recently released from prison and he also attends with us now.
“My family is now complete. I am very happy to be part of the family of God.”
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
When a parent goes to prison, they leave their child at a higher risk for abuse, neglect, and crime. This is why it’s so critical that we work together to protect this vulnerable population. More than 10,000 children of prisoners have received life-giving services through The Child’s Journey, our child sponsorship program. These services include a dedicated Christian caseworker to ensure their safety, education support and school fees, access to healthcare and supplemental food supplies, Scripture resources, and community mentoring.
Your partnership in this ministry means the world to thousands of families, and children of prisoners all over the world. As a way to say thank you, we have created this downloadable Family Activity Guide. In the United States, many families are preparing for summer break. This time can be an important one for rest and to recharge, but also for reflection and having healthy conversations with each other.
Whether you have children of your own, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, or even neighbors with children, we hope our Family Activity Guide will be a meaningful (and fun!) way to remember those in prison this summer. Inside the guide you’ll find games, stories, and interactive questions. We hope it can be a fruitful way to encourage understanding and mindfulness of the children of prisoners and their families that are served through The Child’s Journey.
Inside you will find:
• Daily Bible verses
• Themed activities and crafts
• Inspiring stories of the impact that you are making
• Follow up questions and prayers
We pray that the activities and stories fill your days with fun, laughter, and togetherness while giving you a glimpse into the lives of children of prisoners around the world.
CLICK HERE to download your free guide today.
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.
Sandrine’s father passed away and her mother is incarcerated. She is trying to find her way in life but without the support, love, and guidance of her parents. Her future looked hopeless. And with no hope for a future, there seemed little reason to continue school.
Three years ago, Sandrine was enrolled in The Child’s Journey. She was given emotional and spiritual support, as well as tuition and nutrition assistance. “The services I received through the program have improved my life in many ways,” she says. “The support enabled me to continue my studies and prepare to have a brilliant future.”
What helped Sandrine regain hope and joy the most was receiving regular calls and visits from the program team. Team members and volunteers regularly contact Sandrine to check in with how she is doing emotionally, in her school work, health-wise, and if she has a safe living environment. “Knowing someone cares about my life makes my burdens less heavy to carry,” she says.
The Child’s Journey program stands in the gap for the children of prisoners, like Sandrine, who are otherwise overlooked and ostracized. Because Sandrine was sponsored and enrolled in the program, hope for a brighter future and trust in other people has been restored. Sandrine says, “May God bless the program and all individuals who, near or far, contribute to this support.”
As COVID-19 begins to level out in Cambodia, some parts of life are returning to normal. Children are going back to school equipped with masks, school supplies, bookbags, bikes, and the love of learning. But for children of prisoners, their daily challenges continue and “back-to-school” is never a guarantee.
Many children of prisoners in Cambodia live in rural areas where it may be difficult to access education. Others simply cannot afford the small fees for school materials and uniforms and often will drop out of school and work to help provide for their families.
Our partner organizations—such as Prison Fellowship Cambodia—along with caring child sponsors are helping us protect children of prisoners in Cambodia by providing food, clothes, safety, spiritual and emotional care, and assistance to stay in school. Items as small as school supplies and money for uniforms can help children of prisoners—who are often stigmatized for having a parent in prison—feel welcomed among their peers and allow them to focus on their studies rather than their appearance. And a simple bicycle provides a small safety net to travel to and from school.
Ranata, a child of a prisoner, is grateful to return to school and for the help from her faithful sponsor. “I am so happy to get a school bag and money to pay for my school fees! I would like to thank Prison Fellowship Cambodia and my sponsor for helping.”
Prison Fellowship Cambodia continues to rise to these challenges, providing at-risk children and families essentials to meet the needs of their daily lives. And they’re making sure sponsors can see the difference they’re making in the lives of these precious children. Recently, Cambodia completed their Annual Progress Report campaign called “I Am Wonderfully Made!” where children shared with their sponsors—through notes, drawings, and health reports—how they’re progressing with their support.
When you sponsor a child of a prisoner you help provide essential items that make all the difference to their self-esteem and their safety.